What’s a local food lover to do? Across the country, the USDA is enforcing policies that favor big ag and factory farms over their small and family-operated cousins. Crime in question? Selling fresh foods to happy customers within their communities. While the current political climate renders this far from shocking, it’s scary stuff in a place like Santa Cruz, where family farms are a huge part of our culture.
Instead of focusing on the source of food safety problems like tainted beef and spinach, which to date have unequivocally been traced back to factory farm operations, USDA is spending taxpayer dollars enforcing their dubious legislative claims on small family farms. Talk about scapegoating!
Raising milk for your own family is fine. But regulators say that when it is shared – even if the recipients own a portion of the herd through purchasing shares – state laws are triggered. To comply, farms typically spend thousands of dollars to upgrade equipment and more, which has driven more than one small farm out of business. Noncomplying farms nationwide have been subjected to a series of armed raids right out of S.W.A.T scene, along with “cease and desist” letters sent by the state’s Dept. of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to small farmers and herd share owners. It’s enough to make your milk curdle!
The good news is, the farming community in Santa Cruz was able to organize, educate and initiate some protective action. The issue gained traction in August, when newly released documentary “Farmeggedon”, played at the Green Grange to a crowd of several hundred concerned Cruzans. The film illustrates firsthand the severity of the situation and spurred some serious local action. Milk Mama Farm, a local goat herd co-op, initiated a “Right to Grow Food” resolution in Santa Cruz County. Along with four other herd shares, they also staged a public awareness “Milk In” on Sept. 7 at the downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market. They served fresh goat milk in violation of state law to raise awareness and collect enough signatures to get their initiative before the Board.
On Sept. 13, California’s Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a “Resolution Recognizing the Rights of Individuals to Grow and Consume Their Own Food and to Enter into Private Contracts with Other Individuals to Board Animals for Food”, a beautiful demonstration of democracy in action and first step toward local food sovereignty in Santa Cruz. Though officially considered symbolic from a legal perspective, the Resolution memorializes public assertion of the right to grow and eat food of their own choosing, and to collectively share in private herds, free from government interference.
Sponsored by County Supervisors Neal Coonerty (3rd District) and Ellen Pirie (2nd District), the Resolution recognizes that local foodsheds boost the local economy, promote environmental sustainability, and provide healthy foods. “I supported this resolution to encourage small-scale, locally produced, and sustainable agriculture in Santa Cruz County,” Coonerty recently told Food Freedom. “We have long been a community that supports and seeks a direct relationship with our food.”
He added that “State regulatory authorities need to develop and promote policies that support and foster locally grown and sustainable food movements.”
Meanwhile California’s Department of Food and Agriculture sees things differently, saying state laws overseeing dairy farms are in place to protect the public health. And behind the scenes, big ag looms.
According to the Community Environmental and Legal Defense Fund, communities across the country are facing the agribusiness industry’s increasing control over food production. Today, four corporations control over 85% of beef packing in the United States. Two corporations – Tyson and Smithfield – control over half of pork production. Thirty-five percent of milk production is controlled by Dean Foods.
These agribusiness corporations use their “rights” under the law to prevent us from rejecting the damage offered up by conventional, large scale farming operations and mandating the type of agriculture that feeds our communities. And as the agribusiness industry increases its hold, communities are facing severe impacts to their water, soils, air, local economy, and quality of life, not to mention the loss of family and small farmers.
Recently, California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross announced a new advisory group that will focus on direct marketing of farm produce. Promising to cover farmers markets and other community supported agriculture groups, it will likely also consider private herd shares. Government agencies clearly plan to continue to pick on the little guy while the real perps go unpunished. All this begs the question, in a nation where many communities are exposed to contaminated drinking water as a direct result of agricultural industry activities unmitigated by federal health agencies, why the excessive focus on family farms? (hint: answer in bold above).