How the government actively prohibits small farmers from growing fruits and vegetables so we don’t waste valuable land where subsidized crops might grow.  It’s appalling, and everyone who cares about good food and the farmers who want to grow it ought to know the ways our Department of Agriculture penalizes the small farmer, reducing the amount good stuff grown and elevating the price of what’s available.  It’s not news so much as a reminder that the name Dept of Agriculture is fast becoming an oxymoron. Weekend NYTimes op-ed piece by Jack Hedin, a farmer in the Midwest.


34 Wonderful responses to “Continued victories for farmers who grow food you can’t eat”

  • Dan

    That is beyond corrupt to the point that it’s near extortion. Hopefully, some bright young scholar out there may be able to find a way to test the constitutionality of this bill. Something seems considerably wonked up here.

    Anyway, whenever I hear about the USDA, my mind inevitably trips back to the days when Black Angus&trade beef first hit the markets, and they did all they could to besmirch it and keep it out of public consumption. Some of those arguments on behalf of the USDA sounded as though they came from First Graders.

  • Stephanie Clarkson

    That’s amazing. I recently saw King Corn, and was disgusted by the information in it; moreso hen I found that they were actually being conservative, trying to avoid Michael-Mooresque dismissal of their work. But this is just absurd, especially in these times where government claims to be all-hail-the-free-market.

    I sent mail off to sign up for a farmshare last night, and I feel more confirmed that this was the right thing to do, even if evidence is I’ll have more squash than I know what to do with. I am unsure what other steps I can take, aside from buying as locally as I can. I’m a resident, but not a citizen in the USA, so I don’t know what else I can do to encourage local production or thwart the ‘corporate masters’ 😛

  • Carolyn

    One of my good friends had Featherstone Farms (Mr. Hedin’s farm) as their CSA last year and they loved it so much, it prompted me to sign up for my own. Featherstone was hit really hard by the flooding last summer, but I had no idea these governmental shenanigans were going on.

    It’s just more proof that money is the bottom line for our government.

  • carri

    Michael.Thanks for picking up that thread…this is breathtakingly counterproductive on the part of the USDA, but it is a microcosm of the way that our government is being run…as I said before, I’m going to have nightmares for weeks!

  • shaun

    This worries me beyond words. Its like us Americans are being breed to be like the chickens we slaughter. It seems like the freedom of choice that is our undeniable right seems to be a growing fiction. I don’t want to get too political, but I don’t seem any change for the better anytime soon, or ever.

  • carri

    hey, rockand roller…find a CSA Farm (community supported agriculture) in your area and sign up to get good food produced locally…seek out local as you can, I live in Alaska and participate in a Farm in Washington,( but we are able to buy local beef and pork products.) …close as we can get but way better than buying from a grocery store where the veggies are being grown by huge corporate farms…go local, that’s the only way! Oh, and run for office….

  • Tags

    Use wikipedia as a resource to help you write your local representatives, your senators, your governor, and any other government official. Contact your local news organizations and let them know you care about this issue. Email or post office, just get busy.

    At least you’ll be able to say you tried.

  • Jeannie

    Thanks for bringing this up, I just sent an email to my Congressman and Senators, as an individual I feel that is one of the few things I can do…….besides buying local!!!!!!!

  • theitaliandish

    Michael: I read that piece in the Times this weekend. I’ve been ranting about this issue for some time now. Most people have no idea. The federal government puts out a food pyramid that tells us to eat more fruits and vegetables but then subsidizes the very foods that make up processed, refined and junk foods! Does that makes sense to anyone at all????

  • theitaliandish

    Michael: I read that piece in the Times this weekend. I’ve been ranting about this issue for some time now. Most people have no idea. The federal government puts out a food pyramid that tells us to eat more fruits and vegetables but then subsidizes the very foods that make up processed, refined and junk foods! Does that makes sense to anyone at all????

  • rockandroller

    to carri: I purchase from locals already, you’re preaching to the choir. I meant something bigger than our own individual shopping activities.

  • Phil

    I’ve long been a proponent of local farmers markets, and I’m doing all that I can to encourage others to support them.

    Could this spawn the return of the victory garden, perhaps?

  • Claudia

    It’s a stupid, vicious, counterproductive policy. Makes me just want to seethe. Meanwhile, I have the privilege, as a taxpayer, of subsidizing Big Ag, pushing inferior products that are produced through cruelty, pollute and will doubt crapify my health and immune system down the road. Lovely.

  • Sues is not Martha

    So sad. I try to buy from small farmers when possible, but it’s tough living in a big city with no car. My eyes were definitely opened after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma.


  • luis

    This is heavy man. Ruhlman you are deep at the macro level now bro. You said “But consumers who would like to be able to buy local fruits and vegetables not just at farmers’ markets, but also in the produce aisle of their supermarket, will be dismayed to learn that the federal government works deliberately and forcefully to prevent the local food movement from expanding.”

    But would it surprise you to know that the goverment through the Food and Drug Administration has the same devastating effects on little pharmas introducing life saving and life enhancing drugs and driving little pharmas OUT OF BIDNESS!.
    TRUE THAT!!!!!!!!!!
    There are some seriously sinister going on at the macro level.

  • Jamie at Lemon Juice & Olive Oil

    While I’m somewhat familiar with the Farm Bill in that it mainly subsidizes five commodity crops at the expense of fruits, vegetables and the farmers who would like to grow them, I had no idea that farmers were actively prohibited from growing the crops of their choosing. This is appalling and really irks me. Particularly as I see prices rising across the board on the healthy, natural, unprocessed foods that I prefer to buy.

  • tenpointfarmer

    my wife and i farm twenty acres of organic goodness and we are of the opinion that if you take the subsidies then you have lost your chance to bitch about the ties that now bind you. anyone that takes subsidies in the first place loses our respect. now that you have been making money off of our taxes dollars and you decide to change without looking into the rules and regs, boo hoo. if you want to be free to use your land as you see fit don’t dance with the devil

  • Annie

    Just recently in St. Louis a local “Farmer’s Market” actually became a true farmer’s market when The Missouri Farmers Union bought the Sappington Farmers Market. The market is now fully owned and operated by MO farmers. The Sappington Farmer’s Market mission is to help local farmers realize a fair profit, so they can produce the amounts of organic and natural foods needed to provide affordable, safe and healthy foods for the families of St. Louis! How lucky are we…but still a far cry from where we need to be.

  • Annie

    Just recently in St. Louis a local “Farmer’s Market” actually became a true farmer’s market when The Missouri Farmers Union bought the Sappington Farmers Market. The market is now fully owned and operated by MO farmers. The Sappington Farmer’s Market mission is to help local farmers realize a fair profit, so they can produce the amounts of organic and natural foods needed to provide affordable, safe and healthy foods for the families of St. Louis! How lucky are we…but still a far cry from where we need to be.

  • Bruce F

    After I read a these two comments at Corrente, I think the NYT editorial is misusing the justifiable anger of all of us who care about food.

    In those comments are several criticisms of the arguments made in the op-ed. I’d encourage you to read them and make up your own mind.

    A few of the highlights:

    “The clearest description of the Farm-Flex program for fruits and vegetables (FAVs) can be found at the web site of Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the chief sponsor of the program. In her own words:

    “Farm Flex pertains ONLY to FAVs under contract for processing. Farm Flex production would not enter fresh markets.”
    [emphasis hers]”

    and a longer snipet:

    “As cited above, the Farm-Flex program will not solve Mr. Hayden’s problems with commodity subsidy laws because it does not allow the raising of produce for direct consumer sales; all produce grown under the program must be sold to processors for freezing and canning. If direct-to-consumer sales were allowed, Mr. Hayden would be even worse off; while he could then legally farm his leased 25 acres, the Farm-Flex program that will likely be enacted [pdf] will free up a total 70,000 acres. USDA under the Bush administration plans to do away with the fruit and vegetable restriction completely, allegedly to address WTO conflicts but in actuality to transfer even more power and income to large corporate farms. If this change is implemented, large mid-Western producers will be able to crush small operators like Hayden.


    As an aside, if you’ve got any interest in growing food in the city, check out these pics.

  • Greg Turner

    Until recently, we had laws here in Florida that prevented Florida tomato growers from placing their produce in local grocery stores. Publix imported tomatoes from California, and California got the Florida tomatoes.

    It’s stunning, and reprehensible.

  • Nathalie

    Greg Turner,

    WHAT????? Insane. Talk about global footprints.

    Following the Florida Tomato.Would make a great documentary, don’t you think?

    In any case, good to see folks on this thread getting proactive with the powers that be. Make some noise!

  • Farm Bill Reauthorization

    Thank you for posting this valuable piece. I have worked in AG policy and would like to respond to the article and to the comments that followed.

    First let me say that yes, USDA is bureaucratic and they make local farmers lives difficult at times, but the USDA should not bear the majority of blame for this mess that has created a need for Farm Flex. In fact, Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner has been supportive of Farm Flex legislative attempts.

    For as long as AG policy has existed in this country, polarizing issues have been largely regional- Midwest v. South v. West Coast, etc.- and not partisan, Republican v. Democrat. Because AG issues pit region versus region, there often times are issues that do not relate to each other what so ever that become embroiled in a battle of which is more important – such is the case with Farm Flex.

    Mr. Hedin is exactly correct in his assessment of the penalties effecting Midwest fruit and vegetable growers- locally grown, organic and processed. Farm Flex was introduced as a separate bill about 2 years before the Farm Bill reauthorization, as a means to alleviate the restrictions on plating fruits and vegetables in the Midwest. At the time Congressional Members indicated that Farm Flex seemed like a no-brainer and to hold out till the Farm Bill re-authorization.

    Unfortunately, when re-authorization began the leadership of the national fresh produce associations decided to oppose Farm Flex in an effort to get increased money for specialty crops out of the reauthorization. The issues really have nothing in common, but set the stage to pit Midwest fruit and vegetables (locally grown, organic and processed) against the fresh interests on the West Coast.

    Congressman Colin Peterson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has nearly the largest number of acres of fruits and vegetables for processing in his district, over any other Congressperson in the country. At the end of the day, the fresh interests pitted their issue against an issue of utmost importance in the Chairman’s district, to nearly ensure that their issues would make it into the Farm Bill.

    The even more disappointing fact is that there were Congresspersons and Senators in California and other states who opposed the Farm Flex efforts, despite having both fresh acres and processing acres in their district or state.

    At the end of the day, there is demand for fresh, organic, locally grown, and processed fruits and vegetables. The current iteration of the Farm Bill, going in to conference, does very little to ensure increased flexibility for fruits and vegetables in the Midwest. We can only hope that negotiations continue and some relief is provided to fruit and vegetable growers in the Midwest.

    As for the comments folks have been sharing, if you want to go after anyone for the way things are currently, contact the Congressman and Senators who prevented Farm Flex from becoming part of the House and Senate Farm Bill’s- ask the national fresh associations why they have and continue to oppose Farm Flex efforts when locally grown, organic and processed fruit and vegetable production in the Midwest really pose no threat to them (after all, the Midwest has a very limited growing season compared to states like California). The comments against USDA are misguided- Congress makes the laws, USDA just enforces them.

  • ruhlman

    farm bill reauth:

    thanks for your thoughtful comments. they’ll mean much more if you can sign your post. I’d like to call attention to it. can you tell me who you are and what you do or in what way you worked in AG policy?

  • luis

    Exactly..much the same disaster occurs with FDA. (food and drug administration). A perfect macro level extinction level event for farmers and small drug companies.

    Remember Ronald Reagan’s… ” The most terrifying words in the English language are:
    I’m from the goverment and I am here to help.”

    or Reagan again… “I have wondered at times about what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress.”

    and let us not forget Reagan’s ” The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a goverment program.”

    and last but not least ” If we ever forget that we are one nation under God. Then we will be a nation gone under.”

  • Farm Bill Reauthorization

    Thank you for responding to my comments about the Farm Bill reauthorization- I value and respect your opinion and your response is appreciated.

    That being said, I would rather keep the politics of this conversation about the issue rather than the company I work for. In addition, I am representing my own opinions of how the Farm Bill process has gone and was not censoring it to represent the opinions of my company.

    I will say though that I work for a company that grows and processes fruits and vegetables, not just in the Midwest but in other parts of the country as well, and for whom the issue of Farm Flex is a great concern.

    If this issue is not fixed in the near future, it has the potential to push processors out of the Midwest if they are unable to find the growing acreage they need to meet demand for their product- and would put them in direct competition with fresh for acres in states like California, Texas and Florida, where they can double crop and have longer growing seasons.

    I have worked in federal government policy for a number of years and I represent my company on issues such as the Farm Bill and others.

    Thanks again for your response to my comments.

  • Jeannie

    Email is a beautiful thing, I received a response from my Senator but it does not make much sense to me(It is from Durbin of Illinois)here is the response….
    ” Thank you for contacting me regarding the inclusion of farm-flex provisions in the 2007 Farm Bill. I appreciate hearing from you and share your interest in allowing all farmers to grow fruits and vegetables.
    Under the 2002 Farm Bill, farmers who receive commodity payments on crops such as corn, wheat, cotton, and soybeans are restricted from growing specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables. Planting limitations originally were placed on subsidized croplands to prevent farmers from garnering an unfair competitive advantage.
    In recent years, these restrictions have led to unintended consequences as fruit and vegetable processors have struggled to find domestic suppliers and U.S. commodity programs have come under intense scrutiny.
    I am an original cosponsor of the Farming Flexibility Act of 2007. This measure would allow producers to grow fruits or vegetables on land devoted to a commodity crop as long as that decision is made annually and the farm’s base acreage is recalculated accordingly.
    Language drawn from this bill has been included in the Senate version of the 2007 Farm Bill, although it would not take effect until 2010. I will continue to support efforts to implement farm flex as soon as possible. I will keep your views in mind as the Senate considers the 2007 Farm Bill.”

    This is obviously a form response, can anyone direct me to a site or source where I can follow up to his response? It seems that there is a missing link between what he indicates is going on and what is going on…..


  • Farm Bill Reauthorization

    Question on Durbin response:
    First and foremost you should know that Senator Durbin has been the biggest Senate champion of Farm Flex initiatives. He led the charge, attempting to get a Farm Flex amendment introduced in floor proceedings and also into the manager’s amendment prior to passage. Senator Durbin has also championed negotiated Senate language that may be added to the conference agreement.

    As for your contention that the response you received is a form letter- yes it’s a form letter. I know folks who participated in grassroots outreach on this issue who got the same response. My best guess is that you got this letter because there is nothing new to report. Conference negotiations on the Farm Bill have all but broken down and things are not looking positive to be completed by the time the current extension expires on March 15th.

    The Senate passed Farm Bill did contain provisions (the newly proposed ACR program) regarding fruit and vegetables in the Midwest but it is at best a bandaid approach. It does little to nothing to help with fruit and veg planting issues right now and for the next couple of years, much less be a complete fix once it is fully implemented. Once the provisions are implemented, they still do not go far enough in lifting restrictions on planting fruit and veg in the Midwest.

    The bottom line is that even though you feel frustration from receiving a form letter and from the talk of the Senate passed ACR program, please know that Senator Durbin and his staff have worked tirelessly behind the scenes on this issue and should be commended on their efforts on this front.

  • Samuel Fromartz

    Just caught up with this thread. Thanks for posting. Jack was the farmer I’d written about last summer who got slammed by the floods and actually needed this land because so many of his fields had washed away. Then he runs into the buzzsaw of Farm Policy. I saw the piece and encouraged him to send it to the Powers That Be. It worked! … Not that it will elicit immediate change. Entrenched interests are just that – entrenched.