A Small Medium at Large 5.17.2018

A recurrent theme of my writing is that restoring food independence to rural communities, and remaining a free people, is inexorably linked.  It is gratifying to learn that my column is spreading rather quickly to readers in nearby counties. Thanks for the interest!  Equally, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.  My forays into cognitive science, and linguistically inventive style, provoke comments like “Jumpy,” “Hard to follow,” and “Mental beef jerky.”  Dismissal runs neck and neck with approval. 

Calling this state of affairs “striking a happy medium” makes me twitchy.  I prefer the more judicious “praising with faint damns.”  You have my promise:  Until literary disputation can be hurled in barroom Latin, (like the showdown between Jonny Ringo and Doc Holliday in the awesome film Tombstone), I will hover calmly above the fray and say no more about it.  

Examples of Ozark intellectualism that you will not find here: “Teneat meus dolor! Aspiciebam! (Hold my beer and watch this)! and “Scelerisque fit per; nemo habet nocere!” (The chocolate gets through and nobody gets hurt)!  

Now that this is cleared up, back to the theme:  Much of rural Missouri fed itself during the Great Depression.  Wilber and Betty Sartin, a farm couple from the upper Finley valley in Webster County, put it this way:

“As kids, we did not know money existed.  Everybody did for everybody else.  We harvested wheat, mother baked bread, someone else did sorghum, another man came by with the firewood and we all gathered to slaughter our pigs and cattle.  We carded wool, canned all kinds of vegetables, made apple sauce from our orchard, kept chickens and bees and cracked nuts in the fall.  Even little bitty kids were in on it.  Nobody had money but we never considered ourselves poor in any sense of the word.”

Today, not one of Missouri’s 114 counties can independently feed its own population, a claim backed up by FEMA.  There is, they say, less than three days supply of food in the pipeline.     

I searched the Internet to quantify the net food imbalance for Douglas County.  I found almost nothing to make the job easy.  You can google anything and get a million hits.  But to calculate our food insecurity in real time, in net dollar outflow over income and assets?  Nada Mucho.

I got curious.  How many of the 3,142 counties, parishes and county-equivalents in the entire U.S.A. can independently feed their own populations?   Not a word.  The Economist  (Feb 24, 2011) states “The world cannot even feed its current population, let alone the 9 billion expected by 2050.  So how will the world cope in the next four decades?  Feeding the world in 2050 will be hard, and business as usual will not do it.”  The question will not be what’s for dinner, but “Anything for dinner?”

So I googled “food sufficient counties in the U.S.A.” and found about child hunger and the areas it was worst.  The sponsors of this, and similar sites, included the Bank of America, Con Agra, Barilla, and Wal-Mart and other familiar companies who are playing “an integral part of the way people think about hunger in our country.”  Same went for Cargill (partnered with National Geographic) and Monsanto (4-H).  Nothing, though, concerning food production and consumption statistics.  

Then I found the PPJ Gazette: USDA No strategic grain reserves . . . they sold them!  (Nov. 12th, 2010).  The Gazette calls itself “People Powered News” founded by Marti Oakley, a non-partisan political activist and former op-ed columnist for the St. Cloud times in Minnesota.  I liked the spunky style and the disclaimer, “Conspiracy Theorist:  Someone who questions the statements of known liars.”  Some excerpts:

“The strategic reserves which had been established as a result of the Great Depression were depleted in the 1980’s.  The UDSA announced it would not re-establish this back-up and of course our current bio-tech pandering Ag secretary isn’t about to re-establish them either.”

 “S 510 (Senate bill) would ensure the capture of the markets for corporations whose only interest is exporting whatever our land can produce to other nations, for commodities profits.  Nothing will be held back for the US as “free trade” and export will be first and foremost.  Instead of focusing on securing a backup supply for the US, the USDA continues to push for ever more exportation of our food supply.  Now why would the USDA and Congress be promoting export over securing the food supply for the US?”

“This ‘free trade’ thing is killing us economically.  The cost of free trade needs to be measured not by whether a few selected individuals make a ton of money but by whether or not the economy is benefitted by allowing it to continue.  Free trade has morphed into rape and pillage, leaving economic destruction in its wake and we are about to be left in the dirt and wondering where our next meal is coming from as multinational corporations line up to seize control of the world’s food supplies.”

“Along with the loss of strategic grain reserves, there is no butter, cheese, dry milk or any other food commodity stockpiled for the American people in the event the predicted food crises occurs.”

“It is our belief that this refusal by the USDA and CCC to establish a food store for emergencies goes hand in hand with the intent of S 520 the fake food safety bill. This bill will effectively centralize food production not only geographically, but also in the marketplace by eliminating family and independent producers and centralizing food production in CAFO (confined animal feedlot operations) and other concentrated farming applications.” 

 She then offers a logical solution: “The Farmer Owned Reserve (FOR) is busy promoting the most sensible solution by advocating that grain be stored on farms, effectively establishing an protecting grain reserves as they would be dispersed all across the country as opposed to deposited in massive and easily targeted grain terminals.”

I’ve concluded there is a deliberate veil drawn over the realities of food production chain, an activity one usually associates with totalitarian propaganda. From the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 2015): 

“The decline from state-owned strategic grain reserves in favor of a more market-oriented approach that is dominated by a handful of powerful corporations who maintain sophisticated supply chains.   Because data on the amount of food supply these corporations hold in storage are proprietary secrets, it is impossible to assess how resilient or vulnerable this makes our food system.”

Enter the Farm Resettlement Congress, a watershed based, volunteer-led alliance of farmers and food freedom activists.  Their mission is “The restoration of sustainable, self-standing and self-managed food economies in the Ozarks in one generation:  The FRC 20 Year Plan details the economic elements of the FRC.”  

They aim to answer two economic questions: “How to pay for restoring the billions of dollars of lost infrastructure?”  And, “How are we going to attract young and enthusiastic people back into family farming?”  

The FRC 20 Year Plan identifies new asset classes, and promotes the creation of charitable Watershed Foundations, where money is raised and managed within watershed geographies, not arbitrary political boundaries.   The engine is called the “Transfer of Wealth Opportunity (TOW)”, a 5% “tithe” written into our wills to rebuild our ag infrastructure at scale. Donations and held in a not-for-profit Watershed Foundation and are fungible.  Regional grocery store chains are ready to invest in year-round food supplies and greenhouses.  The potential moneys involved are eye-opening.  “Restorative agriculture” is essential to their message of small farm revival.

FRC representatives will be on the Ava Town Square from 8am to noon, at the Farmers’ Market, Saturdays May 19th, and 26th.  Free locally grown sesame seeds and planting instructions are being given away.