Farming is a notoriously thankless job. Good ones make ends meet by repurposing, reusing and recycling everything from yogurt cups and clothing to lumber and mechanical equipment. Then we have to sell our products only to be met by a consumer who is willing to shell out big bucks for dance shoes or massages, while telling us that the tiny bit more we are asking for farm fresh carrots is too much because they can buy the ones shipped across the country for less.
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Five years ago when starting my food forest and farm, a fellow farmer told me about a USDA program that would provide native trees. Basically, the agent would perform a site assessment to determine whether or not I qualify and then was to provide a sum of money starting around $500 to buy plants for my property.
Contrary to popular belief, the best thing that Trump ever did in his presidency was not pulling out of the WHO so that the Gates Foundation could become its biggest donor and dictate all its decisions, it was dragging his feet on funding the Farm Bill. Despite the fact that all the other steps including the site assessment had been completed, without a signed Farm Bill, funding could not be approved. Even the amount granted was in question.
This dragged on until January 2020, when a good rancher friend of mine invited me to Joel Salatin’s Rogue Food Conference in Cincinnati. I had seen Joel talk about his pastured operation 20 years prior, but this time was different. The speakers were not simply sustainable farmers. They all had a story to tell about the government agents trying to shut their real food operations down.
The most important take-home message was that it is our Constitutional right to grow, procure and consume whatever we want. So long as we’re not potentially or intentionally harming the general public, this should be a no-brainer…. at least where something as basic as the food of our ancestors is concerned. I personally don’t know anyone practicing the consumption or sale of real food, who doesn’t observe the meticulous handling methods. Yet we are too ready to shrink, not standing in our proverbial power, when government officials claim the protection of public health.
Let’s face it. If public health were truly a concern, every fast food chain and soda manufacturer would’ve been shut down decades ago and outlawed. Even regional dairies would’ve been shut down as they notoriously have harmed hundreds of thousands of people with their poorly handled products, not to mention scallions, spinach, potatoes and so many other mass-produced products. Instead, these are basically swept under the rug after the initial media hubbub. Then, it’s business as usual.
So what does all this have to do with taking government funds for your farm? One of the speakers noted that buried in these contracts are clauses forfeiting your Constitutional rights to your own land and whatever you grow or raise on it. In other words, if you sign the contract, government agents can now legally come onto your land for any reason they deem fit, whether to use it as a demo site or quite literally anything else.
Shortly after my return to Hawaii, my local USDA agent called to have me come in to sign papers again — AGAIN! So, I asked him point-blank about this concern. His response was, to paraphrase, “Well…., ummmm…. I… uh… we wouldn’….uh…. technically….” Needless to say, I was out! I told him that I was no longer interested in pursuing this and he could tear all up the entire file. If you think this is an overreaction, read on.
Over the years, I have watched the government side with big business over small as well as the well-being of consumers. Here are a few to consider:
- Government agents destroying backyard fruit to benefit citrus growers
- Legally obtained, quarantined and tagged certified healthy sheep slaughtered by government agents before dawn during a snow storm.
- My old farmer back in PA, Amos Miller, still being dogged by the government in an area where Land o’ Lakes signs are posted at nearly every other farm.
- Michigan’s ban on the sale of seeds and gardening supplies during the first month of pandemic-related lockdown because the governor felt it was unnecessary.
The list goes on and on. Those were just the first ones to pop into my head.
Now, we’re being told that in order to clean up the earth, farmers need to reduce their herd size due to nitrogen runoff, while ignoring the risk posed by synthetic fertilizers. The latter are not only poisonous to the land, waterways and consumers but also take our autonomy to raise food out of our hands.
For the first time in the five years I’ve been farming, I’ve noticed local media promoting microgrants for Hawaii farmers. These links are being heavily promoted on social media. I have no idea what they are about, but the precedent set suggests that if you’re thinking of taking money from the local or federal government, READ THE FINE PRINT!
My former podcast guest, attorney Pete Kennedy, is an advocate for farmers. Coincidentally, he also attended the Rogue Food Conference. His website has a checklist to consider before possibly signing your property away for a few hundred bucks.
Have you taken one of these agricultural grants? If so, I’d love to know how it worked out for you.