What a weekend to be hanging with the guys from Farm Aid: historic financial meltdown, plus, breaking news -- ignored by virtually all big media -- that by the beginning of this year the food price crisis had pushed 75 million more people into hunger and that as many more could join them by year's end. That would be 150 million more hungry people in a world of food plenty!
For me this crisis has felt like one of the most egregious human rights disasters ever. While we're told that big agribusiness will save us, it's a system centralizing their control of our food system that got us here.
So it's been my honor to be asked to join Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young -- as well Maine farmer Brenna Chase and Duwan Grant from The Food Project -- at a pre-concert Farm Aid press meeting. Together, we'll show that sustainable, local family farming isn't "quaint." It disperses power, protects the soul and water, and can help avert climate catastrophe. If family farms are not our future, we have no future.
There's a lot that should be said, and there's not time to say it all. But below are talking points I've worked up to prep myself for the Farm Aid press event. Please: read them, let me know what you think, and pass them on -- especially to anyone who might think that Farm Aid is old news.
My thanks to Mark Schultz of the Land Stewardship Project and John Crabtree and the good people of the Center for Rural Affairs for their great ongoing work and their assistance in preparing me for this event.
"Keep on rockin' in the free world!"
WHAT ALL AMERICANS NEED KNOW ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THEIR FOOD
We hear it's a food crisis but ours is really a democracy crisis. Democracy is about people having their say, but how many regular citizens would say "yes" to a farm system that so tilts the playing field that our best farmers -- family farmers -- are driven under while the price of food climbs?
Farm Aid can help us turn the week's scary lesson about what happens to us when financial power is concentrated and unaccountable into a loud wake-up call: Concentrated, unaccountable food power may even be worse, and only family farming can reverse it.
What does concentrated power look like? In agriculture, it is -- to pick one example -- three giant corporations controlling most of the world's grain trade; in food, just ten corporations controlling half the products on supermarket shelves. If that were healthy, our economy and our people would be, too. But one in nine private health dollars goes to treat food-related illness.
A system consolidating agribusiness control -- and subsidized by tax dollars -- is pushing under 10,000 U.S. farms a year, while it erodes soil and pollutes water. It results in over three-fourths of our food dollars now going to everybody but the farmer.
The good news? We know how to fix it.
- Family farms are typically more productive than the biggest operations, and are more effective in protecting topsoil, groundwater, and communities; not to mention farmers.
- More and more farmers are creating farmer-owned marketing cooperatives that keep vastly more of the return from farming in rural communities.
- Though President Bush's science advisor Nina Fedoroff claims that organic farming could support "maybe half" the current world population, in fact, if organic farming went worldwide food availability could increase by 50 percent, reports a 2007 University of Michigan study.
- Family farms make economic sense, community sense, and ecological sense, so they're gaining where smart families, communities, and states see the writing on the wall. They're relinking farm and city; farmer and eater. The most recent Minnesota farm census, for example, recorded a gain in the number of new farms.
Americans are told family farming is passe, but what's really passe is believing we can continue with a chemically dependent, fossil-fuel addicted farming model. Our inefficient food system is a big contributor of greenhouse gases, and its concentrated power is what has led us into this food and farming crisis.
Family farmers are our future, without them we don't have a future.