Archive for December, 2013

The Farm Bill

Yet again the brilliant minds in DC are stumped while the rest of the country waits for them to decide to just screw us, or screw us over completely. What I’m talking about is the farm bill. I think everyone knows that agribusiness is pretty heavily subsidized by the government (using our tax dollars). Those subsidies were supposed to end in September of 2012, so they were working on a new set to use going forward. (Better late than never?) However, it appears that Christmas Break can’t be put off for details like whether our farmers can rely on the government to back them up if their crops fail next year or if/how the food stamp program will continue. Petty concerns, you know.

I specified that it was agribusiness, not farmers, that are subsidized by this for a reason. Here’s an overview of what they are hoping to include in the bill and a general overview of what is included. Basically, if you aren’t a huge farm growing commodity crops, you pretty much don’t count. The heavy subsidizing of grains then supports cheap meat and dairy when those animals are finished on grain. There’s a reason that grass-fed beef is more expensive than grain-fed, and it’s not the cost of land. It’s because we don’t see the whole cost of grain-fed beef at the grocery store.

This post mentions the probability of milk going up to $7 a gallon if Congress can’t get their act together. I admit, I’m rather torn about that possibility. On the one hand, a whole lot of the 99% are having enough trouble putting food on their tables, and I really don’t want to see it made more difficult. On the other, I’ve been looking at non-conventional milk sources and they all cost at least that much. The non-conventional milk sources (cow shares, owning a goat, buying from a friend under the table) actually reflect the real cost of producing milk. Small dairies, particularly ones that want to produce raw milk, don’t have the support from subsidies that are given to the dairies that sell to the grocery stores. They can’t hide their costs using our tax money.

Americans have gotten used to cheap food. We’ve had it for a couple of generations, now. Using such a small portion of our income on feeding ourselves is one of the reasons we have so much . . . stuff. We don’t have to choose between a Wii and dinner for the next month. Maybe, though, we need to rethink that. Consider this- if the crap milk sold in the grocery store cost almost as much as the milk from the farmer down the street who lets you pet his cows and walk his pastures, which would you end up buying?

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Thought For Food

Monday I went to the panel presentation “Thought for Food.” It had a good group of people to discuss food availability and security as well as the impact local businesses and purchases can have. The panel consisted of Becky Elder, Larry Stebbins, Christine Faith, Craig McHugh, and Mike Callicrate.

Probably the biggest thing I got out of it was that if the folks in Colorado shifted 25% of their buying power to Colorado, 31,000 jobs could be created. They figured that could mean something like 5,000 jobs in El Paso County. So all of you out there that are still working on your holiday shopping? Make those purchases from local artists, craftspeople, farmers, and shops. You’re not just helping your neighbors, you’re also helping yourself since a strong local economy is better able to weather things than one that outsources everything.

The next on the list for me is that within 30 miles of downtown, there are two farms. That’s two farms to feed about a half-million people. Even if you don’t think Peak Oil is real, or you think we’ll just magic up a new cheap fuel source- what happens when we have the sort of storms Boulder had earlier this fall and I-25 washes out? Our food mostly comes down from Denver, and if they can’t take I-25 either the food won’t get here, or the prices will be jacked up because they have to go all the way out to Limon before coming down 24. Assuming 24 is in good shape after the storm. That’s a really, really precarious position. I’m not terribly fond of Phoenix and Las Vegas because they wouldn’t, you know, exist if it weren’t for cheap transportation of food and water. I’m starting to think that Colorado Springs really isn’t much better.

Speaking of water- did you know that the US flushes six billion gallons of potable water every day? I knew it was bad, but damn. Using grey water is legal in Colorado Springs if you have the right permits. If you don’t, consider sticking a bucket under your bathroom sink drain to use the grey water from the sink to flush your toilet. My family used to do it with pond water when the electricity went out. It works really well. You are putting the water right back into the system instead of into your yard, so I don’t see how anyone could complain. If you do go the permit route to use greywater on your garden- take a really good look at what you are putting into the water. Dr. Bronner’s is pretty benign, but other than that, be very careful with soaps and detergents. Of course, watching them kill your plants might make you start to question what they’re doing to you.

Speaking of rules- the video is worth watching if only to see the variety of answers when they were asked how to deal with HOAs.

It’s not all problems, though. The whole panel was full of solutions. They included everything from growing public food forests to feed the hungry hoards when the trucks stop to ways to support the small-time grower so that everyone can benefit from the neighbors with green thumbs. Becky said that instead of fearing the hoards, we should work on empowering ourselves. Don’t forget, though, that no one is sustainable by themselves. Mike, who is behind the Public Market plan, hopes to provide a truck to go out and gather the produce from small growers so that they don’t have to spend their profit on gas to get the food to the Public Market. Craig mentioned that a 1,000 square-foot, four-season greenhouse costs $10,000 to build. The annual income is around $25,000.

Possibly the most inspiring part of this was that they do have hope. Their hope doesn’t rely on government policy, or a change in the local ecosystem. (Someone mentioned that urban food deserts have nothing on us- we are a desert!) Their hope relies on people putting in a beehive and a couple of 4×8 beds. Their hope is that the young, strong backs can pair with the elderly who have knowledge and quite possibly have land. The reason that Denver and Pueblo have more school and urban gardens is because the people demanded them- and then made them happen. How can we support more gardens in Colorado Springs? Buy produce from your local gardeners. The same with honey, eggs, milk. Yes, it is more expensive than buying the same from Walmart. However, you are investing in both your personal health and the health of your community. Humans are social animals, and community is why we’ve survived as long as we have. We just have to remember how to build them.

“Fear is forgetting that everything is alright.” ~Becky Elder