Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occupy the garden

The season has pretty much slowed down. Finally a breath to be had and some thoughts to share! The past few days i have been at the Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference at Penn State and have met so many wonderful people and learned so many useful things!

Yesterday over lunch a fellow farmer who was probably 25 years my senior was kvetching about the costs associated with being a farmer (organic feed, costs of markets, costs of licenses and inspections...) She was complaining about how another farmer in one of her markets is a non-profit. 'They are there selling eggs for less than I am. Of course they can do that, they have grant money. I depend on $5 a dozen for my eggs, I just can't make it work any other way. I also need to sell more, but I can't if the grant run farm is selling right next to me."

This has been a conundrum I have thought about for a long long time. Two years ago after trying many different ways to make a farm happen in different ways, I joined the non-profit forces. I had been working and farming on a beautiful island in British Columbia and finally got so fed up with being nickled and dimed by the general wealthy public who would come to this island for it's renowned produce and farm fresh products that I decided to move to the city where 80% of the population lived (and needed to be educated about food and farming). I realized that growing food and selling it just wasn't enough. Big Ag was still the booming food business no matter how many vegetables and animal products we supplied. People are addicted to convenience and I no longer wanted to feed into that addiction. I wanted to educate. I did not want to enable. I was an angry farmer for a long time. So upset that no one who eats really understands the value of their food. Angry at the customers, angry at the government subsidies, angry at the education system, the big ag, the processed food producers, and sure, the grant driven non-profits. Mostly I was angry that making an honest living on this planet was seemingly impossible.

"It has gotten so much worse the past few years." this farmer says to the table of fellow female farmers. "What changed?" I ask, thinking it had something to do with regulations or markets. "My husband and I retired from our full time jobs and are now full time farmers."

This woman and her husband entered into a broken agricultural system and hoped to reap a living from it. Fortunately they had jobs for 40 years and probably some savings to live off of (for now). But the fact of the matter is that the system as it is doesn't work. It just does not work.

The whole system is broken. It reaches from Wall Street all the way down to the food we eat. To deny this is our demise. I think the conversation that I was in yesterday is a result of someone being stuck in the system and the choices that they made to be in it. I am sorry that so many people are in this situation, I do hope that we can all learn to work together and help each other out of it.

Today people are waking up, men and women are looking around. Looking at their lives and thinking 'nah, this ain't right'. And if fact, it isn't. Folks want to do something different, but don't know how or don't have the means to. Farmland is disappearing (for greed). The upcoming farmers who want to take care of the land and not just take from the land do not have many options. I spent 10 years working on farms and learning from different farmers. Who has the time to do this? I have had no money to buy a piece of land. I cannot afford taxes and tools and all the equipment needed to efficiently run a farm. I imagine most other folks don't either. What can we do to change the land accessibility for wanna be farmers? Most successful farmers that I meet in NJ have the family farm (no mortgage, no down payment, equipment already there...) or they had/have a good paying job (ie: worked within the broken system-usually supporting corporate greed) and have the money it takes to grow food for little profit.

I do think much of the onus comes down to each and every one of us in the daily decisions we make and the consciousness we carry with us when we purchase and eat food. The whole system needs to change, and in the mean time, or as a means to an end, how about we support one another with the food/knowledge/resources we have!