Sunday, September 21, 2008

Small Farmers

I've been watching Farm Aid 2008 on TV, and they are playing some great music. Dave Matthews especially sounds muy excellente. The Pretenders sounded great too, although Chrissy Hynde really demonstrated how far removed she is from the family farmer when she showed up wearing her stupid PETA "Tax Meat" T-shirt and started talking about slaughterhouses. I guess for her, Farm Aid was just a way of getting some free publicity, rather than any genuine concern for the small farmer. Even Neil Young was talking sense, instead of acting like a jerk.

I really like what Willie Nelson is doing with the Farm Aid thing. While so many artists stick their face in front of the camera and say "why doesn't the government do something?", Willie just gets out there and does something. Same thing with biodiesel; I don't think anyone is doing as much to not only promote biodiesel, but actually take action to make biodiesel available to the average person, than does Willie.
Of course, I don't see things exactly as Willie does: he is pushing for a bill to help the family farmer; I think if the government would just get out of the way, specifically by cessation of all farm subsidies (which primarily go to the big factory farms that are putting the family farmer out of business), cessation of all taxation on family farmers, and cessation of all such activities as NAIS (which is a Draconian measure specifically intended to put small farmers out of business), the resulting free market would allow small farmers to make a decent living without help from the government, which is exactly what they are afraid of.

Let me tell you about something that happened in northeast Alabama a few years ago. Northeast Alabama used to be one of the truck farming hotspots. A small farmer could raise vegetables in season on just a few acres; tomatoes, squash, sweet corn, okra, water melons etc; and deliver those vegetables a couple times per week to other entrepreneurs who owned vegetable stands. The farmer could make a living on as little as 5 acres, and the vegetable stand guys could make a living by simply securing the permission of a landowner, to park a vegetable stand in front of his property, paying a small fee for the privilege. During the growing season there was a vegetable stand every few miles along US 72 from Huntsville to the Tennessee state line, for example, and everyone was happy. The farmers who raised the food were happy, the stand owners were happy, the land owners who rented a little spot to the stand owners were happy, and the people driving along the highway were happy, because they could stop on the way home from work and buy fresh, locally grown food that tasted far better, was healthier, and cost less than store-bought food (where the tomatoes for example are practically inedible); and they knew they were supporting the local economy by so doing.
Everybody was happy, that is, except the government. Which is why cops swooped down on the stand owners one day and levied huge fines on them, warning them never to return. Signs were then posted everywhere along the highway. Other government types paid a visit to the growers and shut them down, as well. More fines were levied, and some farmers lost their land. Now you can drive along the roads and highways in Alabama, which used to be our public roads but are now obviously government property, and you won't see any vegetable stands.
Think about it.


Mecca Jean said...

Hey Tracy,
That is pretty wild about the cops stopping truck farmers. I would be interested in any news articles that you know of that talk about it. In the meantime, there are some positive things happening in NE alabama. CHeck out the Clean Food Network at to see how folks are trying to re-invent the farmstand.

Tracy said...

Unfortunately I don't know of any new articles, although there may have been some in smaller papers; the Huntsville Times and other large newspapers ignored it. I only know about it because I saw it happen and talked with some of the people involved.
Thanks for the CFN link; I'm glad to see things like that happening. I think we are going to see a lot of good things like that in response to the current market difficulties and the health issues (e.coli, etc.) we keep seeing in the long-distance produce market.