The Farms and Food Debate
Last week, The Los Angles Times
ran an op-ed that should be of interest to all those involved in the countless farm and food related debates happening across the nation.
Titled “The Facts about Food and Farming,” the piece is an excellent examination of the farm policy debate that is useful for thoughtful people whether they come at issues from a conventional agriculture viewpoint, or those who advocate for a different production model.
By laying down a few ground rules for these debates, author Russ Parson identifies the pitfalls of both sides and shows that real reform will only be achieved by constructive conversations, not finger-pointing. He states,
“But the issues we're facing are not going to go away, and they are too important to be left to the ideologues. What I'd like to see happen in the next decade is a more constructive give-and-take, the start of a true conversation”
Russ is right. Farm and food issues are not going away. In fact, they are becoming increasingly urgent—and complex. The positive side of this development is the growing number of people becoming involved in these issues. The downside is that many of these people have already decided what they believe is right and are not willing to openly engage, listen, or much less compromise.
But it is compromise and constructive conversations that we need the most. Just as “issues facing agriculture today are much more complicated than lining up behind labels such as ‘local’ and ‘organic,’” it is also true that many new ideas are needed to meet the new challenges we face. Or as Parson says:
"Just because you've always farmed a certain way does not mean that you are owed the right to continue farming that way in the future…. What's past is past. Over the last 50 years, American farmers performed an agricultural miracle, all but eliminating hunger as a serious health issue in this country. But that battle has been won, and though those gains must be maintained, the demands of today -- developing a system that delivers flavor as well as quantity and does it in an environmentally friendly way --are different.”
Everyone eats; therefore everyone (whether they are interested or not) is affected by farm and food policy. At AFT, we have worked hard to be the vital link between the diverse interests debating the issues surrounding those policy decisions. Celebrating our 30th
year in 2010, and having worked on six federal farm bills, we know that real change happens when you bring diverse groups together and find solutions that highlight the best of all parties. And it comes from real action, like continued work on improving the
revenue-based support program for producers in true need
; creating demonstration projects that show farmers can manage nutrients without hurting their bottom line
; building conservation markets that reward farmers for their stewardship
and provide new streams of income; keeping farmers economically viable, and enhancing the local and regional food infrastructure in foodsheds across the nation
. And of course, at the core of our mission: developing the federal and local tools that protect our nation’s most precious resource, our working farm and ranch land.
In short, there is too much effort ahead to begin every conversation with yelling and shouting. For AFT at least, 2010 will be a year for constructive engagement designed to achieve meaningful action…or, as Mr. Parson says in his article’s tag-line:
“Let's not join one of the armed camps deeply suspicious of one another shouting past each other.”
Read Russ’ full article, The Facts About Food and Farming
About the author: Dennis Nuxoll is Senior Director of Government Relations for American Farmland Trust