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Celebrate the Farmer

Marie-Crise

Marie Crise is able to use her SNAP benefits to purchase fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables at the Abingdon Farmers Market in Abingdon, Va. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

by Eric Bond

On Monday, New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman wrote a tribute to the farmer—and the joy to be had from fresh produce. He points out that as much as chefs are in the spotlight these days, the bulk of the hard work and artistry in a meal happens on the farm:

These are tasks that take weeks, if not months, of daily activity and maintenance. Like anything else, you can get good at it, but the challenges that nature ... and the market ... throw at you are never even close to being under control in the same way that a cook controls the kitchen.

As Bittman revels in the fruits of labor coming to farmers markets in the waning days of summer, he recognizes the reality that many people do not have the access or the finances to enjoy the pleasures of fresh produce. Bittman calls for the following actions, which will better support small farmers, feed more hungry people, and share the bounty of a functioning farm system:

 

  • We need to reduce unemployment and increase the minimum wage (including that for farm and restaurant workers). This (obviously) goes beyond the realm of food, but it’s key to improving the quality of life for many if not most Americans.
  • We need to not cut but raise the amount of support we give to recipients of food stamps. A good example is New York City’s Health Bucks program, where food stamps are worth more at farmers’ markets (which don’t, as a rule, sell sugar-sweetened beverages!).
  • We need not only to attack the nonsensical and wasteful system that pays for corn and soybeans to be grown to create junk food and ethanol, but to support local and national legislation that encourages the birth of new small-and-medium farms. We need to encourage both new and established farms to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, to raise animals in sensible ways and, using a combination of modern and time-tested techniques, treat those animals well and use their products sensibly.

Bittman goes on to describe the price that we will have to pay for a more farm-friendly agricultural policy. For one thing, fast food will become more expensive as healthy food becomes more available and less expensive.This is a good trade.

This article reminds me of the important role of the farmer in literature for children (how many picture books are printed each year celebrating Old MacDonald?). Childen are thrilled by the idea that a farm family can produce, through the magic of nature, the food that appears on their plate and the animals that they meet at a county fair.

While Americans moved away from the farm in the 20th century, taking jobs in manufacturing and commerce, the vision of the small farm has remained as an ideal. Farmers still evoke a connection to the primal substance of life. Agribusiness just does not inspire us in the same way.

As we visit farmers markets here in the nation's capital as summer comes to a close, we will celebrate small farmers. Come September, we will resume our fight on their behalf in the halls of Congress.

Resources

Eric Bond is managing editor for Bread for the World.

 

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