Tag Archives: Minnesota-farms

International Year of Family Farming – What it’s about, Why it matters

For Minnesotans the true Rite of Spring is planting season – even if the experience is remembered or vicarious.  Planting season with real farmers on real tractors with genetically un-modified seeds, rotated crops and other practices that promote sustainable agricultural systems.  Happily, nostalgia is giving way to reality as urban farming, farm to home, and farmers market programs and locavore cuisine raise the profile of family farming and the role that family farmers play in growing nutritious food to feed a hungry world — while protecting the environment and preserving the land.

Still, conspicuously absent from the mainstream headlines is the news that 2014 is International Year of Family Farming!   This global effort aims to reposition family farming at the center of agricultural, environmental and social politics “by identifying gaps and opportunities to promote a shift towards a more equal and balanced development.”

IYFF offers the chance for a global conversation among family farmers and, even more, among those working outside the agriculture sector, to creatively re-think the central role, strength, and challenges to the family farm.  Planners encourage policy makers to think systemically – to connect the dots that link family farming with the organic whole in which family farming is an essential player – the environment, economic development, sociological, cultural and community ties.

Who should celebrate the International Year of Family Farming?  This is, after all, an international initiative, promoted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in particular.  At the global level, attention is understandably on the mega-issues – addressing world hunger, building strong economies in third world countries, promoting sustainable agriculture.  The UN website describes an ambitious vision and sets the context.

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/story.asp?NewsID=46566&Cr=food+security&Cr1#.U0FmTv0ct4N

Still, for Minnesotans, family farming is a local issue that invites individual and organizational attention.  Close to home, who has a stake in the celebration of the IYFF?   Everyone, of course…..

  • Anyone or any organization that cares even peripherally about safe food or the environment
  • Educators and educational institutions that shape both the opportunities and the attitudes of youth
  • Local newspapers and the advertisers that support their role as the connectors of the community
  • Urban oriented media that need to go on the road not just for features and oddities (fun as they are) but for hard news and news analysis.
  • Government agencies that gather and manage data – if it’s not counted, it doesn’t count when resources are allocated or services delivered.
  • The faith community whose rural presence is precarious at best.
  • Proponents of broadband — though there’s been a lot of talk and action, there’s not been a so much talk about or engagement of small and family farmers
  • Obviously, family farming matters to each of us because we all care about  land preservation, clean water and air, safe food, the state economy,  the welfare of all Minnesotans…..

Bottom line – focus on family farming deserves to be moved to the front burner.  The voices of family farmers must be heard in every discussion.  The data needed to reflect the reality.  The environment, the economy, the story of Minnesota’s heritage depend on our collective awareness and understanding of family farming as a core value.

The International Year of Family Farming offers Minnesotans a push to get up and do what needs to be done to understand and preserve our proud heritage.

 

 

Do/Should Minnesota Farms and Agribusiness REALLY “feed the world?”

Last Saturday was “Celebrate Ag & Food Day” at the Gophers game.  It was a day to laud the U of M research resources and the benefits thereof to the economic health of the state’s agribusiness sector.  The celebratory pitch should also give pause for Minnesotans who support that symbiotic relationship to think about the businesses themselves as well as the food products they create, produce, promote and profit from, the hype and the reality.

As recently as yesterday, September 17, National Public Radio carried a major piece on the much touted “Feed the World” promotion favored by corporate farmers and agribusiness.  The “we’re feeding the world” mantra, according to NPR reporter Dan Charles, is ”high-tech agriculture’s claim to the moral high ground.”  Charles Arnot, a one-time PR executive for food and farming companies, now CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, observes that  “U.S. farmers have a tremendous sense of pride in the fact that they’ve been able to help feed the world.”

The problem is not everyone agrees that large-scale, technology-based agriculture is an unmitigated good.  They hold that the cost to the environment and to the nutritional needs of this nation and the world needs to be factored in.  Some, including Margaret Mellon of Concerned Scientists, hold that use of the term itself is waning.

Mellon welcomes the disenchantment with the term.  The problem with ‘feeding the world,’ she says is that “the phrase conflates the important issues of food production and hunger alleviation.  It implies that producing corn and soybeans is the equivalent of putting food into the mouths of hungry people.  But there is no direct connection between U.S. corn and soy production and ending hunger elsewhere (or for that matter in the US).  In fact, the truth is that high production in the U.S. can depress world grain prices and throw developing country farmers off the land.”

It seems reasonable to me that, just because we have such a huge stake in farming and agribusiness, Minnesotans bear some responsibility to be informed about and involved in thinking about the complexities of food production and distribution.

On the one hand, we Minnesotans are a compassionate people for whom feeding the world seems such a worthy cause; access to food is a basic human right.  Moreover, as Mellon writes, the efforts to feed the world conjure “comfortable memories of preparing, serving and enjoying meals.  To satisfy this basic need for the whole world is a noble endeavor.  And, of course, there are grams of truth here. US farmers can feel good that they are helping to meet the food needs of those who can afford to buy their products.” Minnesotans have good reason to be proud of the education system and the political and economic environment that supports the cause.

As compassionate people Minnesotans also care about our neighbors who are hungry and kids who are reared on junk food at the same time we feed the world.  Complex as the issues are, we even pay attention to trade agreements, GMO’s, distribution and the actual consumption of the massive soybean and corn products our rich farmlands yield.  Lots of us, from University researchers to truck drivers, nutritionists to grocery shopper are active links along the food chain

The more I listen and read, the less I understand the complexities of food production, distribution and consumption.  The only thing of which I am certain is that, for the most part, we are not thinking systemically about food policy at the state, national or global level.

Minnesotans have a huge stake, as consumers, taxpayers, as a body politic.  We all care that our families and neighbors, the environment, the economy and people around the world are economically and physically healthy.  We just don’t think about it a lot and we don’t often exchange opinions with individuals or groups that approach the complexity from different perspectives.

As we take pride in our University research capability and community contributions of those who prosper in our agribusinesses, Minnesotans with different points of view and perspectives need to learn together about the results of the investment and the benefits gained as measured in human as well as financial terms.