Herd About It?
by Ana Grarian
Farmer’s have a special place in our collective consciousness. We envision a taciturn but sweet fellow in overalls and boots standing in a pasture beside a well kept barn, holding a beautiful baby calf while his rosy cheeked children frolic about. He might be posed alongside a slightly worn classic tractor with his future farmer teenager at his side. Maybe the wife is there too with a picnic basket of wholesome homemade lunch items and a glass of fresh cold milk.
This type of iconography has been used for a hundred years or more to sell all sorts of products to the public. Cheese, butter, cereal, soup – everything you can imagine. Farmers are the honest, hardworking backbone of this country.
So why then the creation of the National Dairy FARM Program : Farmers Assuring Responsible Management?
Dairy farmers throughout the United States share an important responsibility to provide the optimum in care for their animals. It is a charge they assume willingly as caretakers of that gentle creature recognized as the source of natures most nearly perfect food – milk. Development of the National Dairy FARM Program affirms the US dairy industrys commitment to assuring the best in animal care and product quality assurance. It represents an important step forward in the preservation of consumer confidence that farm production practices are consistent and address concerns for animal well-being.
– Jan K. Shearer, DVM, MS., Professor and Extension Veterinarian, Iowa State University
from the National Dairy FARM Program website. http://www.michiganfarmbureau.com/farmnews/transform.php?xml=20090515/New_York_dairy.xml
Consumers are becoming more aware every day that farming has become industrial, and not pretty. We have seen programs like a recent Nightline report (Jan 25, 2010) on cruelty to animals. http://abcnews.go.com/video/video?id=9671990&tab=9482930§ion=1206872&playlist=1887643 We have known for decades that some chicken facilities have kept their employees locked into production facilities working for long hours at tedious jobs that create repetitive stress injuries. Reports of non-documented workers working long hours and inadequately housed and paid have appeared on national news programs.
Whereas some farm managers simply puff out their chests with snark attacks at “tree huggers” and “bedroom communities” http://www.michiganfarmbureau.com/farmnews/transform.php?xml=20090515/New_York_dairy.xml while stretching the truth about “harrassment suits”, and advising their colleagues to suit up with legal representation, some farm groups are cautioning their members to proactively document their compliance with legal regulations so that they may be percieved as responsible members of their communities. Imagine that – try being a good neighbor in order to be percieved as one.
Alas, critic that I am, I see this FARM program as a typical corporate public relations effort. If you’ve worked for a corporation you are familiar with them – lots of glossy pamphlets, a video all employees are forced to watch, a nice certificate to hang on the office wall – while behind the scenes it is life as usual.
I am glad that there are people in the Ag Industry that care enough to point out what should be best practices, and that are willing to lay it on the line that, working with the land and livestock should encompass respect for the land, livestock and the community. I just don’t think Mega (dairy, pig or chicken) Factories are going to put it into practice.
We need a return to small to medium scale facilities that can be worked by the manager, and managed by the workers, who intimately know and care for the farm and it’s livestock. And America – if you want a clean, healthy, reliable food supply that complements and sustains your community – your going to have to pay enough for it, to provide a living wage, to those who do it. In the long run it will be healthier for you, the environment, and your pocketbook too.
Good piece, Ana, but I’m wondering: Do you see a return to smaller farms managed locally and with respect for the animals and the consumers unless there’s a massive economic collapse that puts Big Agra out of buisness?
Neither party seems to have any interest in getting rid of such corporate giveaways as the corn subsidy which led to an over-production of the crop and, as a result, the cheap but unhealthy HFCS we have in nearly every American food product. (Just went shopping yesterday — only one brand, a local company named Gonnella, offered bread rolls without HFCS, and it was damn hard to find them.)
Subsidies were originally intended to help family farmers during a crisis, not to line the pockets of Big Agra executives and their shareholders. I don’t understand how this can change, unless local groups representing real farmers can come up with enough money to challenge the extravagant corporate donations to politicians.
It’s possible that consumer pressure could force the big firms to make healthier food products but, as you’ve documented in many of your articles, that’s not the way they usually do business. They’d rather spend the money to have HFCS or any other additive removed from the label so the consumer doesn’t know what they’re buying. This is the way they — ahem — ‘roll.’
I realize that it is probably only a dream to have a peaceful return to real family farming. More likely something like the disaster Howard Kunstler wrote about in “World Made By Hand”. Especially now with the latest ruling from the Supreme Court giving unlimited power to the Corps that own it.
I suppose the best reality I can hope for is that enough people will embrace the organic/natural/sustainable bandwagon that there will be better markets for those who choose to grow healthy food in more sustainable ways.
And if I can encourage enough folks to try their hand at a small plot (or pots) of homegrown food, or a few chickens, then, if and when the “Long Emergency” happens, a few more will be able to fend for themselves.
I have some hope for areas like Buffalo and Chicago(?) that have seen massive exodus of people, so that the city planners are planning urban garden and farm projects to revitalize their cities. If we could reduce the size of cities in general and make them friendly to an interaction with nature, it would be better for the nations psyche. (stay tuned for my next article)