Friday, April 24, 2009

Agrarianism and farm subsidies


Recently, I've become a farmer... not really, but I sure felt like it after buying a hay bale for my ducklings. Well, we've planted over 40 fruits and vegetables in our backyard this year, just to see how things work out, and with an initial goal of 1 full meal produced at our house per week once we get to harvesting and our ducks commence to layin'.

Of course, one could wax poetical-philosophical-religious-economical-environmental about all the benefits of gardening and animal husbandry. Of those who do it well, I recommend Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, and that fella from Polyface Farms. And though I love that stuff, lately I've found myself reading much more practical writings, most of it published over at Storey.

I will say that kids (and adults!) should raise animals at some point in life, and if at all possible (as I've just learned), raise both for happiness (like a dog) and for food-production or some other practical benefit (like guard duty or hunting). Your responsibilities and relationships are subtly different, but both are valuable.

Now, on to the political sphere, just to make an observation. When Obama first picked Gov. Vilsack to run the USDA, I was more than a little bummed. In my opinion, the biggest improvements in habitat and climate change are going to have to take place around food. Production, transportation, and processing use up tremendous amounts of energy, and the types of foods and our reliance on a mass-production system is seeming to come up against some pretty heavy laws of nature, especially around plant types and nitrogen from petroleum. Also, as Pollan pointed out in Omnivore's Dilemma, it is pretty hard to keep a 6-12% annual return to shareholders if people only eat around 2,000 Calories and our population remains static.

However, when I learned of the Administration's proposal to cut subsidies to large farms, I was overjoyed, and in theory, this could be an idea to be embraced by conservative and liberal alike. Unfortunately, they have backpeddled some from the initial statement by Obama to, "end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don't need them." Nevertheless, for Secretary Vilsack to back some kind of reform here is a huge deal.

And the pictures? At the top is our garden twenty-six days ago, and here it is now...

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