The MOF&G Online
What Do We Want?
by Russell Libby
In a recent essay, Rebecca Solnit observed that sometimes we get what we ask for-but by then what we want has changed, perhaps so much that our original goal seems almost unrecognizable. (See "The Great Gray Whale...or This Story Has No Moral," Common Dreams News Center, www.commondreams.org, July 25, 2005) Solnit's observation is particularly true when we need to involve larger parts of society, such as the Legislature or Congress or a government agency.
The Eat Local Foods Coalition recently met at the Blaine House to discuss what a food policy for Maine might look like. Before the meeting I reviewed and summarized the major agricultural policy reports created over the past 30 years. Many of the issues that were raised during the meeting were familiar: support for new farmers; the need to preserve farmland; improved market access to public institutions for local farmers; help with keeping production costs under control. An observer from Iowa told me that almost every policy idea on the charts was a standard element in food policies developed in other cities and states. That observation, I think, helps define a question we are going to have to answer ultimately.
Do we want Maine agriculture to look, as much as possible, just like agriculture in the rest of the country, or can we carve out an approach to agriculture and fisheries that distinguishes us-in terms of crops, tastes, varieties, how food is grown, management of coastal estuaries, links between farmers and fishermen-from the rest of the country?
The prevailing model for our current food system is "anything from anywhere, anytime." Everything is available for the right price. Often the price doesn't reflect true social, human or environmental costs. Whether the apple juice was produced in Maine, Washington, Chile or China doesn't seem to matter. Who did the actual work of producing the food is usually a mystery. No one knows how much soil was lost in producing the crop, how much water was consumed, how much energy used.
We rely on shorthand-labels-to answer our questions. Fair Trade. Organic. Product of XYZ. But relying on labels, even when they are accurate and the products reflect our personal values, keeps us locked within the existing global food production and marketing system.
The Common Ground Country Fair gives us a glimpse of what an alternative might look like-a place where you can build a relationship with a farmer, potter or musician, and take that connection deeper year after year. To have a food system that lets us experience such depth and richness every day would definitely distinguish Maine from most of the country. But we won't get this local, organic food system unless we work toward that shared goal, day after day, year after year. We won't get it without asking for it in policy discussions. And we need to be really clear about what we want as we express our shared vision and dreams for the future; otherwise we won't recognize the progress we've already achieved, and the success that awaits us.
Everyone Loves Local Agriculture
by John Bunker, MOFGA president
Recently I've been asking around to find out what people think about local agriculture. I thought you might enjoy hearing the results of the official survey.
The governor and Ms. Baldacci love local agriculture. They've got their own vegetable garden in Augusta, right at the Blaine House. They even put up a greenhouse for 'four-season' gardening. Ms. Baldacci has been working hard to get local food into our schools.
The governor invited four of us from MOFGA to visit him this past June. It was clear to me from what he said that he's well aware of the key role that local agriculture plays in Maine.
The governor's not alone. Farmers love local agriculture, because they get to keep their jobs, and they get to spend so much time outdoors in this wonderful state.
Republicans love local agriculture, because it is the quintessential family value. Local ag means plenty of work for the family. When families work together they get to know each other again. They eat together. They stay connected. They support one another. The grandparents are there to baby-sit the young ones. Farms can get passed from generation to generation. The kids have meaningful work all summer long and even in winter. Local agriculture = family values.
Democrats love local agriculture. They fancy themselves as the party of the people, and where there's local agriculture, there are jobs for local folks. Jobs for local folks mean communities thrive. Thriving communities have money for schools, libraries and those other things that democrats like to spend money on.
Conservatives love local agriculture, because local ag does such a good job at conserving everything. It conserves land, oil, air, water, tax money...you name it. The more local, the more conservative. A completely local agriculture with all local inputs would be the ultimate in conservatism. We'd use virtually no oil at all.
Liberals love local agriculture, because of the liberal use of compost and 'dressing.' Nothing is more liberal than the pile of goodies that goes under a well-fed cabbage plant.
Doctors love local agriculture. Lots of doctors now say that if we ate only whole, local foods, we would have much less heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Local food is fresher; it retains more nutrients; it's better for you.
School nutritionists and teachers love local agriculture. Where schools have thrown out the junk food and adopted a local, whole foods menu, the meal plan is not more expensive, as everyone had feared; and kids eat the wholesome food. My friend Jane, who teaches elementary school in Winslow, gave her students carrot sticks and celery sticks. They ate them all. Over 9 million U.S. kids are obese. Junk food advertisers are spending over $10 billion a year. When kids-or any of us--are hoeing, digging and raking, we get the great exercise that we need. Local agriculture means less obesity.
Economists love local ag. They tell us that when we spend our money locally-say at the farm stand down the road or at the farmers' market--that money gets spent at least five or six more times in the community instead of being sent off to Arkansas or China or some other faraway place. Each time that dollar is spent again, someone else in the community benefits. Another store stays open. Another job is saved. Local agriculture builds strong communities, but currently over 70% of our food in Maine comes from three out-of-state-owned stores.
Property tax payers love local agriculture. When farm land is taxed, the money goes into the pot to help pay for the school and the fire department, but corn, beans and cows don't go to school and the orchard rarely burns down, so this is like free money for the town.
Tourists love local agriculture. What is more picturesque than a couple of cows grazing peacefully in a field? Local ag is just plain good business for our multi-zillion dollar tourist industry. Open fields, hay bales, farm stands, tidy barns. When tourists leave their dollars here, we benefit, and they get to have fun in the process.
My survey results appear to be unanimous: Everyone loves local agriculture. As the governor himself said, "Local, organic agriculture is not only good for the Maine economy, it's good for you!" Eat local!
Leading the Way
A sonnet by John Bunker
Known to all as the great state of Maine,
Solidarity and Possibility
by Jean English
Much of what you need (maybe even most, or all) is at the Common Ground Country Fair: yarn from Maine-raised sheep, to knit into warm winter socks; fresh produce at the Farmers' Market for an evening meal, or storage crops for the months ahead; talks and demonstrations that will inspire you to grow a better garden and a better world.
This past year, that better world seems to have taken root and flourished-at least as it relates to organic agriculture. Almost every farm supply store and garden center carries a choice of brands of compost, approved for organic growers. Almost every grocery store offers foods that were grown without pesticides or artificial hormones-foods that haven't contributed to the $10 billion annual cost of using pesticides-a minimal estimate by Cornell University entomologist David Pimentel. Media everywhere are championing local, organic foods.
Change is in the air, in the soil and water, in minds and markets-and not a minute too soon. At last year's Slow Food Terre Madre convention in Italy, Prince Charles said, "Left to its own devices, I fear that globalization will-ironically-sow seeds of even-greater poverty, disease and hunger in the cities and the loss of viable, self-sufficient rural populations." He noted that industrial agriculture is not needed to feed the world, citing many cases where improved organic practices have increased yields markedly.
What is the connection between food and peace? As MOFGA member Beedy Parker says, "People who can grow and buy local food feel safer-more self sufficient and interdependent--so are likely to be more self respecting and able to share instead of terrified, terrorized and warlike. Local food could make us all more peaceful, in ourselves, and in our political behavior." Beedy likes the words solidaridad (emphasizing our connections with people worldwide, and our respect for and responsibility toward one another) and posibilidad (the sense of a better future). "The possible can grow into the probable," she explains, "and we can work to make that happen."
Sounds like the history of MOFGA, and of the organic movement: People believed in the possibility of a better agriculture, took step-by-step action to make the movement a probability, and the movement flourished. In this issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, you can read about the next step toward making Maine an organic state: This spring, MOFGA representatives, for the first time, met with a Maine governor to discuss the potential for organic agriculture here-also discussing issues that need to be addressed in order to realize that potential.
Turning the possible into the probable sounds like the Common Ground Fair, too. This melting pot of local, organic products and global, peaceful ideas overflows with posibilidad. What fertile ground for Sunday's keynote speaker, the irrepressible Dennis Kucinich, to promote his posibilidad of a peaceful, environmentally sound world. How exciting to have a nationally-recognized legislator who understands the problems inherent in genetically engineered crops and in industrial agriculture, as well as the posibilidad connection between food and peace.
See you at the Fair!
Return to The MOF&G Online