As I sat down to write this week's 5 Things, I started writing the first item and realized that this was too important to even put down as #1 in the 5 Things list. It needed an entry all to itself. And since the writing of 5 Things is intended to help me keep up with writing about what's going on at the farm, there was no reason at all really that I couldn't take this week's 5 Things and write instead about 1 very important thing. I'll write about the other items later in the week, but really... this deserves to be highlighted on its own.
Yesterday, thanks to the Little Art Theater in Yellow Springs and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, I got to see a screening of the movie Farmaggedon. I would highly recommend anyone who is at all interested in freedom of choice when it comes to food to see the movie - either as a screening (a list of which is on their website), in the theaters when it finally gets distributed and released or on DVD when it's available for sales. The documentary mostly focuses on the specific issues/incidents surrounding the sale of raw milk throughout the country. Each state has it's own standards and rules -- you can buy it in the grocery stores in California... have to go directly to a farm in NY... and can't buy it at ALL in Maryland. With different rules come different enforcement but there have been a number of completely ludicrious incidents that make you question the entire legislative process... not to mention the bureaucrats. From confiscating and destroying sheep really without solid proof of a disease that is pretty much imaginary in sheep (and would later be proven to be non-existent in those sheep destroyed), to confiscating a family's personal food stores after an armed raid and holding the family (including small children) at gunpoint for hours, to dumping paid-for milk simply because it crossed state lines.
There were many audible outrages in the audience. Why is raw milk the 2nd most regulated agricultural crop in the US -- behind only Marijuana? Why is it legal for someone to smoke a pack a day yet illegal for them to buy raw milk? The former product is proven to have no benefits and a long list of detriments, while the later carries a small chance of a known lethal bacteria which is, lately, more prominent on spinach. Why would government agencies act this way -- entering a family home and holding children at gunpoint? Taking equipment, food and animals away for destruction? Where are the raids on the big industrial farms? One point that was brought up in the film was that an organic farmer had to fill out MOUNDS of government paperwork to prove what is NOT in their products. Why don't industrial producers have to fill out MOUNDS of government paperwork to say what is IN theirs?? The system does seem slanted and the one-size-fits-all approach not only doesn't fit small farmers, but creates an unnecessary burden... and that's without the overreaching officials and early morning raids at gunpoint.
Probably the most audible disgust from the crowd came in the case of the sheep. Several years after the sheep were destroyed, a lead official for the FDA was finally brought into court under a deposition and stated, for the record (paraphrased here), that US Citizens truly have 1) no absolute right to choose what they eat or what they feed their children and 2) no absolute right to their own health (not health care... basic health). She also admitted that no disease was ever found in the flock that was destroyed (or in the equipment taken or the hay that was confiscated and dumped).
I walked out of the almost sold out theater feeling 2 things -- a heavy dispair at the state of freedom in this country (with a good dose of "why bother" thrown in).... and an almost violent urge to tell the entire government to Shove Off! The local food movement in growing and our representatives need to know where we stand. I want the freedom to choose to get to know my farmer and eat/drink their product. I want the freedom to go to the corner mini-mart and gorge myself on twinkies.
When we went to a community meeting last fall regarding the new Ohio Livestock Care and Standards Board, I met a hog farmer from Darke County. I am extremely glad to have gotten to talk to him. He is very proud of the work he is doing and his desire is to feed the world. I hope he succeeds. My desire is to feed my family and my neighbors. There is NO reason both systems of farming cannot exist in the same country EXCEPT that someone has decided they can't. Why not? Conspiracy theories will say follow the money and they very well may be right. In the meantime, if we can't choose what we put into our bodies... be that pastured turkey, grassfed beef, raw milk, twinkies, McDonalds or coke... how free are we really? and if we aren't free to choose the basic of all things (our food), WHY NOT!!??
HR Bill 1830 was introduced to Congress in May and would remove the interstate commerce ban on sales of raw milk and raw milk products. It is currently in committee review. Here's hoping freedom can win one.
In the meantime, seriously... if you get a chance to see "Farmaggedon" I highly recommend it.