Fighting for Family Farmers – A Virtual Town Hall
August 28, 2020
Fighting for Family Farmers – A Virtual Town Hall
Ohio’s farmers were already struggling as a result of a failed trade agreement and an international trade war. Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of catastrophic climate change, farmers could be further harmed by collapsed commodity demand and financial vulnerability from large commercial farms. Family farms have been disappearing over the years, with the number of dairy farms dropping more than 90% since 1970.
With family farms, you know where your food is coming from and what goes into it. These farms protect biodiversity and the environment. Family farms don’t use a lot of harmful chemicals and are better for sustaining the soil. Low soil quality leads to a low quality of food. Join us as we learn about why it is important to protect family farms.
Joe Logan – President of the Ohio Farmers Union, 5th generation farmer
Chris Gibbs – Farmer and rancher in west central Ohio, Ret. U.S Dept. of Agriculture
Tony Logan – Renewable Energy and Food Systems Consultant in Columbus, Ohio. Formerly Ohio’s Rural Development Director for USDA. Chairperson of the Columbus & Franklin County Local Food Board. Sits on the Vice President’s Advisory Council for the Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES)
Mike Mackey – Field Operations Director for the National Farmers Organization and acting Regional Director for the State of California.
Bill Miller – Vice President of the Ohio Farmers Union. Owns and operates a 160 acre certified organic farm. Appointed to USDA Minority Farmer Advisory Committee. Treasurer of the NAACP Oxford Unit.
Roger Wise – Full-time farmer of 700 acres of corn and soy. Past President of the Ohio Farmers Union. Former County Soil and Water District Supervisor. Served as County Health Board Member, Township Trustee, and County School Board Member.
Overview of Topics Discussed:
Definitions of “family farm” vs. “industrial farm”, need for high speed internet access in rural areas, low commodity prices due to over production by industrial farms, public policy overseeing supply and demand, food supply needs to be treated as a national security interest.
“Family Farm” vs. “Industrial Farm”
One of the points discussed was the difference between “family farms” and “industrial farming”. Family farming doesn’t mean having a few cows and chickens; rather, the vast majority of the large farms that we’ve known across America are indeed “family farms”. A “family farm” just means that the land is actually owned by a family, rather than a large corporation or a foreign interest. The family actually owns the livestock, equipment, and bears the burden of the financial risks. Family farms use a lot of processes that are “industrial” because that’s what’s required to keep up with demand for fuel, food, and fiber, and keep their prices competitive; but the industrial equipment or processes used are not the defining factors of a “industrial farm”.
An “Industrial Farm” by contrast is not a part of the community; rather they’re large corporations, often foreign-owned, that often import their supplies and equipment and export most, if not all, of what is grown or raised. Industrial farms aren’t putting money back into their communities’ banks, grocery stores, implement dealers, repair shops, etc., and are much harder on the environment.
Food Processing and Packaging
Another point in the discussion is the concentration at the last step before consumer consumption – processing and packaging. There are increasingly fewer and fewer corporations handling more and more of the processing and packaging of food.
America’s Food Supply as a National Security Interest
The recent COVID-19 outbreak has exposed part of the national security risk this causes; when our food supply is that concentrated, 1 blip can shut down the food supply for half of America. It was suggested that Congress can, and must, do something to ensure America’s food supply isn’t set up to fail. Spreading out the the burden of farming and food processing reduces the impact of big blows and thereby reduces the national security threat. If there’s a hurricane, if one plant goes down, it’s much easier for other locations in other parts of the country to pick up the slack. Having less huge corporate, industrial farms and more smaller farms also reduces the environmental impact and it keeps pricing equitable and sustainable! It also means more competition, which improves quality.
Panelist Mike Mackey wrote an article about about the importance of family farms and the current struggles of American dairy farms. His article sums up what seemed to be the unanimous agreement from the entire panel, that family farms are “good for rural economies, good for food security and good for the environment.”
The consensus is that the U.S. Government needs to act – to ensure anti-trust laws are being followed, to ensure our food supply and food processing is thought of as the national security risk that it is, to ensure industrial farms aren’t being given the upper-hand and running more family farms out of business, while ensuring enough incentives are being given to family farms to keep the next generation involved in farming. When family farms go out of business, they can easily take entire towns out with them, dealing crushing blows to rural America that undoubtedly will ripple into suburban and urban America.