Friday, November 15, 2013

Forget the Farm Bill: This Is the Most Pressing Policy Issue for Small Farmers

A farm, Bethel, Vt.  (LOC)
A farm, Bethel, Vt.
If you spend more than a few minutes talking with a certain type of farmer these days, the conversation is bound to come around to policy debates in Washington. It’s not the farm bill that this person, the kind you might buy fruit and vegetables from at the farmers market, is concerned with. The men and women who work small farms planted with a variety of crops, with maybe a henhouse or a couple of hogs on the property, aren’t eligible for the kind of direct payments and subsidized crop insurance for which big commodity farmers are eligible.

What farmers like Peter Schaner, who has been farming in north San Diego County since 1984, is worried about is the Food Safety and Modernization Act. The law, passed in 2011, was initially seen as a landmark bill, one that could vastly reduce the occurrences of food-borne illness and other health-related concerns originating in the food-supply chain. But when the Food and Drug Administration released draft rules earlier this year, smallholder and organic farmers like Schaner balked: Many of the proposed regulations would, if passed into law, fundamentally change the way places like Schaner Farms go about growing food—if not put them out of business altogether.

As we reported in October, the draft rules would require regular water testing, put new restrictions on the use of manure, and impose additional regulations on farms that make their own products, such as jams or pickles. Then there are the rules regarding animals.

“These new farm laws that they’re trying to shove down our throat [are] really going to wipe us out, because you can’t have animals on the farm,” Schaner said from his perch in the back of a panel truck at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. “And it’s like, what the heck are we doing? Here we have a farm that’s diversified, that’s had animals on it for hundreds of thousand of years, basically—well, not ours—and all of a sudden animals on the farm is the worst thing around.” Read more >>

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