The past week I spent a lot of time, blogging, talking, and posting on Facebook about the Farm Bill. Why the Farm Bill? It seems like a rather random topic that doesn't really concern me being that I am not a farmer and that my closest connection to farming was a farm that my mother inherited and later sold--a farm I never visited.
Actually, you would be surprised how much the Farm Bill does have to do with you and me. Included in the Farm Bill our programs such as Food Stamps and school lunch programs. The Farm Bill affects how we trade in food with other countries. It also affects every piece of food on your dinner table, the market you purchased that food at, and the farmer who grew the food. The topic greatly affects me and greatly concerns me.
As I've studied and involved myself in the lobbying process for "real" reform to the bill, I've discovered how complex a thing it is and how much it is actually hurting our country. The Farm Bill--originally put into legislation during New Deal to protect the family farmer and help him get back on his feet after the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression--currently does little that it was designed to do. Majority of the subsidies it offers to farms go to big industry farms that are making thousands to millions of dollars in profit. The family farm sees little of these subsidies and subsequently, family farms cannot compete with industry farms. This means that one of the iconic pictures of American lore, the family farmer, can barely support his own family and is often deep in debt and impoverished.
Not only does the Farm Bill do little for our own farmers, it impoverishes farmers in countries world wide. The Farm Bill allows for American grown product to be sold on the world market below production costs (mostly due to subsidies). This means that local farmers in various markets across the globe cannot compete and subsequently cannot provide for their own families. Causing many farmers to live in extreme poverty--a dollar or less a day. We actually set aside annual funds in the federal budget for the fines billed to the US by the World Trade Organization to pay for this practice. With real reform to the bill, we could end this ludicrous practice that wastes money on a yearly basis.
The Fairness Amendment to the Farm Bill was not passed despite a great bi-partisan effort. The Farm Bill, however, as it stands was passed in the House. We now move the fight to the Senate, looking for "real" reform and standing up for farmers around the world.
As I fought along so many wise men and women lobbying for a change, I have often been reminded of the words of Henry David Thoreau:
[Speaking of those opposed to slavery] "They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and God-speed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man. But it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it...Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority" (Civil Disobedience).
For most of my life, I believe that I have been a "patron of virtue." I choose to no longer be such a patron. I do not call myself virtuous merely because I called my congressman's office a few times to petition him, but I feel that perhaps I might be on a path to being wise rather than leaving mercy to chance or wishing the good of the majority.