Friday, February 22, 2008

What Elephant?

Yesterday my coworkers and I drove down to La Crosse, Wisconsin for the Organic Farming Conference. This is my first year to go, but for many years I've envied the produce managers who always go to this conference. While it's true that most of the workshops are geared toward actual organic farmers ("Practical Fly Control" or "Basics of Organic Hog Production" anyone?), just the experience of being among so many farmers committed to sustainable agriculture is uplifting.

Seriously, I'm ready to sell the house and buy a farm.

Today our keynote speaker was Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD. She spoke so eloquently about the connections between healthy communities, healthy environment, and healthy farms. It was refreshing to hear food spoken about with such unabashed political messages and numerous calls for action.

I have not heard any presidential candidate address our food system issues in a debate. Today Hemmelgarn said, "I won't vote for any presidential candidate unless they address the problems with our food system" (or something really close to that). While nothing will stop me from voting in November, I do have to agree with the conviction behind her statement.

How can we get our politicians to address food issues? Food is where it all comes together- family, farming, environment, education, diversity, health, poverty, safety, security, and economics. Our failed food system is the big elephant in the room that no one is talking about.

Sometimes when the big picture of American food is too overwhelming, though, I take comfort in knowing that at least I live in an area so rich in organic and sustainable farmers that I can find healthy, organic, local foods for much of the year. And I'm lucky enough to have a yard where I can grow a good portion of my fruits and vegetables for half of the year. And I'm lucky enough to have a lifestyle (also known as "the slow lane") that leaves me enough time to cook my foods from scratch and preserve my own harvest.

But truly, while this makes me feel better for a while, I know that this is not enough. Every little patch of land and home cooked meal helps, but it will take some large scale changes to impact most people in this world. Part of my job is to teach people about organic, natural, local foods and co-ops- But I want to do more. I don't know if the answer is to do more outreach, call more politicians, or buy a farm, but I sure am inspired by this opportunity to gather with organic leaders in the Midwest.


Jennifer said...

Nice thoughts. Our Farm Bill this year was pretty sad too, and didn't do much to alleviate the problems with our food system. And when the hell are we either going to stop subsidizing crap like corn, wheat, cotton, and soybeans, and start subsidizing other fresh fruits and veggies or get rid of the damn subsidies already!?

I think you are right too; none of the candidates are addressing this. I think they feel like its 'not important' to their platform, and that many of us citizens feel that way as well, as the mentality is "I'm not a farmer, what does all this have to do with me?" What they don't realize is how much these types of things, the agricultural practices we promote, the dietary advice we give, etc makes a huge difference in their lives. I remember awhile back listening to a local community radio program called 'Farm and Fiddle' (cause I’m a nerd like that) a commentator on there saying we should call the Farm Bill the 'Food Bill' as people would pay more attention that way.

It's tough to think of how to address the problems we have with our food and agricultural system, especially since there is so much money to be made. I think you would have to either do something about the relationship between agribusiness and food science corporations with the FDA and USDA or create a new, non-governmental agency that can act as a watch dog, although we already have similar organizations and you see how things are. Really probably more important than anything, we need an informed populace, this is why they eschew genetically modified foods in Europe, their citizenry knows more about it, and thus can make more informed decisions. Our media needs to shape up on this (and literally every other) issue they cover.

Thanks for the thought provoking post! And I too am very thankful to live in the fertile Midwest with a thriving farmers market just a 15 minute walk from my home.

Liz said...

Preach on, sister!
I'm hoping that we get some more money for organic research when the Farm/Food bill is done...and hoping it won't all get vetoed!