Is a Whisper Better than a Shout?

 

 So I went down to the legislature yesterday and had one of my more interesting days at our state capitol.    I was there to testify on LD 785 more about that later.   In fact that rather good hearing was just the jam in this sandwich of a day in Augusta.  I started the day headed for the Clerk of the House’s office to make sure there were no loose ends after our Rally of Unity in the Hall of Flags on Monday.   As I walked up the marble stairs the volume of chatter from the Hall of Flags was deafening.   It was the Maine State Realtor’s Association lobby day.   The Hall  was packed and they were serving what looked like a very nice lunch.  Oh, what money can buy.  I wondered through the crowd looking for familiar faces and just sizing up the event.   Impressive scene and I’m sure the legislators were impressed.

I continued up the stairs and ran into my friend Hillary Lister who was there to lobby on some medicinal marijuana bills.   Including one that was being heard on the fourth floor in the plethora of bills having hearings that day around gun owner rights.   I looked up into the rotunda and saw it ringed with stern looking men who were there to voice what they see as their second amendments rights.  Later in the day, after I had attended the public hearing on 785, I wondered back over to the Statehouse and spoke with some friends who were also there for the marijuana bills.    I was trying to find out where the gun bills were being heard.   I was told that they were being heard throughout the Statehouse because the crowd was so beyond capacity that they were being piped into the Hall of Flags (the realtors were long gone) and the visitor’s center.  Also that no one was being allowed into the hearing room unless you were on the testimony list and there were armed guards stationed outside the door.   This I had to see.   Making my way to the fourth floor I encountered the same, or very similar, group of grim faced men standing outside the hearing room and, sure enough, armed guards at the door.   A big sign read “If you are not on the list to testify please go listen in the visitor’s center”  or words to that effect.   At the visitor’s center it was SRO with the grim faced men but a couple of babies and young women thrown in for variety.    Another impressive scene.   And again, I am sure the legislators were impressed.  But this time because of the passion of these folks for their guns.

Money and passion.   These are the two things that drive legislation.   And it got me thinking about the machinations of government.   Especially as those machinations chew up and spit out the little guy.    The bill I was there to testify about was, at its core, about transparency in government.    Here is my testimony:

“Senator Whittemore, Representative Martin, distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government.   My name is Betsy Garrold, I live in Knox, Maine and represent The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that seeks to protect the constitutional right of the nation’s family farms and artisan food producers to provide processed and unprocessed farm foods directly to consumers through any legal means, protect the constitutional right of consumers to obtain unprocessed and processed foods directly from family farms and artisan food producers and protect the nation’s family farms and artisan food producers from harassment by federal, state, and local government interference with food production and/or food processing.

I come here today to speak in favor of LD 785 An Act To Provide for Legislative Review of Federally Mandated Major Substantive Rules under the Maine Administrative Procedure Act.  The constitution of the State of Maine asserts in Article One, Section Two that “all power is inherent in the people; all free governments are founded in their authority and instituted for their benefit; they have therefore an unalienable and indefeasible right to institute government, and to alter, reform, or totally change the same, when their safety and happiness require it.”

In order for the people of Maine to exercise their rights they must have free and open access to the workings of the government.   As it stands now we do have access to the legislative branch and can seek to have enacted those laws that make sense and follow what is actually happening out in the real world.   However, once those laws have been passed they are gobbled up by the various state departments and once chewed over and digested by those departments, out of sight of public scrutiny, the rules are regurgitated onto the public with no oversight by the legislators that passed the law or by the citizens.   The rules then descend on the citizens and attempt to dictate their lives without any input from the citizenry into what those rules contain.  

This is wrong.   Democracy is meant to be transparent.   As they say sunlight is the best disinfectant.   What we are asking for here is to have a little light shed into the dark recesses of the rule-making process in the form of public legislative hearings.   No mandates should be passed without the scrutiny of those affected by those rules, regulations and laws.

Please send this bill to the floor with a unanimous ought to pass vote and protect the rights of the citizens of Maine to know what their government is doing.

Thank you for your time.”

So sunlight and citizen participation.   That is what we in our quiet little corner of the legislature were asking for yesterday.   While the realtors made their presence felt with cash and the gun owners made theirs felt with overwhelming numbers we were working in the background to make sure that it is not all for show.   That the flashy lunches and huge crowds that sway the legislative machine are not all for naught.   When the people of Maine speak they can be heard.   But the bureaucrats working in the background are the real center of power and they need to be reined in.   So with no crowd and no fancy lunch we made our case for better oversight.   We can only hope that our whisper is better than a shout.

My WordPress Anniversary

It has been a busy week.   Turning 60 years old.  Trying to turn back the tide of corporate take over of our food supply.   Continuing the battle against this un-ending winter.

I have had a couple of ideas for posts rattling around in my brain pan for awhile.   One is concerning the populist ideal of frugal comfort for everyone.   I really like that concept and think it deserves more time than I am able to give it right now so I will instead talk about real milk for a minute.



I bought this milk in JANUARY and according to the large stamp at the top of the package it would have been no longer fit to drink as of tomorrow.   Of course the milk itself is long gone.   It was a stop gap that I bought because I could not get to my raw milk supplier that particular week.   Can’t remember why.  Snow, maybe?   

Anyhow my point is that this is not the real, live, uber-nourishing food that milk is supposed to be.   It is a vague facsimile created to meet the needs of an over industrialized food system.   Pasteurization was adopted by the dairy industry in an effort to disguise the bad conditions under which milk was being produced in the late 1800’s.  Milk cows were kept in what were known as confinement dairies.   These sprang up next to distilleries as a way to dispose of their waste grains.  A physician who was very concerned with this practice (Dr. Coit) is quoted as having said “They can’t hide bad practices with processing.”   The dairy industry subsequently pushed for pasteurization as a cure all because they serendipitously discovered that it increased shelf life and therefore they could ship it further and sell more.   Especially in urban areas.

So be careful of the motives of folks who are trying to convince you that real milk (sometimes called raw milk) is dangerous and bad for you and will lead to the downfall of western civilization as we know it.

OpEd Published in the Bangor Daily News Last Week



Fast Track trade authority will hurt Maine’s small farms

By Betsy Garrold, Special to the BDN

Posted March 05, 2015, at 11:30 a.m. 

In a Feb. 24 BDN OpEd, Virginia Manuel, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development state director for Maine, stated that rural economies needed “trade promotion authority” in order to “compete on a level playing field” when it comes to international trade and export of U.S.-grown food and manufactured goods. As the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization have proven, this is pretty far from the facts on the ground — unless your idea of a level playing field is one that is dirty, polluted and economically ravaged.

The background for this discussion is the impending abdication of Congress of its constitutional authority to oversee all foreign trade deals. Trade Promotion Authority, also called Fast Track, would give President Barack Obama overarching authority to sign trade deals with little congressional oversight, something a constitutional scholar such as himself should know is not at all what our founders had in mind.

What does this mean for small farmers? We know about the devastation of the manufacturing base in the American Midwest after the above mentioned trade deals took effect. Companies scurried to move their plants to places with lower standards of living, loose or non-existent environmental protections and no history of organized labor protecting poorly paid workers. If this is what we want for our small family farms, then by all means let’s sign the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both of which, like NAFTA and CAFTA, gut our own sovereign courts’ ability to defend our soil, water, air and workers from abusive lawsuits brought by multinational corporations. These lawsuits are not decided in a U.S. court of law but by an international tribunal composed of three judges looking only at the trade rules for their decision.

In a May 2013 article on food imports to the U.S., Public Citizen’s trade watchdog stated, “Smaller-scale U.S. family farms have been hardest hit by the import influx caused by deals like NAFTA and the WTO. About 170,000 small U.S. family farms have gone under since NAFTA and the WTO took effect, a 21 percent decrease in the total number. After the WTO required elimination of various U.S. price support and supply management policies, small farmers were also hard-pressed to survive the increasing year-to-year volatility in prices paid for commodities, making investment and planning more difficult than before the WTO.”

The National Family Farm Coalition is watching these trade deals closely and has reported on the Obama administration’s aggressive push for Fast Track trade authority.

Small farmers across the country are organizing to tell Congress that what may be good for big agribusiness firms is definitely not good for struggling, small family farms across the country. Here in Maine we are fortunate to have a young, vibrant group of farmers who are working to grow food, rebuild the local food infrastructure and feed the people of Maine. Their livelihood does not depend on exports, but they are subject to the same vagaries that affect small-scale farmers everywhere. If the market becomes flooded with cheap imported food of questionable quality, they may well find it impossible to compete and will leave the land, just as countless others have been forced to do from Iowa to Chiapas.

Again from Public Citizen, “U.S. corn exports to Mexico in the three years after NAFTA soared 377 percent above the level in the three years before the deal. In 2013, the United States exported 26 times as much corn to Mexico as before NAFTA. But when the flood of U.S. corn in Mexico caused corn prices to plummet 66 percent for Mexican farmers, 2.5 million farmers and agricultural workers in Mexico lost their livelihoods, many of whom resorted to migration. In NAFTA’s first seven years, the annual number of people emigrating from Mexico to the United States more than doubled.”

Talk about unintended consequences.

The same thing would happen to Maine growers as cheap and questionable “organic” food floods the market from China. We must protect our family farms and help them grow their businesses to keep the rural economy growing and supporting all the people who live and work in towns and villages across the state and the nation.

Betsy Garrold is the president of the board of directors for Food for Maine’s Future. She monitors the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission for that organization. She also serves on the executive committee for the National Family Farm Coalition and lobbies in Augusta for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. She can be reached at hgarrold@yahoo.com or 568-3302.

A Week (or two) in the (good) Life

For the past two weeks I have been working a couple of days a week at Fedco Seeds. Pulling seed orders from all across the continent. I find this job a great joy. Seeing what other people, from those with obvious micro plots in a city to huge farm orders, want to plant in their gardens and fields. I pulled an order from Wassila, Alaska and some of us on the crew debated whether or not I should write a note. And, of course, about the content of that note. I wanted to write “say hi to Sarah for us.” Meg thought I should ask the customer if she could really see Russia from there. A few orders later there was one full of zinnias, my favorite flower, I wanted to write a note saying that it was nice to pull an order for someone who was obviously as big a fan of these little garden sunbursts as I am. In the end the only note I wrote was one to a farm couple I happen to be friends with and whose order I randomly picked from the stack of requests. Among the many, many things there are to love about my little solidarity co-op the personal touch we can add to our customer service is definitely right up there on the list.

On Saturday I attended the board retreat for the food co-op board on which I serve. The consultant who was running the meeting said something very profound. During a discussion of bylaws changes she said that the work we do is “a way to show we are a radical economic institution. Not just a nice store.” A powerful idea that I wish would resonate more with the board as a whole. I’m thinking about making it part of the opening business at each board meeting until it sinks in a bit.

Okay, so enough of my joys and frustrations. How about some fun facts? From the Maine Gardener column in the Maine Sunday Telegram 1/25/15 some interesting factoids he gleaned from the Agricultural Trade Show at the beginning of last month:

*Forage radishes make a great cover crop for a no-till planting system. (BTW we sell the seed at Fedco)
*Waldo County Maine (my home county) ranks sixth in the country in the percentage of crops sold through CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)
*Anyone who can manage to grow hops successfully in Maine (damn Japanese Beetles) can easily sell their entire crop to the abundant crop of micro-breweries springing up around the state.
*Nation-wide the percentage of farms owned and run by women is 14%. Here in Maine it is more than double that at 29%. There are so many comments I could make about this particular factoid but I will be quiet and just let that sink in for a bit.

There are times that I feel I live in the center of the progressive farming universe. I know there are folks in the midwest who would take umbrage with that statement but it sure feels good to live where I live. One of the many epicenters of the revolution.

Big White Envelope Redux

Finally got around to filling out my USDA 2014 Organic Survey today and had a very pleasant surprise:

2015/01/img_0091.jpg

Yep, that’s right the USDA is now keeping statistics on GMO contamination of organic crops! It may not be new, I may just have not been paying close enough attention, but I think this would have jumped out at me in past years as it did today. This addition is a good thing. It may be a gamble on their part that not enough small organic farmers can afford the very expensive testing and therefore will not be able to report contamination. But, being a glass half full kind of gal, I want to think that this will give us stats that we can use to fight the proliferation of GMO crops in our farmlands.

One more of those small stones we need to move to change the course of this industrial agriculture river.

Big White Envelope

A big white envelope arrived in my mailbox this week. I have yet to open it. Just waiting for the right time. The little logo on the outside says “Agriculture Counts.” Too true. Inside is the USDA’s annual Organic Farming Survey for 2014.

Now, I am a very little farm, microscopic almost but I got on this mailing list a few years ago because I felt strongly that organic agriculture in the US was being woefully under-counted. I wanted to do my, albeit small, part to reverse that trend. On the fancy postcard they sent me a few weeks ago it says this: “Total organic sales by farms in the US increased by 83 percent between 2007 and 2012.” Well I would say that their counting of it increased, more likely.

As you, faithful reader, well know I am not a huge fan of the USDA. I am not a fan of their burdensome, one-size-fits-all regulatory structure that is for sure. But if they want to count and tout organic farming I am more than willing to help them out with that. To contribute my small bit to the growing pile of data about caring for the land and feeding the people in a safe, sustainable way.

Anyhow, here is what the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has to say about it:

“IMPORTANT ORGANIC SURVEY HITS FARM GATES
January 9, 2015

On January 5, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) mailed the much anticipated 2014 Organic Survey to organic farmers all across the country. This survey is a follow-on to the 2012 Census of Agriculture and focuses exclusively on issues and trends facing organic producers. This survey was mandated by a provision of the Fiscal Year 2014 omnibus funding bill that NSAC advocated for and supported, and continues the data collection efforts on the organic sector that began with the first-ever national organic survey conducted over six years ago.

This survey is critical to organic farmers and the organic industry as a whole, because it will provide important trend data on the growth, trends, challenges, and opportunities facing the organic industry within the United States. The last time this survey was conducted was 2008, and by conducting the survey again with the same list of questions, NASS, policymakers and other data users (including farmers themselves) will be able to better identify developments and opportunities for growth in organic production.

To read more about the importance of data to the organic sector, check out our previous blog post.

The types of questions asked by the 2014 Organic Survey include:

How much land is currently transitioning into organic production;
Information on specific production practices organic farmers are implementing on their farms to control pest, weeds, soil fertility, conserve water and manage livestock;
Primary production challenges facing organic farmers; and
Value and price data on organically produced crops and livestock products.
This information not only helps the organic industry identify trends that will inform planting and other decisions, but it also helps researchers and organizations representing organic producers identify where additional resources and research are needed. Without this important data, organic producers are at a disadvantage compared with their conventional counterparts.

The data collected by this survey will also help USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) as it seeks to develop more organic prices elections for federal crop insurance policies. Organic price elections on additional crops will allow organic producers to insure their crops at the full organic price, which is often well above the conventional price. RMA also needs organic production data in order to establish new crop insurance products that are specifically tailored to organic farmers.

The survey has been sent to all known organic producers, exempt organic producers and those transitioning to organic.

Farms are required by law to complete the survey and can either complete and return the paper version they will receive in the mail or they can fill out an online version using the ID number on the mailing label. If utilizing the paper version, producers must return the survey to NASS by February 13, 2015. Producers have until April 3, 2015 to complete the online version of the survey.

The results of the 2014 Organic Survey will be available in August 2015.

NSAC encourages organic producers to participate by filling out the survey or by responding through NASS’s online survey portal, to ensure that farmers, policymakers, and other organic stakeholders have access to the most comprehensive and timely information on the current state of our country’s organic sector.”

So, if you farm organically, even just a little bit, I urge you to add your voice to the growing chorus of farming the way it should be!

Happy New Year 2015

I usually don’t make New Year resolutions because they are made to be broken in most cases. This year, however, I am going to publicly declare one blogging resolution. When WordPress sent me the year end stats for my blogs I was mortified, but I can’t say surprised, to see that I had posted only twenty times in 2014. For someone who claims to be a writer that is more than pitiful. It is downright abysmal.

So for 2015 I will make every effort to post at least once a week. Fifty-two posts. A benchmark I should be able to acheive without too much of a stretch. And hope that my posts will be much less cliche ridden than this one is turning out to be. And in the process I will be learning how to use yet another new app: the free WordPress app for my iPad. How’s that for a not too subtle product placement?

To start the year on the right foot I am offering this excellent article from the wonderful folks at Via Campesina. Enjoy, digest, comment.

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