Level the Playing Field for Organic Farmers
Why is it that organic farmers, who are producing the products better for people and the earth, are promoted the least by the federal government?
I’m Linda, owner of Sun Sugar Farms in Verona Kentucky.
At Sun Sugar Farms we're committed to growing our produce sustainably. No chemicals to fertilize crops or keep pests out. No miles of disposable headed-for-a-landfill plastic for weed control. No GMO seeds helping to fill Monsanto’s coffers. We practice being as good to the earth as possible while producing the best-tasting fresh edamame and sun sugar cherry tomatoes you’ve ever eaten by minimizing tilling and hand-picking. And our workers? They’re our friends, our neighbors, and students who will all earn at least minimum wage or more if they excel.
Why aren't we “organic”? BECAUSE IT COSTS TOO MUCH. In many cases, it costs around $700 (or more) for a new farm just to get “certified organic”. Plus there can be many other costs beyond the initial first steps on top of the basic fact that sustainable farming costs more in terms of time and effort. During the certification process, there’s inspections, assessments, and travel costs for the certifying agent. In addition, there are ongoing annual renewal fees for as long as you hold your certification. And don't forget the reams of paperwork to keep meticulous records about every step of your process. No thanks. Barely breaking even now.
Meanwhile, the US farm subsidy program supports and funds those big farmers that easily produce for the masses (through excessive chemical fertilizers, dangerous pesticides, and low-paid immigrant labor) a diet of foods you should eat the least of. Ever wondered why it’s cheaper to buy bread than it is broccoli? Why you can get a value meal at McDont’s for a lot less than a dinner of organic chicken and fresh vegetables? This is the direct result of government farm subsidies.
And what are the top four most heavily subsidized farm foods? Corn, wheat,soybeans and rice. By subsidizing these - especially corn and soy - the U.S. government is actively supporting a diet that consists of these grains in their processed form: high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, and grain-fed cattle. You save money and get fat while these mega farms get rich.
Many of the subsidized grain crops are also used for animal feed that is fed to animals raised on nasty confined animal feeding operations. Although they are promoted as the best way to produce food for the masses, it has lead to an abundance of cheap food that comes with serious consequences:
- Loss of water quality through nitrogen and phosphorus contamination in rivers, streams and ground water
- Agricultural pesticide contamination to streams, ground water and wells and safety concerns to agricultural workers who use them
- A decline in nutrient density of 43 garden crops
- Large emission of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide
- Negative impact on soil quality through such factors as erosion, compaction, pesticide application and excessive fertilization
Ironically, at a sustainable agriculture conference I attended this winter there was a pesticide conference gathering on the very same days. It was interesting to compare the two groups of attendees. The healthier-looking sustainable group was much more diverse in terms of race, age, and sex. The other group that was there to learn about the latest and greatest way to chemically kill weeds was made up of mostly overweight, chain-smoking old white guys.
Does it make sense that the food that took more effort to grow, that tastes better and is healthier for you does NOT get much help while the food that is mass-produced using methods harmful to our earth gets massive subsidies? I’m not asking for a handout, I’m just asking that the subsidies should be congruent to the value produced or the onerous cost and time requirements of being “certified organic” be decreased. That way the better food that’s produced could be more financially attractive to everyone.