Speak Up: Let’s contribute to the conversation

I’ll admit up front that my conservative politics lead me to be less than sympathetic to any movement that co-opts the term “Occupy.”  This one in particular, however, begs my attention and prompts me to share a few comments and observations.

On February 27, a group of “Food Justice Advocates,” including Marion Nestle, Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson plan to stage  Occupy Our Food Supply in order to “End corporate exploitation of our food systems.”

Their letter of support, signed by a number of foodie organizations states:

Together, we stand in support of the Global Day of Action to Occupy our Food Supply.

Now more than ever, it’s critical to weed corporate control out of our food, and seed a more just, localized and sustainable food system. Occupy our Food Supply aims to inspire people around the world to both create local solutions and resist the corporatization of food.

Together, we will reclaim our food system, and through food protect our health, our environment, and our communities.

Please note, many of the personalities behind this also just happen to have a book they’re selling that decries and defames “factory farms,” “Frankenfoods” and “industrial agriculture.”  As for Ol’ Willie and actor Woody Harrelson, I’m guessing it’s a desperate grasp for relevance to breathe some life into their fading careers, but perhaps that’s just the skeptic in me.  In any case, I don’t see many of the featured participants as having dirt on their hands and manure on their boots.

The message is clear:  Big Ag is Bad!  That message will be transmitted in a number of ways and you can bet the national media will pick it up and fan the flames of farmer bashing.  By the way, why don’t we try and find out just what they mean by “corporate exploitation of our food supply.”  Sounds really scary, but I’m thinking it’s a pretty empty message when you really expose it to the light.

So what does the agriculture community do?  Just what we’ve been doing.  We just need to pick up the pace a little.

Social media presence is a must, as is media outreach.  Call your local paper, television station or radio news outlet and suggest to them it might be a good time to talk to a real farmer about real food issues.  As a suggestion, what if we use #RealFoodFacts for a hashtag?

We have to speak up – every day, not just February 27.  When we raise our voices, it doesn’t need to be an angry shout, it needs to be a rational representation of who we are and what we do.  “I’m a farmer – I grow your food.”


About raybowman

church of Christ elder, farmer, grandad, agriculture writer and broadcaster

Posted on February 25, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. This is always such a tough issue. Me, I feel like many consumers caught in the cross-fire…yet I am a producer too.

    Do I fancy a world where one company controls the food supply? No.

    Do I want farmers to grow good crops and hold onto the family farm? Yes.

    Do I grow my own vegetables because I am suspect of what is on the grocery shelves? Yes.

    Am I concerned about diminished diversity, especially of Appalachian heirloom seeds? Yes.

    Some how some way there has to be a middle ground…with both sides finding ways to be less polarizing and more about problem solving. That’s my two cents.

    • Just asking for both sides to be represented, Joyce. I’m not looking for a radical uprising (which I fear the organizers of this event are.) I’d just like to make sure there’s a more accurate representation of what it’s going to take to feed the world.
      Ninety-eight percent of the farms in the US are owned by families, not mega-conglomerates. Those farmers deserve the opportunity to counter some of the rhetoric.
      I think most food producers are just looking for a dialog with consumers rather than trying to scare them to death with the boogeyman of “Industrial Ag.”

      • How does that statistic break down when we talk about percentage of farmland owned, rather than percentage of farms?

        Or, how much of the food supply is produced by the 98% compared to the 2%?

        Much of the #Occupy discussion, I think, is about people wanting to be able to make informed decisions and have some sort of control over what they eat, instead of just having to go buy whatever is set in front of them because someone in authority said that it is okay to eat. So I think that that dialog is a good thing to strive for.

  2. Agree!
    None of us can provide everything for everyone. I just read an interesting comment today in a marketing book. “The local small business is a special being. It cannot thrive trying to be a simple, small sized version of big national chains. The strongest, most profitable small businesses are owned and operated and promoted by people who rely predominately on what Jeff calls “grassroots” marketing done at the street level, by direct connection, integrated with the customers, their community, and their daily activities.” Now substitute “farm” for business. We all have different markets – large, small, market and local. Competition? I don’t think so! Those looking for local and personal who have a little more discretionary income can afford that. Those looking for whatever food they can get to the table are a different market, best met by larger farms. Small places can’t compete with volume, and usually large can’t compete with personal service. So what. It takes all of us to provide food choices. I agree with much of what Joyce says…but that’s food choices.

  3. Woody Harrelson has been committed to green living and organic farming for a long time. He lives in a sustainable living community, and has for more than a decade. http://planetforward.ca/blog/woody-harrelson-lives-in-a-sustainable-community/.

    Regardless of who the activists are or what they do, they are taking a stand for health choices and information that affect the masses, so that is positive and should be considered a separate issue from their career. We should be grateful they have the time and resources to dedicate to the cause.

    I have never tended a garden and I live in a big city, but I still advocate for organic farming and GMO labeling because I believe consumers and citizen’s should have the right to to be informed and make a choice based on their ethics, values, beliefs, and financial resources. I seek out pasture-raised, grass-fed meat because I am against CAFO animal torture, and do not want to consume GMOs, even as a bi-product of meat. I choose organic to support farmers who choose health and quality as a business model over profit at a cost to consumers. This is my choice, but it is time consuming to source food and make informed decisions. I often have to shop in multiple places to get the meat and produce I value. I have completely given up on dairy as an option living in the city. I think if the information about the difference between organic and regular industrial produced foods and the related health effects, was more readily available and identifiable, more people would choose organic. Big-ag would have to adjust to meet the desires of the consumers, and that would be positive.

    With the ties big-ag has to government agencies, I am sure they are not going anywhere any time soon, so as consumers we have to stand up and fight for a more level playing field and demand that we have choice.

    • You certainly should be able to make choices about what you eat, but they need to be informed choices. For instance, Scientific American points out
      “Just recently, an independent research project in the UK systematically reviewed the 162 articles on organic versus non-organic crops published in peer-reviewed journals between 1958 and 2008 11. These contained a total of 3558 comparisons of content of nutrients and other substances in organically and conventionally produced foods. They found absolutely no evidence for any differences in content of over 15 different nutrients including vitamin C, β-carotene, and calcium.” http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2011/07/18/mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/

      Then there is the recent research by Dr. Jude Capper indicating that conventional beef production has a smaller carbon footprint than grass-fed and that there is no appreciable health advantage to grass-fed. http://www.progressivecattle.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4442:capper-efficiency-the-key-to-beef-sustainability&catid=93:featured-main-page

      As to GMO, I think you might find some valuable information in “The New Harvest: Agricultural innovation in Africa” by Harvard professor Calestous Juma. Dr. Juma’s basic thesis is that world food supply will depend on a number of production methods appropriately used.

      These are just a few of the many resources available that might challenge some of your ideas. While I applaud your concerns, I hope you will give consideration to the many other viewpoints that may not coincide with yours.

  4. Interesting discussion, Mr Ray Bowman (and all others). More or less the same discussion is taking place here in The Netherlands and the rest of Europe. Consumers everywhere are criticizing the foodsystem, at all levels including the worldwide system. And peculiar things are noticeable. E.g. many consumers are advocates of off-system food – local, organic, etc. And farmers are reacting allergic (quite often anyway). Farmers say it is strange that consumers want food that is from small scale and therefor more expensive. But isn’t it weird: consumers wanting more expensive food, and farmers wanting cheaper food? Logic would be the opposite.
    Farmers take critics personally. But most of it is systemic. And worldwide there is much “peculiar”. “THE FARMER FEEDS US ALL”. This is not true. One billion people go to bed hungry day by day. Most of them being farmer! But what a loss of market farmers are meeting: one billion hungry and another billion undernourished. Apparently this is because agriculture can not produce enough. But why do the most efficient farmers (US/EU) need subsidies when there are foodshortages/soaring foodprices? And why are organic farmers (like me) inducing hunger because orgaonic cannot produce enough? And at the same time: why are we producing biofuels – because we can still produce MORE than enough food? Reasons for all these symptoms I think are systemic. Farmers can not look away from them. But at the same time they do not have to feel being under attack. Because our reality is that at individual level not much is wrong. But a lot of good elements do not make up a smart system. In fact there is no correlation between them at all. High regards, Huib Rijk, organic farmer in The Netherlands.

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