Friday, March 28, 2008

MFC - Put local free trade on the fast track

Earlier this month I launched a food security initiative in my local area, and I know many of my readers are waiting for a report.

The good news is that interest in food security is widespread and strong. Dozens of people from across the West have contacted me with interest in this project, and dozens, if not hundreds, of food security initiatives are already underway across America.

Though the term may be vague, most people seem to have a general notion of the objective. Food security involves access to nutritious food on a daily basis, and the ability to weather supply shortages and infrastructure disruptions.

Plenty of food security assessments have demonstrated the problems of our consolidated, long-distance food supply structure, and advocated for a more decentralized, locally-based system. Thus, many food security programs emphasize farmers' markets, direct sales, community-supported agriculture, farm-to-school programs, small farm policy councils, producer-consumer cooperatives and other ideas.

I value these efforts and don't want to discount them in the least, but the bad news on food security is that we are working toward this goal with both hands tied behind our backs. The vast majority of Americans get their food at grocery stores, and until small farmers break through the retail access barriers, local food production will stay on the sidelines.

Significant resources have been expended to help small farmers jump regulatory hurdles so their products can sit on store shelves alongside the big guys. We have efforts to build commercially licensed community kitchens and USDA licensed mobile slaughtering units. There's even talk of ending subsidies to large agri-businesses so that small farmers can compete on a more level playing field, and occasional talk of no longer paying farmers not to farm.

In all of these efforts, we are on the slow, expensive track to food security. To be honest, this is just what I'd expect from a movement largely funded by USDA grant dollars. Agriculture's rule-making agency has had its "Time to Choose" and its "Time to Act," but the paradigm for small farmers has only worsened.

If we want food security in our lifetimes, much less before next winter, we need to start thinking outside the box of what's allowable to see what's possible.

I love farmers' markets, but why should farmers have to create their own markets? Why can't farmers get into stores? And if farmers aren't accessing stores, then what's in there?

This is supposed to be a free market economy, so let's imagine our legislators acted with the quickness they have occassionally been known to display, and let's say they put local, small-scale free trade on the fast track. It is within our politicians' powers to pass an emergency food security act to immediately bring small farmers back into their local grocery stores.

I'd start by allowing the meat processed in state-licensed facilities to be sold by the cut in grocery stores of that state. Direct sales are great, but too many people lack the funds or freezer space to buy a whole side or quarter of beef all at once. And it's not reasonable to expect people to criss-cross the countryside in search of food. If the meat processed in state-licensed facilities is safe to eat - and it clearly is - then it should be allowed in stores.

Next, I'd extend the regulatory exemption for farmers processing less than 20,000 birds annually, to create similar exemptions for small-scale producers of beef, pork, dairy and other animal protein sources. But 20,000 is an awful lot of birds, so I'd set a lower volume of sales to target family farms.

Finally, I'd put a free-trade zone around each small farm so the farmer could sell his products without regulation within a 50-mile radius of the farm. I guarantee you'd see a sudden and dramatic increase in local commerce between neighbors, and it might be just the shot in the arm that our economy needs.

But on the off-chance that our politicians are unwilling to act quickly, it's time for America's independent farmers, retailers and consumers to discover that their hands are only tied figuratively by unreasonable laws. In reality, our hands are free and we can join them with one another to create a new small farm union dedicated to building a local food supply structure.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

MFC - The memos DHS never sent, but should have

The following My Free Country column appeared in the Wallowa County Chieftain on March 13, 2008 and another version of it ran in Capital Press on March 14.

There's a series of memos that the Department of Homeland Security never sent out to the American people - but should have.

The first DHS memo should have gone out six years ago, saying, "Dear People, it's now apparent that our country is vulnerable to a wide range of catastrophes, both natural and man-made. Since the establishment of this agency, there has been some confusion as to who's taking care of what homeland security responsibilities."

"Please note it is up to you, the people, to ensure your own survival and the continuity of freedom itself, through disasters. For too long, many of you have been expecting the government to do everything. Don't make that mistake here."

"DHS has an entirely different purpose: to ensure the continuity of government, including America's economic structure (though please note it's not our job to ensure either the government or the economy are worth a darn)."

A post script should have gone out to cityfolk, saying, "Hey, we know things are crazy these days, and frankly you should expect it to get worse. Try to keep your heads when hard times come and don't panic or turn on each other. Good luck, and we're sorry we can't be more helpful."

The rural P.S. should have said, "Folks, we know it's not been easy trying to keep your independent way of life alive through farming, ranching, logging, and so forth. But don't give up. Your country needs you. In fact, we've nominated you all to be America's real safety net. Good luck, and thanks."

A really special note should have gone out to Wallowa County and precious few other locations. It should have said, "Dear Outlaws, that's a cute name you've got. Don't worry, we don't take offense. We call you Freedom Outpost # 23. Anyway, you live as far off the map as you can get and we know it's for a reason. We're sure you don't want to rely on us for anything, including advice. But we'd like you to remember just how unprepared the rest of the country is. Please balance your instincts for self defense with compassion when people come your way. You might even think about what you can do to help other communities prepare so that you're not the only ones ready. Good luck, and bless you."

Another round of DHS memos should have gone out just after Hurricane Katrina, saying, "Dear People, didn't you get our last memo? We warned you to start preparing for disasters. Even your National Guard troops are gone, deployed overseas or in other states. You really are on your own."

Finally, a third round of DHS memos should have come out this winter, saying, "Okay People, we're still not seeing any survival preparedness on your part. Perhaps these little shake-ups in the economy and the price of oil will motivate you. Please look at your food, fuel and medical supplies, your communication networks, and so forth, and prepare for supply shortages and infrastructure failures. There's really no downside to self-sufficiency. You might even like working together. For the love of freedom, get busy."

But those important memos were never sent because individual- and community-based preparedness runs counter to the mission of DHS: ensuring the continuity of government. Survivalists are potential terrorists, remember?

So instead of issuing the above advice, DHS has told us to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting, and wait for instructions, while our many layers of government are brought under the seamless control of the federal executive branch, through terror drills and changes to the U.S. Constitution.

DHS and the Bush Administration have been busy with these tasks, indeed. They've done away with: our right to due process; our right to be secure in our persons and properties; America's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, America's ban on military deployment for domestic law enforcement; and more.

It's the people's job to preserve freedom. It's the government's job to preserve itself. Don't be confused about that all-important difference. And don't let the survivalist-terrorist witch hunt scare you into silence and inaction.

On March 11, Wallowa County residents came together to discuss implementation of a regional Food Security plan. Let this be the beginning of our efforts to preserve freedom in this valley, and beyond.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Food Security Plan intro

Last night I brought together members of my local community to discuss implementing a Food Security plan for our very isolated region. The goal is to reduce our reliance on imports, lower our costs and gain access to healthier food. The strategy involves dividing the work load across multiple teams aimed at strategically expanding our biodiversity, developing appropriate technology (small-scale and low-fuel/power), and re-establishing our local food processing infrastructure. The efforts and needs of producers, consumers and retailers are to be coordinated through a new all-valley trade cooperative, with chapters in each town. I am working on an informational brochure with more details. I'm going to rebuild my website and post it there. In the meantime you may email me for a copy at Thank you to all of you who attended last night's meeting, and to all who called or otherwise expressed interest in participating in the Food Security Plan.