what’s a farm? what’s a farm bill?

From The Viand Zine, Issue 2, 12 May 2007

What’s a farm?

This month’s zine focuses on the understanding what farms are. This question is very relevant as the federal government is considering the new Farm Bill. We’re presenting an analysis of the bill, along with  relevant commentary from Food First, our favorite Michael Pollan, Bill McKibbon, and Prince Charles. We’ve also reprinted some LA Times materials on our local markets, in case you missed these great articles!

Family farming is:

  • owner operated
  • entrepreneurial, trying to retire the debt and burn the mortgange
  • a landscape of dispersed farms of similar size
  • diversified production
  • at equal advantage in open markets
  • family centered
  • uses technology to advance the work of people, not to replace them
  • strives for production processes in harmony with rhythms of nature
  • resource conserving with infinite planning horizons
  • values farming as a way of life

industrial farming is:

  • industrially organized with division of labor and specialized equipment
  • financed for growth, permanent debt used as leverage
  • large scale, concentrated
  • specialized
  • management centered
  • capital-intensive
  • at an advantage in controlled markets with sweetheart deals
  • uses standardized production processes
  • resource consumptive
  • farmed as a business.

from Marty Strange, Family Farming. 1988.

What’s a Farm Bill?

Scott Kahan on the USDA’s farm bill May 1, 2007 Baltimore Sun

$20 billion, or 1/5 of the USDA’s budget is spent on the farm bill. The farm bills began during the Depression to protect farmers against environmental disasters and plummeting crop prices, but has evolved into a massive program of handouts, largely benefiting agribusinesses. Worse, it promotes vast overproduction of crops that are the building blocks of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, processed junk foods. It has become a “food bill”.
Corn, the most highly subsidized crop, which received $9.4 billion in 2005 – nearly as much as all other crops combined. Corn production has more than doubled since the 1970s, and all this artificially cheapened corn is unloaded on the public, largely in the form of tasty but empty-calorie junk foods. Refined corn is the chief source of carbohydrates and calories in most processed foods, particularly snack foods. High-fructose corn syrup is the most widely used caloric sweetener in the United States. And corn meal is widely used as cheap animal feed to fatten factory-raised livestock.

In contrast, healthful foods are grossly underfunded. USDA guidelines advise that fruits and vegetables make up at least one-third of daily intake, but just 5 percent of its food funding supports the fruit and vegetable industries. There is virtually no funding for public education and advertising encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption. At its peak, the “Five-a-day” campaign budget was just $3 million annually – compared with the $11 billion spent yearly in the United States for fast food and junk food advertising. McDonald’s spent $500 million just promoting its “We Love To See You Smile” campaign.

Another Kind of Farm Bill

The American Food for the American People Act of 2007
The Center for Popular Research, Education and Policy

…We propose that new food and agricultural policy, captured in this American Food for the American People Act of 2007 allocate substantial resources for the rebuilding of local food systems that bring real food from local farms to urban and rural Americans living in close proximity to those farms. For the purpose of this new policy we offer the following definitions:

Food is an edible plant or animal that grows, walks or swims on the earth and its waters with no genetic engineering, no hormone-driven growth, and no synthetic chemical substances to mimic natural qualities. Over millennia human metabolism and cultures have adapted to the foods growing in every ecological niche.

Any edible substance other than real food is a MESS (Manufactured Edible Substitute Substance) . A MESS has genetic engineering, hormone and antibiotic residue from concentrated production, and synthetic additives. Emerging research demonstrates that human metabolism cannot handle MESSes. MESSes subvert food cultures and food sovereignty. MESSes and the processes used in their manufacture and packaging contribute to the alarming toxic load that every human being now carries.
read more:

Further Reading

Intelligent international food policy: www.foodfirst.org

farm policy & food: get involved!

The June issue of Mother Jones has some great articles:

  1. Gone” – Half of the Earths species face extinction this century. Can Homo Sapiens live without them?
  2. Seeing Red” – by Barbara Kingsolver- Eating local food isn’t just about the environment, it’s about debunking the red-blue divide

Teflon Is Forever” – Why we are stuck with DuPont’s miracle chemical.

understanding organic:  www.organicconsumers.org

book of the month: Christopher Cook: Diet for a Dead Planet. 2004: New Press.

farmers markets: www.farmernet.com for a complete listing!

Action Item: The Farm Bill

The Honorable Barbara Boxer
United States Senate
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-0505
(or congressperson of choice…find them at www.vote-smart.org)

I am writing to you about the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill.  I wish to express my desire for a revised Farm Bill that provides a healthier balance of interests, addresses regional differences, and offers a wider distribution of the benefits that accrue as a result of our nation’s defining farm and food policy.  I am attaching a copy of specific proposals I believe are critical to achieve those goals.

As a proud member of Slow Food USA and as a resident of the great State of California, I believe my consumer choices hold a special importance for the nation’s agricultural producers.


I believe in supporting food production that is good, clean and fair.  I am therefore calling upon Congress to enact a Farm Bill that will better ensure prosperous small and mid-size farms and ranches, support diversified crop production, that will better promote and protect the health of its people, support community-based solutions to obesity and food security, will work towards sustainable stewardship of our land, and that will promote diversity and equity by expanding opportunities for disadvantaged producers.

Thank you for your attention.



READ the detailed alternative plans figured out by the California Coalition for Food and Farming at http://www.calfoodandfarming