Hi! I grew up on a family farm in southwest Iowa, so I’ve been involved in agriculture for as long as I can remember. I love being close to the land. This may sound strange to those who have not had the experience of working the soil and growing their own food, but being a part of that process of life can really connect you to your sustenance -- farming can be a very spiritual experience.
Nostalgia aside, the economics of agriculture are now changing in a way should concern everyone who eats. Where farming was at one time primarily controlled by farmers, more power and money are ceded to agricultural conglomerates each year. In most cases, farmers no longer own the land, crops, or livestock that they work with. Big farms are getting bigger, and small family farms are dying out. Productivity has come to depend more on the pesticides, petrochemicals, and genetic engineering from large corporations than on the laborers in the fields. There are definitely advantages to this. Food is now cheaper than it has ever been. A single American farmer today (with the help of chemicals and gene splicing) can feed 100 people. There is no question that industrialized agriculture is much more efficient than the old farm-family system could ever dream of being.
So, does that mean it’s a good thing? Unfortunately not. There’s an old adage that states “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. History has demonstrated the truth in this statement time and time again. When any individual (or company) has so much control over the market that they can set prices and production levels to whatever they like, they usually will use this power to their own advantage. The agricultural conglomerates have already started doing this.
In 1993, agri-corps ADM and Ajinomoto were discovered in an illegal agreement to mutually cut their lysine (an important amino acid) production so that they can charge more from from farmers, and in turn, food consumers. Modern conditions are ripe for this type of collusion. Right now, there are four companies that control over 60% of the flour in this country, and four that control 80% of the cattle, 75% of the hogs, and 50% of the poultry. We can’t know exactly how the numbers break down within those four because the federal government keeps information on the largest four companies in an industry secret. Where does this leave farmers? Currently, of every dollar you spend in the supermarket, about 20 cents wind up in the farmers pocket. To put this in perspective, Phillip Morris alone receives 10% (no, that’s not counting tobacco as food). And, our beloved Wal Mart is now the nation’s largest food retailer.
Is anything wrong with this picture? We are, as a nation, becoming more and more dependent on a few very rich and powerful corporations. That trend won’t change unless we take action. I’ve heard and read arguments against local, small-scale, and organic agriculture on the basis that, since it is less efficient, it cannot feed the world; food would be too expensive for low-income families to afford.
It was while I was wrestling with this argument that I stumbled across Local Foods Connection--an organization that has proven this argument to be false. As a community of concerned, informed citizens, we can act to return power and profits the hands of farmers and the people they feed. As the local food movement spreads, it is becoming easier and easier to find a small farmer willing to sell fresh, healthy food directly to those who will eat it. And now, with LFC, we can come together as a community and donate the time and money it will take to provide the same fresh, wholesome meals to neighbors who can’t afford it on their own. It’s as grassroots as you can get. This is why I got involved with LFC and local agriculture. Others have gotten involved for reasons concerning health, wildlife, labor conditions, global warming, cloning and genetic modification, the list goes on. This page has only scraped the tip of the iceberg, so if you have any questions about any of these issues, I encourage you to email me, talk to others involved in agriculture in areas that might interest you, and to do your own research. I hope that, if you aren’t already, you’ll want to get involved too, whether through volunteering, making a donation, or even just shopping your local farmers market or signing up for a CSA.