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Food, Farms, and Gross Overpayments to Those who don’t Need It

The large red dots are those NYC residents who recieve $250k or more in subsidies.

By now, Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, and Eric Schlosser are becoming common household names. You’ve heard their (well-articulated) arguments against factory farming and you may even know that over the last 20 years, the number of farmers markets in this country has more than quadrupled.  Great! We’re on a roll, so let’s go a layer deeper because the Farm Bill is up for review in 2012 and Congress is considering serious revision.  Track changes, my friend because this bill needs a complete overhaul.

What you may not know is why the Farm Bill was originally passed. During the Great Depression, the government stepped in to fix crop prices and create income support programs (aka subsidies).  The subsidies ensure farmers’ income and secured food for the hungry. 

However, American farming has changed tremendously since then.  The number of farms has decreased by more than 50% but the size of remaining farms has increased by more than 50%.  Also, farmers went from producing about five crops to producing one.  One crop.  That single crop is almost definitely wheat, corn, soy, cotton or rice. 

Now we’re in a situation where billions of dollars (handouts) are given to large, successful farms even in profitable years.  They receive drought aid when it rains and they’re paid for land that was once farmed but isn’t any more.  Even wealthy non-farmers who own once-farmed land receive money (*cough* Michele Bachmann).

So, consider this: why is fast food so cheap?  It’s because all that corn, soy, and wheat (the main ingredients and the feed for the animals processed into fast food) are paid for by us, the American people.  We are to blame.  Our billions of tax dollars subsidize the crops that are turned into high fructose corn syrup and sesame seed buns.

We shouldn’t get rid of subsidies but we need to drastically change them.  Agribusiness is doing just fine, so let’s support those still in agriculture.  Subsidies should go to small and medium sized farms that grow a variety of crops, particularly those crops grown sustainably or organically.

If the USDA tells us we should be eating more fruits vegetables and whole grains, shouldn’t their policies support those recommendations?!  I would like to see supermarkets procure local produce, the number of farmers markets continues to grow rapidly, and a great variety of foods grown sustainably.  Plus, I want pink, green, orange, yellow, and purple tomatoes in addition to the red ones.  There are delicious varieties of produce you’ve never seen because they’ve been pushed out of our food system by handouts.  If we make it work for us, you could be eating this:

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