Sadie Weinberger ‘13 reminds us that the Farm Bill isn’t the only piece of legislation that affects farms and farmers in this country:
About a week ago, the satirical “news source” The Onion published an article headlined “Congressional High Priest Concocts Farm Subsidy Bill In Legislative Cauldron.” Despite its utter absurdity, I often feel that the Onion writers are pretty much the only ones who really know what’s going on these days. You don’t have to read the article to get the joke: the process of creating the Farm Bill has been, and always is, so complex and inaccessible to the public that it may as well be some dark ritual conducted by men in black robes in the dead of night. And, in fact, I read one more jab into the quip, which is that even the members of Congress do not completely understand what they’re doing when they “concoct” the bill.
This might seem like old news; after all, the Farm Bill is renewed every four years, and that should have meant a clean adoption of a new bill—or, rather, a revised bill—by the end of the 2012 session. That was me making a little joke, since we all know Congress doesn’t work like that. The fact is, Congress is even now introducing new bills that would affect the provisions of the Farm Bill, and we ought to be keeping them in sight. The end of 2012 didn’t mean the end of farm-related legislation, despite the cessation of talks and workshops revolving around Farm Bill activism.
In fact, just in the last week, Congress has introduced two such bills: the Farm Program Integrity Act and the Protect Our Prairies Act. The former, a bipartisan bill introduced on February 12, aims to close the loopholes in farm program payments that allow non-working or absentee farmers to receive subsidy payments. The bill allows for payments to working farmers and one additional non-working manager per farm. In fact, the House Agriculture Committee considered this proposal last year as well, but did not adopt it. Many sustainable agriculture organizations, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, are strongly in support of this bill, especially as we consider the new Farm Bill.
The Protect Our Prairies Act is part of a conservation effort folded into the Farm Bill that basically pays farmers not to farm certain areas of land in order to prevent erosion and development of valuable landscapes. This bill, also bipartisan, is a bit different in that it is actually designed to save taxpayers and the government money by prohibiting federal commodity payments on newly broken native sod and reducing federal subsidies by 50% on that land. Loss of grassland in prairie areas has led to erosion, fewer opportunities for small ranchers, and damage to local ecosystems and economies.
We should keep in mind that even though the New York Times stopped publishing articles about it, the fight over the 2012 Farm Bill is not over yet. Agricultural legislation is being introduced and passed all the time. Let’s all keep an eye out and keep ourselves informed.
Farm intern Justine Appel ‘15 on why caring about food and agriculture doesn’t make her a hipster:
When I found out I was going to be a summer intern at the Yale Farm, I felt like I had secured a dream summer for myself: working outdoors, growing and eating wonderful food, and learning from and with people who cared as much about sustainable agriculture as I did. After volunteering on the farm throughout my freshman year, I was seriously looking forward to further developing my comprehension of the problems and challenges of our food system. But around the same time my interest in the sustainable food movement heightened, I started noticing a strong, adverse reaction to it.
One morning, I opened the Yale Daily News magazine to find myself labeled a pretentious hipster. When I expressed my frustration with factory farming to one of my close friends, she told me that I was developing extremist tendencies. When I told my mom that I was going to try to eat more seasonally, she became defensive about buying strawberries in December. “Don’t you like strawberries, Justine?”
Whether being gently mocked by a Portlandia episode or accused of attempting to make food into some sort of religion or art form, I can’t seem to escape the stereotypes associated with passion for farming and concern for how we can feed seven billion mouths without contaminating our air, water, and soil. What I thought were good intentions are often perceived as idealist, naive, and, most disturbingly, elitist.
I reject being placed in special category of people who think about the way they eat, one that is characterized by privilege and even by extravagance. Being food conscious is not something inherently white, wealthy, or seductively bohemian. Moreover, such a discourse is dangerous because it strips everyone outside a certain social category of his or her agency to eat well, affordably, and ethically. Accepting that eating sustainably and locally is somehow bourgeois is both denying history and legitimizing a system that restricts access to fresh, healthy food within poor communities.
Don’t dismiss the sustainable food movement because it seems like a hipster’s cause. People who think of it that way will tell you that you can’t afford to buy organic. But with the world population expected to reach 9 billion within our generation’s lifetime, what we really can’t afford is ignorance or denial of the agricultural challenges ahead. No, we probably can’t feed the world on small-scale organic farms, but we certainly can’t go on burning more fossil fuels in order to have our winter strawberries while 870 million people go undernourished. We should strive to create a world where no one is too poor, too disadvantaged, or most importantly, too busy to exercise their right to healthy food.
Some Reflections on Farm Workers’ Rights
What were 1.5 million agricultural works to do after NAFTA flooded Mexico’s market with artificially low priced corn, effectively eliminating their jobs? Speaking at Yale on October 11th, that was just one question Richard Mandelbaum of the Comité De Apoyo A Los Trabajadores Agrícolas (C.A.T.A.), or the Farmworker Support Committee, posed to us. Among the others: how are we to think about a racialized food system, and how does that system neglect the livelihoods of millions in the United States?
First and foremost, it’s vital to recognize the inherent harm to which agricultural workers in this country are vulnerable, especially those 300,000 employed in the fields of big agribusiness companies. Aside from being exposed to various pesticide and fungicide toxins and the possibility of machine-related accidents, many of these folks live without adequate healthcare (if any at all) and under threat of deportation due to their status as transnational undocumented workers.
What makes the food system even more unjust is that most farmworkers have none of the rights afforded in every other workplace. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, which provide for overtime compensation, Social Security, unemployment, workers comp, and protection against child labor, as well as organizing rights provided by the National Labor Relations Act, aren’t guaranteed in the fields. This can lead to conditions in direct violation of international laws governing human rights and safe work places.
Furthermore, we cannot ignore the fact that our food system is highly racialized. People of color have been bound to fields since this country’s earliest days, when its founders imported laborers from Africa to work the land. Abolition lead to sharecropping, slavery’s cousin; our current system exploits immigrants from Mexico (increasingly from indigenous and rural communities) and other Central and South American countries, taking advantage of their poverty, ignorance and lack of legal standing to force them to do jobs that citizens would never consider taking on.
Reform is happening in many sites throughout the food system. While media often privileges small sustainable farmers and farmers’ market patrons, it’s important that we expand our focus to include resistance by migrant and settled farmworkers elsewhere in the United States. C.A.T.A is organizing, training, and fighting for farmworker justice in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. What’s more, their organization is led by a board of directors composed of organization members, all of whom are fieldworkers. This is a telling example of power created by and for the people most marginalized by our everyday food choices. Justice is possible, but it’ll take a lot more than buying our salvation; for more information about how to get involved in and support the fight for food and farmworker justice, visit www.cata-farmworkers.org.
Cody Hooks is a junior American Studies major in Trumbull College. He was a 2011 Lazarus Summer Intern on the Yale Farm.