More and More Pursuing Sustainable Farming

Got back late last night from Baton Rouge, La., where I gave a talk to beginning farmers on how to market your crops.

Nationally, grim statistics are saying that farms and farmers are dwindling, spelling a dire future.

I’m finding that it’s just the opposite: Average people, in rural and urban areas, are thronging to learn how to grow their own food, share it with others and even make a little profit at it. And I’ve been giving these talks all over the South, in urban and rural areas.

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was "Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop." The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was “Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop.” The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

I guess it depends on how you define “farms” and “farmers.”

In preparation for my talk at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, I did a little research on this. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, most farmers in Louisiana are “small farmers.” About 50 percent earn less than $5,000 per year; 66 percent of farms earn less than $10,000/year; 83 percent earn less than $49,999/year

Most farms are “small farms,” too: Only 3.5 percent of the farms in Louisiana have 2,000 acres or more and only 6.3 percent make more than $500,000/year.

The averages are about the same in Mississippi, give or take one or two percentage points either way, and nationally.

So, when politicians talk about “farmers” and “farming,” they really aren’t talking about the majority of farmers. They’re alluding to big farmers swallowing up smaller farms — the same as big corporations in other sectors of the economy are swallowing up others, even becoming “too big to fail.”

They’re talking about and appealing to the big money farmers: those with big incomes and tight ties to corporations. They aren’t talking to the majority of average people who like to farm, or have a small stake (in either rural or urban areas), or want to expand to serve more people.

They aren’t talking to or about people who grow local food for local people. Or people who prefer sustainable farming methods, or grow organic, or practice permaculture, or ecofarming. They are speaking to and about those who are into industrial agriculture and ship their food and fiber off to feed the big agribusiness multinational regime.

There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s part of the dance politicians play between the interests they serve and those who serve them. And those who are growing for the major markets are doing just that; there’s nothing sinister about it. It’s just how our economy/business/government works. But average people — voters — should also see it for what it is.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the people who are putting food on your plate locally — who don’t use chemicals and who plant with the taste and nutrition foremost in mind, and not just profitability over size and shape and ability to withstand long shipping times without rotting.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the moms who want to buy chemically free, healthful and nutritious food for their children and be assured that it’s safe and take the time to know who is growing their food locally and how they are doing it.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the thousands of young people who are turning to small, local, urban and rural farming in order to ensure the people around them and those they love have healthful, safe food grown in a caring way as an act of passion and joy. Grown from the heart; for the community; as an act of compassion, giving and sacrifice.

Nor are those politicians speaking to, for or about the average people who have no clue about what chemicals are being sprayed on what they  eat, or how the seeds are concocted from GMO genetic cocktails that ensure they actually grow in a soup of poison but who knows what it’s doing to humans.

No, the people who are now clamoring to grow their own food and for others — who are definitely new and beginning farmers, just not big, industrial, chemical farmers — have to speak for themselves, and to and for each other. The politicians apparently don’t care much about them. They don’t “count,” with money, clout or influence regionally, nationally or globally. Statistically, they’re as invisible as their influence in Washington and state capitols across the U.S.

But I suspect, as the food movement continues to grow, and more and more true farmers — the majority of farmers as the Census of Agriculture attests — begin to see that what they believe, think, say and do actually matters, and that in aggregate they have the numbers and “clout” behind them, that politicians will begin to take an interest.

And I think that as more and more consumers reach for the non-GMO label on their food, and as more voters get savvy about the dangers of GMO, its attendant flood of poisonous chemicals to keep it afloat, and its downward spiral of sustainability depleting both farmland fertility and fossil fuels, that even more small, local ecofarmers will appear.

That wasn’t the subject of my talk at LSU. Just some musings the next day.

There’s a new “dance” between local individual consumers and farmers nationally that soon could reconfigure the whole dance floor. The politicians just haven’t picked up the beat yet, still lost in another era doing the funky chicken!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

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