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Sustainability: Debt is the killer of dreams

Posted 3/26/2008 7:46am by Leaf Myczack.

Those who are currently experiencing the financial meltdown first hand are just the latest people to be duped by the lure of easy money. Forty years ago, America's family farmers were encouraged to go bigger, borrow lots of money and expand their operations. The rest is history as farm after farm sank into a morass of low farm commodity  prices, insurmountable debt, foreclosures and bank held auctions. Orchestrating this collapse of the family farm economy was the then Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz.

Not much in the way of thinking has changed at the USDA since then, as we witness factory farming on an industrial scale replace what was once a co-operative, healthy, sustainable form of agriculture. In the name of large scale efficiency we have disrupted and destroyed local farm communities with a system that is impersonal, unresponsive, and ultimately unhealthy. We are reaping the so-called benefits of that system with contaminated food, polluted land and water, and poor health. We are presented with food unfit to eat at mega-grocery stores, and who often fail to have any locally grown produce available on their shelves.

As generational family farmlands fall into the hands of bankers and developers, good land is continually destroyed by housing subdivisions and shopping malls. Concrete is poured by the tons into and upon the good earth, rendering it unfit for living things. As a result, the bulk of our food grown in this country is done so in an unsustainable manner. We are on a collision course with the mother of all agricultural disasters, one that seems to be approaching us at high speed.

However grim this current scenario might be, there is a movement afoot to disconnect our local food supply from the clutches of the corporate world. Call it the Small Farmers Local Organic Food Movement if you like, but whatever the name, it has a true grass roots flavor and holds a way out of our current food dilemma. Across the country, small local farms are coming back to life as older farmers and young idealists come together. Creative ideas for a sustainable food supply are being put into practice as farmers and consumers find common ground and meet mutual needs.

Standing in the way of this unfolding food revolution is the high cost of farmland. If the land is too close to a river or lake, or an urban center or highway, then inflated prices seem to rule. Few young, would-be-farmers can afford to buy the land being eagerly gobbled up by speculating developers with a robust credit line. Fortunately, there are examples of people and communities buying land which is then leased back to the farmer at a nominal rate. In exchange for freeing the farmer from insurmountable front end debt, the farmer supplies the shareholders with local, healthy, organically grown food at reasonable prices.

The mission here at the Broadened Horizons teaching farm is to provide new farmers and homesteaders with the ideas and examples needed to create a sustainable living and food growing operation. We show and tell ways to use natural systems and recycled materials to construct innovative, low cost and sustainable farming and gardening operations. We believe that right action is the antidote to despair and hopelessness. Believe you can, or believe you can't; either way you will be right.

-farmer leaf