This is our final post on the Kneading Conference – a watershed event for IFO. The local food movement, or what we call the Back to the Golden Past, has been developing under the radar, but more and more people are adopting some or all of the activities involved in the concept, which is a kind of mix of the communes of the 1970s and upscale, semi-precious foodie-ism.
Not so long ago, the federal government was encouraging small farmers to leave their farm, move to the city, and sell their farms to the big guys. Now fewer than two percent of the U.S. population farms for a living. Mega-farms, mega-dairies, mega-livestock operations dominate agriculture today.
Suddenly, the federal/state/county Extension Service employes of the USDA realized their customer base was disappearing. What to do? The first thing they did about a decade or so ago was to try to move into urban areas. Not sure how well that worked, since we don’t live in an urban area.
Federal farm policy is totally schizophrenic at this time. The feds are both encouraging small farming and discouraging use of farm land at all with conservation easements, which pay farmers to never farm their land again, but simply turn it into some PC real estate – wetlands, or conservancies, or wildlife habitat.
Where will our food come from? At the Kneading Conference West, several former full-time farmers, now playing around with planting fewer than 10 acres, mentioned how uncomfortable they were when they noticed they bought all of their food at the grocery store. They grew wheat… and shipped it ALL to Japan or China for yakisoba noodles and ramen. And this while the U.S. is importing much of its food from south of the border.
They feel GOOD doing small farming again and connecting with their customers. One farmer noted that the number of his customers had been shrinking over the years. “When you get down to one customer, he owns you,” he said.
A small portion of current federal farm policy contributes to the new Back to the Past movement – but will it work? or will it be another “green energy” boondoggle?
And will federal policies have any actual effect on the movement, or will the participants continue to build their own communities? If the federal government did decide to try to boost the movement, would it kill it? All questions to ponder.