As followers of this blog know, I don’t hide my love for food, or my concern for current state of our country’s food system. Recently, food has been a fairly dominant topic in mainstream media, and it’s about time.
Our neighbors to the north are causing waves on the topic of raw milk. While I’m not fanatic about raw dairy, I am a huge proponent of allowing people to make informed decisions about the foods they consume. Currently, the sale of all unpasteurized milk is illegal in Canada. In response to being found guilty on several charges of raw milk sales, raw dairy farmer Michael Schmidt is engaging in a hunger strike. He hopes to shine the spotlight on the topic and to get a serious meeting with the Premier of Canada. Schmidt hasn’t eaten for month, and is pledging to take the strike to death if he must.
In farm to consumer news, a small Nevada organic farm’s “Farm to Fork” dinner was interrupted by a Nevada Health Department inspector. While guests were arriving, the inspector showed up and informed the farmers and cooks that all of the food would have to be thrown away. Not only that, it would have to be splattered with bleach to ensure it wasn’t fed to the farm’s pigs. What were their infractions?
- Some of the prepared food packages did not have labels on them. (The code actually allows for this if it is to be consumed within 72 hours.)
- Some of the meat was not USDA certified. (Did I mention that this was a farm to fork meal?)
- Some of the food that was prepared in advance was not up to temperature at the time of inspection. (It was being prepared to be brought to proper temperature for serving when the inspection occurred.)
- Even the vegetables prepared in advance had to be thrown out because they were cut and were then considered a “bio-hazard”.
- We did not have receipts for our food. (Reminder! This food came from farms not from the supermarket! I have talked with several chefs who have said that in all their years cooking they have never been asked for receipts.)
To read more about the debacle, head over to the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund site. While you’re there, consider donating to the fund. It helps provide 24/7 legal counsel to farmers when our government attempts to wrongly enforce already questionable rules.
One of the underlying themes found in the two stories above is that most agricultural legislation is written specifically for large, industrial operations, but then also applied to the small farms of North America. Raw milk is much less of an issue when you only have a handful of animals, versus hundreds or thousands. Likewise, the slaughtering of meat or harvesting of vegetables on a small, family farm shouldn’t be directly compared to million dollar cattle yards or corn operations.
Luckily, the recent news isn’t all bad. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has introduced a bill that would help small farms generate more income and create more jobs. This would be done by rewriting some of the current legislation previously mentioned to consider the vast differences between small and large scale farming. Some items on the rewritten bill intend to:
- Provide funding to help farmers build the infrastructure—like slaughterhouses—to process and sell their food locally.
- Require USDA to keep doing traditional seed research, not just on genetically modified seeds.
- Create a new crop insurance program tailored to the needs of organic farmers and diversified farmers who grow a wide variety of crops and can’t easily access traditional crop insurance.
- Break down barriers for schools and institutions to procure local food more easily. Provide schools with a local school credit to purchase local foods, as well as fix out-dated federal policies that inhibit schools from purchasing local food.
- Make it easier for food stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets by giving the farmers access to technology necessary to accept electronic benefits—that money goes right back into the local economy. The bill includes a pilot program to test smart phone technology to accept food stamp benefits at farmers market.