by Marion Nestle
Jul 16 2013

Vilsack on the farm bill: “There ought to be outrage.”

Our dysfunctional Congress continues to dither over the farm bill.  Will the House send its SNAP-less, corporate-welfare bill to the Senate?  Will it do terrible things to SNAP first?  Or will it do nothing?

While waiting to find out, I want to mention a speech given by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to the National Rural Assembly.   From the beginning, Secretary Vilsack said that his agenda for USDA was to revitalize rural America—a laudable goal.

Here he is last month calling for outrage over congressional failure to pass legislation in support of this goal.

What do we see from rural advocates? Utter disappointment. Are you kidding me? There ought to be outrage… “It is going to be important for groups like this to express more than extreme disappointment,.. Demand that they pass legislation that is supportive and not destructive. Demand appreciation for those in rural America.

How about that.  A call to action from the USDA!

  • Mark Ohler

    Not the outrage that you have in mind, but yes – – I am outraged. I’d like the USDA to get off my farm, get out of my processing facility, stop manipulating prices, and get out of the food business.

  • pawpaw

    I, too, am concerned about USDA and federal price manipulation, such as the ethanol mandate affecting feed prices. Farms up an down my road are idle. Uncertainty about FSMA mandates is stifling capital improvements.

    On a regular basis, we turn down requests to buy foods direct from our farm, telling potential customers to take their requests to state and fed regulators and representatives.

    Path toward rural revitalization? USDA get OFF the path, where you’re blocking commerce between me and my neighbors.

  • FarmerJane

    There is not a lot of outrage out in rural dairy America. We are used to seeing our farm neighborhoods depopulated, we are used to being paid less for the milk than what it costs to produce it. Its an accepted fact that if you want a “safety net”, unless you are a massive farm with experts to hedge for you or use other risk-management tools, you best have a family member with a second job off the farm. THAT is our safety net…the money that we or family members can make off the farm, the health insurance that we get from off-farm jobs. OFF FARM money is how we subsidize the farm! Sadly, I hear somber young farm children talk of ways that maybe, they as children, can find ways to make money for the sake of paying the land taxes and keeping the farm. There is a level of cynicism in rural NY, the likes of which I have never seen before.
    We are used to global scale corporations simply telling us what the prices will be (and there are fewer of them and a growing number of foreign owned dairy processors). Farmers of the Middle are used to watching a few brave farmers testify at antitrust hearings alone (at risk of retaliation of loss of market or other punishments). So, no outrage, hardly even a whimper from the remaining dairy farmers, many of whom are beaten down and just hope to save themselves. Few have the strength for outrage.
    Its tough to demand “appreciation” for rural NY when urban food groups are disinterested in deep rural NY. Back in 2009, when I first learned that new food-interested groups existed in NYC, I thought they would be a wellspring of support for deep rural NY farmers. As it turned out, though, its difficult to even get food groups in NYC to even return a phone call from Northern NY. Most have a series of “farmer litmus” or “validation” tests that the farmer must go through before a conversation can even begin.
    Maybe we can’t do anything about the federal Farm Bill, but after this, I am hoping that, here in NY, there will be a way that Upstate and Downstate can begin to speak with eachother in earnest about where our state’s food system is headed. Rural and urban groups both have vital information, I hope that somehow, we will begin to speak to eachother.

  • Anthro

    @Mark Ohler

    So I will just take your word that your food is safe?

  • Stephanie

    FarmerJane – Don’t vote for it, then complain when you get it. Urban Americans have been voting for years to get you health care. Rural areas vote against it. Red areas tell us the cities don’t count. Red tells us that rural America is the ‘real’ America. Red means bootstraps! If you want health care – vote blue! Democrats also give lip service to taking power out of the hands of corporations (whether it would ever happen is another story), but democrats are not going to tell you that corporations are people.

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  • FarmerJane

    @Stephanie How do you know how I vote or what kinds of issues I work on as a New Yorker?

  • Stephanie

    FarmerJane – I don’t. You spoke for all of ‘rural dairy America.’ Rural dairy America votes Republican. Tax dollars get funneled from the cities to the farms (true in nearly every community), and the farms keep voting to cut taxes. So it is a bit hard to stomach listening to a rural farmer complain about not having a safety net. You (rural dairy america) didn’t want it. That’s why you don’t have it.

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