This will be an interesting fall, educating people on the Virginia Food Freedom Act and on how the agricultural system works.
I think it will be much easier than I thought, with a news aggregate of Virginia Public Access Project, I get some pretty interesting articles with Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore’s quotes along with some select politicians’ and of course, Farm Bureau’s take on their version of Agriculture.
As many of you know The Virginia Food Freedom Act has been introduced in the general assembly twice, and previous to that, my delegate, Margaret Ransone, was aware of it and although promised that she would introduce it, chose not to at the last minute—or atleast strung me along, until the last minute. The bill would help many small farmers because the profit is in the processing. If small farmers have a government enemy, it’s the FDA and USDA. Farm Bureau would have you believe it’s the EPA. They say that because they want to keep the corn and bean subsidies, and keep Big Foods’ control on the processing. The profits for them are in the stock investment that the insurance company holds, not the risk targets policy holders are.
The latest story from VPAP is from the Progress Index covering a cook out in Dinwiddie. For the Secretary of Agriculture to attend the event at Mr. Blaha’s farm, it must be a very important event, or atleast one more opportunity to get out the state /Farm Bureau propaganda. Mr. Blaha received over a quarter million dollars from your tax dollars. Parties like his are part of an elaborate, yet little known system of tax dollars and awards systems from the state, “Century Farms” and industry ,“Farmer of the Year” or “Legislator of the Year.” Mr. Blaha is also president of Dinwiddie Farm Bureau.
This story entitled “Whose side is Farm Bureau on?” gets it right when it comes to what the issue is. Farm Bureau would like everyone to believe the EPA’s “overreach” surrounding the Ditch the Rule issue is about normal water runoff through small ditches from the small diversified family farm. But remember, one pound of organic soil holds four pounds of water, and big Ag does not farm organically. What it is really about is a CAFO, Confined Animal Feeding Operation. When someone raises 200,000 birds at a time- 3 or more times a year- you get a lot of poop… combine that with cocktails of toxic chemicals the animals are fed along with their corn, and the chemicals to sanitize the floors ( if indeed they do) and you are ripe for nasty RUNOFF situations that you don’t want near your children or your water sources. You better believe CAFO's are from where MRSA came, of course it will be denied but just use common sense… lots of antibiotics used sub- therapeutically (not acute situations- only for feed gain and to keep the animals alive in such crowded conditions) kills off all the weaker strains of bugs..leaving only the super bugs. When cattle live in feedlots up to their knees in manure for months at a time gorging themselves on subsidized corn and beans there is no grassy green carpet to slow or retain storm water. IT RUNS OFF.
The problem with the "Rule" regarding "Ditch the Rule" campaign from Farm Bureau is that they are pulling small farmers into THEIR problems. Small pasture based or very small feed lot operations that have natural buffer zones— don’t need onerous rules, Big Ag does. And of course, the small farm and ranch sell direct… and know their customers—the customers know them, they even pet the animals.
Farm Bureau's Poster girl for the Ditch the Rule campaign was based off of Lois Alt's problems with the EPA. She is an eight house contract grower with Pilgrims Pride. Warehouse operator seems more in line with occupational description rather than farmer. She doesn’t even own the chickens. And JBS, a south American company now owns 75% of the Pilgrims Pride. JBS is the largest food processing company in the world, leading in sales. So please note, this is really not about "small farmers," it's about complete control of the meat and poultry food supply. Those small farmers are just the pawns in a very large game of Cargill, JBS and the likes.
Another Farmer with a similar background of contract growing, is Carole Morison , but she worked for Purdue. She ran a chicken warehouse and decided that she wanted to raise birds right. She believed the industrial model had too many problems including antibiotic resistance, culling of perfectly fine chickens that didn’t fit size requirements, farm log entry books that the company controlled, expensive upgrades for standardization. The final kicker was when the company wanted to "upgrade" and deny any natural sunlight to the birds, ( they move less in the dark- using less energy). Purdue ended her contract when she refused. She raises chickens on her own terms now and does not have to worry about the EPA. She’s a real farmer. Her chickens see and feel real sunlight, their feet have touched grass and scratched for real worms.
Back to the news story of the Dinwiddie cookout where our illustrious Secretary of Agriculture spoke.
“Todd Haymore, Virginia state secretary of agriculture and forestry, said making farming more profitable for farmers is an issue he is tackling in Richmond.
‘The things we try to do from the governor's office are to promote economic development in agriculture, recruiting new agri-businesses in the state, helping existing agri-businesses expand; also, global trade, move more product into the global marketplace,’ Haymore said.
In terms of ecological impact of farming, Haymore said he was working to put less limitations on farmers.
‘[We've been] working with EPA to be sure we're not having onerous regulations placed on our farmers. Most farmers are good stewards of the land. They know if they take care of their land and water, it's going to take care of them,’ Haymore said.
I have worked directly with the department of Agriculture on the very topic of making farming more profitable. When it comes to making farming more profitable for VA farmers, they are doing nothing meaningful. The profit is in the processing. And they will not allow farmers to process what they raise on their own land--without their approval of course (SSOP, HACCP), and very expensive processing equipment. That keeps small farmers out of the market place and is a profit protection measure for the large processing houses- who will then be bought up by the larger processing houses.
How can Secretary Haymore say he is making farming more profitable, when under his watch Smithfield was sold to Shuanghui , lock stock and barrel? He knows contract growing keeps farmers down and profits up for the processors. Now it is under foreign control. Howabout those Virginia farmers he is looking out after?
He does promote agribusiness to the state—with taxpayer money- “incentives to create jobs” read my blog on Shamrock Farms for details on how that works. The state charges me taxes to give a subsidy to a processing house- to bring jobs- but denies me the ability to create my own job processing the food I have raised on my own farm.
Wouldn’t we love to hear… “ In terms of economic impact of farming, I am working to put less limitations on farmers” or “ We are working with the FDA and USDA to be sure we’re not having onerous regulations placed on our farmers. Most farmers are good stewards of the food they raise and know how to process it into healthful nutritious products for their neighbors. We want to rebuild our local economies and make them thrive.” I think that is what most people believe the Secretary of Agriculture’s mission is.
Secretary Haymore is right that farmers take care of their land, but I wouldn’t be so sure of warehouse operators.