Did you know that each year the US Government gifts 400 already-wealthy entities over a million dollars in farm subsidies each?
No wonder it’s so hard for regenerative farms to compete.
These recipients are mostly corporate agribusinesses based on land speculation and insurance schemes, instead of food. Some produce no food at all. The top 10 recipients alone received 180 million dollars in 2018 alone, for forms of “farming” that use lots of land and fossil fuels, are cruel to animals, contribute to climate change, destroy ecosystems and rural towns, harm small regenerative farms, and make consumers sick. (Citations in comments.)
This heavy handed government interference in the market has broad effects that distort the global food system.
What would our food system look like if we asked the government to stop doing this?
In the 1920s, the Hoover Farm Commission looked to improve the lives of farmers and concluded the problem of farmers was farming, and the solution was to benevolently confiscate their farms, which would free up cheap labor for industrialists to “modernize” both farming and the economy, and the farmers would be happier working in urban factories.
The government couldn’t just steal the land outright from farmers*. So, the government created a system of subsidies, insurance laws and agricultural policies that would predictably force small farms out of business, and concentrate land ownership in the hands of relatively affluent whites who could access credit for “modernization.”
“Go big or get out” became the mantra repeated by Ag extension agents and farm loan officers.
It worked as planned.
So began the accelerated degradation of land and the adulteration of food meant to gloss over the declining quality of food.
If we dismantled the modern governmental food policies that were intended to funnel tax dollars to corporations for petrol, poisons, and plastics, and to move farmers off their family farms to create a pool of cheap labor for industrialists, this zoned food system is about what would naturally occur. It is similar to what existed prior to those policies.
It’s a decentralized system that would work better for land stewards at every level. In towns and cities, growers wouldn’t have to compete with heavily subsidized mega farms, so they could make a living growing ultra-fresh produce right where it’s eaten. No more cardboard tomatoes shipped a thousand miles or nutritionless floppy lettuces.
Rural farmers could focus on calorie crops and regenerative agroforestry products instead of having to compete with subsidized mega farms using $3/hour labor and chemicals. In turn, they wouldn’t have to try to grow so much fresh produce that would be better produced on a smaller scale, and could focus on growing more fresh produce of their own for their families. Without subsidies pushing consolidation, there would be more places for smaller farmers to own land and make a living stewarding it.
Marginal land could be put back to nature and public preserves for us to all enjoy.
Mostly, this wouldn’t take a big expensive policy push and a new layer of subsidies to make it happen. We’d simply need to remove the current layers of policy that rig the game in favor of land consolidation and centralization.
This sort of post partisan policy aims to overcome the left/right gridlock by making progress on the goals of environmentalism, health, and social equity, by removing the influence of big government first. This isn’t to say it’s perfection, but at least it’s a good start, and much of it could be led by citizen activists, and implemented on the local level. And new layers of puny token subsidies are rarely effective while the massive layers of policy and subsidy that created the problems are left in place.
How could we get the government to stop creating these problems? This list would be a start: (This list is for the US context, but because our system has been exported around the world as a “modernization “ policy, much may apply elsewhere.)
1. End multi-million dollar ag subsidies to already wealthy mega farms.
2. End subsidies of ag corporations.
3. End subsidies for ag plastics.
4. Make mega farms pay their externalized costs for manure lagoons, damage to water ways, and shipping infrastructure.
5. End labor exemptions that allow farmers to pay as little as $3 hour.
6. End subsidies for poison use, including for the management of public lands. This can be done at the local level.
7. End subsidies for commodity crop insurance.
8. End subsidies and special loans for large-scale mechanical tools necessary for industrial agriculture.
9. Throw out “safety and modernization” regulations like FSMA that unfairly target small farms and instead start taking the real safety issue, large corporate farming, more seriously.
10. Get community transformation leaders involved in state and local boards for invasive plant management, pest control, and Good Agricultural Practices.
On the personal level, Transformative Adventures exists to help regular people grow wealthier, healthier, wiser lives through connection to nature and community.
But on the societal level, our goal is to create a people powered DIY Green New Deal, and arm grass roots activists with advocacy and policy materials to become recognized local leaders for a just and sustainable world.
*It must be said, the US government had previously just directly stollen land from Native communities and black farmers, and a decade later would again steal land and assets from US Citizens who appeared Latino in the Mexican Repatriation, to redistribute it to politically connected white families. But it was not feasible to steal land from white families so a more complex system was necessary to disguise the theft.
Some of this history was covered beautifully in Bee Wilson’s Swindled, the History of the Food Cheats.