Shouldn’t the Farm Bill Help Farms?

Just over a week ago, the House of Representatives passed the new Farm Bill. Instituted during the New Deal to protect the public interest by helping to ensure that the vast population of small farmers could maintain their livelihood and provide the nation with a quality food supply.

three-quarters of a century later, the Farm Bill has become twisted. Billions of dollars flow into the coffers of corporate agribusiness, which then turns those subsidies into processed, chemically fertilized, protected, and “enhanced” processed foodstuffs. The small family farmer is often left on the short end of the stick, unable to sustain themselves on their vocation. We spent the last weekend at my in-laws’ rural home, and my wife and mother-in-law mourned the fact that so many of the farms were hanging up their plows and milkers. Farmers are being forced to sell their family plots, some having been passed down for generations, to developers who immediately begin laying down sprawling subdivisions and golf courses (four in one development!) on the good farmland.

Not only is this corporate welfare bad economic and social policy, it is bad health policy. I have a hunch that the nature and artificially low cost of the predominant (malnutritious) foodstuffs in our nation contributes to the declining national health.

While it would be ideal if no government support was necessary for any part of the agricultural sector of our economy. But the reality is that in our current economy, traditional farming is simply not viable. So it is imperative that we provide help. Wouldn’t a better, moral Farm Bill help protect the viability of the small farmer; the yeoman who was the backbone of Jefferson’s vision of America? To support the diversified, organic production of natural whole foods which will promote better health and reduce the demand on our health-care system rather than the corporate monoculture commodity farming?

This latest Farm Bill takes some small steps in the right direction. But the emphasis on corporate welfare remains.

In “The Farm Bill and the Common Good,” Adam Taylor of Sojourners has taken the Democratic congress to task for failing to stand up to corporate agribusiness, and makes the moral case for revitalizing the Farm Bill so that it can fulfill its original mandate.

This outcome in the House illustrates the brokenness of a political process in which corporate interests too often drown out the voices of faith-based and civic advocates. It also demonstrates the urgent need to reclaim our democracy on behalf of the common good.

Prophets such as Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel didn’t mince words or withhold prophetic judgment when leaders advanced the interests of the strong over the welfare of the weak. With our pastoral side we can sympathize with elected officials who are trying to do the right thing—balancing the interests of multiple stakeholders while facing real and perceived constraints around what’s politically possible. However, our prophetic vocation calls us to hold elected officials to a higher standard and change the very parameters within which these policy decisions are made, one that privileges and protects the interests of the weak and dispossessed—in this case, small farmers at home and abroad.

If we can create a culture in which the small farmer can flourish and in which all people have greater access to wisely grown foods, we will all benefit.

See also:

  • Clever curmudgeon Jim Hightower takes his stand on the Farm Bill in “A Farm Bill in the Public Interest.”

    …this massive subsidy program has become a total perversion of what it was meant to be – and should become again. The New Deal concept (still valid today) was to support the public interest in having an abundance of good food produced by healthy small farms that, in turn, strengthen rural communities…the central focus of the program should shift to helping small farmers make the transition to organic and sustainable production, sell directly to local markets, form marketing co-ops, convert to energy and water-efficient systems, conserve land and natural habitats, and develop locally-owned processing businesses.

  • Morning EditionFarm Bill: Beauty for Biz, Beast for Environment?
  • Talk of the NationHow the Farm Bill Affects What We Eat.” A great panel discussion on all the ramifications of the farm bill.
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