Tag Archives: big ag

Let’s Update Mississippi’s Local Food Laws!

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about a really great small farm operation in Clay County that produces pasture-raised poultry, and grass-fed beef and swine. See: “Farm Field Day Draws Lots of Moms, Kids” – https://shooflyfarmblog.wordpress.com/tag/grazing/

Operated by Dustin Pinion and his partner Ali Fratesi, it’s truly a model farm for sustainability – and was showcased as a good example for other farmers by both the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) which partnered with Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute to hold a field day there. It was also promoted as a premier example of small farming by the Mississippi Sustainable Ag Network.

But farms like this are in danger of going bust – or never getting started – because of the way food laws are skewed to protect large industrial operations and punish or deter small, sustainable family farms.

Local Food

For many visitors to High Hope Farm, Beaverdam Farm, and other local farm producers that have customer lists and farmers market presence, their operations are often the first and perhaps only time to see a real non-corporate family farm in operation. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Mike and Alison Buehler, founders of GGSIM, are promoting a petition to update Mississippi’s local food laws to allow mom-and-pop farmers like High Hope Farm and Beaverdam Farms to sell poultry at farmers markets. It’s long overdue.

Farmers across the South, I’ve found, have similar issues regarding on-site processing of the food they grow. Joe Salatin is perhaps the best known proponent of the “idiocy” of local food laws. See his book: “Everything I want to do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front.”

Here in Mississippi, though, it appears that a very simple change in the law could help rectify the situation, at least as far as selling sustainably grown chicken is concerned.

Alison and Michael write:

The federal poultry regulations provide an exemption for small farmers processing less than 20,000 birds a year in an approved facility. However, only in Mississippi do the regulations say all poultry sold off the farm premises must bear a mark of inspection:

b. All poultry products offered for sale by a vendor at a farmers market must be sold by a vendor who holds a retail mobile food establishment license from the Department. The poultry products must bear marks of inspection from a poultry inspection program administered by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce or the United States Department of Agriculture.

 There is no inspection facility located in Mississippi. This significantly cuts off farmers from their customers, and only allows them to sell from the farm.

Every other state allows for farmers under the 20,000 bird exemption to sell off site. Here is an example from Pennsylvania:

Producers who raise and slaughter no more than 20,000 poultry on their premises in a calendar year may, under PDA inspection, sell within Pennsylvania to customers through the following venues:

§  farmers markets

§  farm stands

§  CSA members

§  buying clubs

§  hotels and restaurants

§  schools

§  hospitals

§  wholesale distributors (sales within the state),retail stores

Small farmers are finally on the resurgence in Mississippi. In order to foster their success so we can continue to access healthy food, our regulations need to be updated to reflect this change. They simply haven’t been addressed because there were no small poultry producers in the state. We now have dozens of young farmers coming into the market.

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture wants to support small farmers. They simply haven’t had it brought to the table up until now. After long emails and discussions with them, they encouraged us to create a petition that would show them where public will fell on this issue. They want to hear from us. While the regulations they have dealt with in the past were designed to keep people safe in the face of super-large poultry operations, they also want to know how to create realistic and safe regulations for small farmers.

Here is how you help.

1.    We need an individual present at EVERY farmers market in the state this week, beginning May 17th collecting electronic signatures. All you have to say is, “Do you think farmers markets should be allowed to sell chicken? Let the MS Dept of Ag know!” If you are interested in being one of these coordinators, please let me know.alison.buehler@ggsim.org

I already have covered: 2 Oxford Markets, Starkville, Brookhaven, Jackson, Hernando, and Meridian

2.    Sign up for our 20 Calls for 20 Days campaign to tell 5 people at the MS Department of Agriculture Thank You for aligning our regulations on small poultry producers with the surrounding states. Thank You for supporting small farmers. We appreciate you efforts to increase our access to fresh, local foods. If you sign up, get your spouse to sign up. You will receive a script and a reminder email the day before you make your calls. We need to fill this asap because calls begin the day the petition is delivered.  http://www.signupgenius.com/go/10C0844ADA829A75-mississippi

3.    Sign the petition. Get your spouse, your mother and father, you kids over 18 to sign it. Share it with your churches, your co-ops, your organizations. We have one week to get as many signatures as possible. Our lawyer is drafting this today. It will be on the FB page tomorrow to start sharing.

This is doable! Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to make this happen for you. Don’t lament that other state have better food options. Make this a reality here!

Me again: If you truly are concerned about promoting local food, take action. This is a simple way to do it!

 Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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Can Monsanto Change Its Brand to Organics?

Probably no one was more shocked than I when it was reported this week that Monsanto is now focusing on becoming a leader in …. drumroll, please …. organics!

Monsanto Going Organic? Reconciling its aim to enter the organic food and seed market is mind blowing -- and filled with 'what ifs….'  Photo: Inhabitat.com

Monsanto Going Organic? Reconciling its aim to enter the organic food and seed market is mind blowing — and filled with ‘what ifs….’ Photo: Inhabitat.com 

The multinational chemical company that is notorious for turning open pollinated seeds into genetically engineered varieties is not known for its …. um… sensitivity for natural growing methods.

Nonetheless there it was in Wired magazine, with the headline: Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie.

The article (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2014/01/new-monsanto-vegetables/) points out that in addition to its global dominance in buying up seed companies and genetically engineering their seeds to withstand its pesticides and herbicides, etc., Monsanto also has a huge reservoir of traditionally developed seed varieties through its Borg-like acquisition of those rival seed companies.

In addition, it has been ongoing in its clinical genetic research of these seeds and developing new strains.

As the article states, these varieties “may be born in a lab, but technically they’re every bit as natural as what you’d get at a farmers’ market. Keep them away from pesticides and transport them less than 100 miles and you could call them organic and locavore too.”

Credit Monsanto to also come up with a way to speed up the process of cross breeding, using a “seed chipper” to identify genetic traits that make a lettuce crisper or more flavorful, for example, then only cross breed plants with those traits in a traditional manner.

The result is “super veggies” that can be sold as nonGMO, or even certified organic, if one takes the time to isolate and develop them (which Monsanto, of course, has the resources to do).

With this news, I’m perplexed, to say the least, and I’m sure others who have long labored in the sustainable and organics field are, too.

I wish Monsanto had gone this way earlier and developed a strong organic presence that would support sustainability; if it had, it would not be facing such opposition – and would see that it’s a more profitable avenue in the long run, developing partners instead of creating division.

I’m one of the few people, I guess, who remembers Delta and Pine Land Co. at Stoneville, MS, when it developed new seed varieties the old fashioned way — back when investors in Memphis owned it, and before Monsanto bought the company.

Back in the 1970s, when I was covering the Mississippi Delta for the old Jackson (Miss.) Daily News, I was a supporter of this research; after all, who could fault “science” and developing agriculture as a modern, international business where farmers were CEOs directly tied to their fortunes on international markets?

It was an exciting concept and heady times! As a journalist, I eagerly wrote about this emerging role for farmers as “agri-businessmen” and women, who were riding the wave of this promising scientific progress.

Sadly, like The New York Times‘ Andrew Revkin now, I “bought” the line that “science” would “save” agriculture. And, like Revkin now, even if he doesn’t see it yet, I was wrong. It took me about a decade to see that something was seriously wrong with modern agriculture as it was going that no amount of new chemicals, genetic engineering or expanding markets could fix. It was inherently unsustainable — and toxic — multidirectionally.

Of course, as with GMOs, now we know that big corporate interests can fund enough science labs and control the publication of their results so that even bad science can be passed off as positive. The Big Ag corporate PR machine has “spin” for every criticism. And opponents are simply dismissed as Luddites who don’t want to “feed the world” (e.g. capture world markets through monopolies, patents and forced government treaties).

Of course, back then, few could see how this would turn out — except visionaries like Wendell Berry with books like The Unsettling of America (1977).

Sure enough, farmers started going bust, as the “get big or get out” mentality took hold, and now we have 40 years worth of cheerleaders for Big Ag and Frankenfood telling us bad is good and up is down. The naked Emperor’s clothes look good! Food-related illness – obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and food allergies – be damned!

So now, too, the Monsanto leopard wants to change its spots?

I’m not sure how this will go. Certainly, Monsanto can produce lots and lots of seeds at a cheaper cost than the somewhat boutique brands that are slowly developing certified organic seeds from heirloom and other varieties. The company can almost be assured, also, of cornering the market on industrial organic agriculture, particularly in the international market.

Be prepared for the onslaught of new Monsanto veggies at grocery stores, some,  eventually, with the certified organic label.

It’s a smart move on Monsanto’s part: If you can’t beat ’em, join em… sort of… and outproduce them and underprice ’em. We’ll see if its corporate philosophy changes, as well. (I doubt it.)

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.

Organic, urban, backyard farming can turn ‘Big Ag’ around

Nov. 18, 2011
Organic, urban, backyard farmers can turn ‘big ag’ around
Why I support organic backyard gardening, urban farming and community-supported agriculture: There’s a huge knowledge gap in farm country today.
People like my father, who grew up in the 1930s Depression, knew how to grow and prepare their own food on the farm self-sufficiently.
People today think rural areas are filled with the farms of that time, and the marketing on television seeks to perpetuate that myth, even down to only picturing 1950s-era tractors in their photos of lush farm fields.
But agriculture today is all about industrialization, for plants and animals.
Many farmers today don’t know how to grow food. They grow commodities – corn, soy, rice, etc. – that’s planted by machines mile after mile and hauled off and processed into semi-synthetic “food products.”
Many farmers today, even owning thousands of acres, don’t – and don’t know how to – grow their own food, much less for anyone else, or even want to do it. That knowledge is fast disappearing, or gone in big farm areas. Rural people are as dependent on grocery stores, fast food, junk food and reprocessed commodities
(fake food in a fancy package) as anyone else.
Our rural state is filled with “food deserts,” areas where there is no fresh produce for sale, anywhere. Our state is also a food importer; we no longer provide our own communities with food.
I’m pushing 60 and live out in the country, but few people here grow their own food. I do know how to grow a turnip. A lot of rural folks, young and old, wouldn’t know what one looks like, much less how to plant it, grow it, prepare it and eat it.
Some young people are taking to backyard farming and urban farming, both of which are growing as a nationwide trend, which may be the salvation of American (and rural) self-reliance.
Robert Rodale, a founder of the organic movement, wrote prophetically shortly before his death in 1990 in his book Our Next Frontier: “The highly productive home gardens of tomorrow will, I think, be the sprouts from which many new small farms will grow. The small-scale farmers of the future can hardly learn their craft in the land-grant colleges, which preach bigness in almost every way. These new farmers will start as gardeners and grow from there. I think that we will see the size of gardens increase, so that the distinction between a large
garden and a small farm will become blurred. The new wave of small farms will fill in the chinks of land made available as some of the old-style farmers are driven out of business by ever-bigger farming conglomerates.”
His prediction of bigness driving out small farmers has proven true; enough so, that much or most of that wisdom is gone. (Look to your elders! They are a fast-disappearing resource!)
But there’s still hope that young people will reject the agri-biz juggernaut and learn to provide for themselves and their families, friends, and neighbors, and return some food independence to the people, and food sovereignty to the nation.
Why should we willingly be hungry beggars to the multinational corporations that hold no allegiance to any nation or people but their own profit?
Feeding ourselves and our families and sharing our abundance can indeed feed the world, or at least add substantially to it.
Food: I noticed that Rainbow Natural Foods in Jackson has been selling (Organic Valley) raw milk cheeses in the dairy case. I bought some. Pretty good! Wish we had some local cheeses.
Online: Here’s a great place to order artisan raw milk cheeses online: www.artisanalcheese.com
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: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.