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Notes from the Farm - 19

Posted 2/6/2008 12:14pm by Leaf Myczack.

In recent weeks, small, organic-based family farmers in Indiana and Michigan began receiving registered letters from the USDA's non-compliance sector located in California. A woman farmer, from Coal City, IN, posted the first entry on the Local Harvest website forum after receiving such a letter. This singular event triggered a new forum topic that generated an immediate and vigorous discussion. It has been both ongoing and widely read by other small farmers. I took part in the discussion that ensued.

At first I believed it was a hoax, especially after a weasily ex-husband was implicated in turning over a photographaph of his former wife's "Farmers Market" organic produce stall to the USDA "Organic Cops." Then when it became apparent that indeed something "big-government" was really going on, the mood changed. There was both anger and resignation, rhetoric and reasoned argument, facts and make believe, but above all, a palpable sense that an illigitimate power had violated the sanctity of the small family farmstead.

The USDA was created in 1862 by President Lincoln. That same year the Morril Land Grant College Act was passed, a guarantee that the USDA's view of agriculture as an industrial-scale component of the global economy, would be taught to future generations of farmers. They would be weaned away from a sustainable, diversified, natural way of farming, and instead be taught that the only viable option for "modern" farming was to listen to the government experts' advice and grow the operational size beyond its' sustainable limits. The rational for this flight from reality, was of course, rooted in money!

Hewing to that belief, a long line of commissioners promoted a move away from diversified and sustainable local, family farms, to a more centralized, mono-agricultural approach. Certain regions became synonymous for certain foods, i.e. the "corn-belt." This involved shipping large amounts of food long distances, in order to supply local demand. Ripeness (or freshness) was lost, and the food failed to keep us healthy. As farm labor became more about large-scale machinery, and less about the growing talents of people, it was aptly named "industrial farming."

But back to the letters. The letter writer claimed to speak under the authority of the National Organic Program (NOP) Act, which essentially gave the USDA legal authority to regulate the use of the word "organic." It claimed that farmers, not certified by the USDA as "organic" were in violation of the NOP and subject to a $10,000 fine for claiming to grow organically. In other words, use of the word "organic" without USDA permission was forbidden!

As a member of the Broadened Horizons Organic Farm family, I was thinking I might have run afoul of the law, as nothing we were doing was certified by anybody. So I spent a few late nights reading the lengthy NOP at the USDA website- eCFR. I read it adneauseum until I could quote section and paragraph. I became well versed in the section that exempted small farmers making less than $5,000 from food grown and marketed as organic. I read labeling requirements and prohibitions, record keeping and audits, non-compliance penalties, soil requirements, manure protocols, all the lawyerese a simple farmer could possibly digest. And, I came to one conclusion; It was harrassment - plain and simple!

The movement to re-establish small-scale, sustainable, local farms to serve community food needs is based on a common belief that our bodies can only be as healthy as the food we eat. If we can't grow the food ourselves, we want to know the farmer who grew it, and what was done to make it grow. We want to know our food is safe, nutritious, and naturally grown or raised to give us the best possible nourishment for our bodies.

The corporate farm segment does, through the control of the USDA and the Farm Bureau, dictate a food policy that is unsustainable, unhealthy, and harms the land and the larger environment. It is a policy that spurns local food sources and heirloom varieties in favor of a highly mechanized, highly chemical dependent, mono-crop engineered type of agriculture that is harmful to the Earth's well being. One of the most significant environmental actions you can take as an individual is to buy your food from locally grown sources, more of which are spring up every day.

farmer leaf