Jonathan Teller-Elsberg  @  ChelseaGreen

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Pigs at the trough and looking beyond local farms

Posted on Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 at 9:09 am by Jonathan Teller-Elsberg

The February Center for Rural Affairs newsletter includes a couple articles especially worth noting. Bad news first: the Obama administration isn't holding to the President's campaign promise to clamp down on the loophole that allows unlimited subsidies to go to the biggest farms.

In a repudiation of the president’s central campaign pledge on rural policy, the Obama administration has refused to close the biggest loophole in the federal farm payment limitation.

At an October 2007 Linn County, Iowa, campaign event Obama said, “Too many family farmers are being squeezed as big agribusiness takes up larger shares of federal subsidies.” He released a rural platform that day pledging immediate action to close loopholes by limiting payments to active farmers who work the land and their landlords – noting that “every president since Ronald Reagan had the authority to close this loophole but failed to act.”

But last month the Obama administration joined its predecessors in failing to act by releasing regulations that continue this gaping loophole. As a result, mega farms will continue claiming unlimited payments to drive smaller farmers out of business.

USDA allows investors to count as active farmers as long as they participate in a few conference calls, according to the Government Accountability Office. That enables mega farms to get another set of payments up to the limit for each additional investor in the operation. [cont'd]

Next up, well not quite good news exactly, but an article on strengthening the good trend of renewed local food systems.

These days it seems the most popular person to be in the food system is the “local farmer.” Farmers markets are popping up everywhere, and their size and popularity grow all the time. Local food is trendy – even the First Family is in on it.

But as anyone who has ever raised grain or livestock can tell you, the farmer is not the only person in the chain of players from her farm to your fork. In addition to producers, your food chain includes processors, distributors or transporters, and retailers.

In other words, to have a truly local food system, we also need local butchers, bakers and millers, local truck drivers, local grocers, and a community that supports them in all their efforts. [cont'd]

These days the chances are you have access to a farmers' market or CSA. But can you get locally milled grain? Can your local grocer carry local farm products without being penalized by their regular distributor? Will the distributor carry those local products? It's a good reminder that localizing the food system involves a lot more than growing the food on local land.

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