(taking a break from gardening, stocks and travel. Time for a mini-rant)
In the past 40 years, the United States lost more than a million farmers and fathers. Many of our farmers are aging. Today, only nine percent of family farm income comes from farming, and more and more of our farmers are looking elsewhere for their primary source of income.” ~ Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture.
Now that, is probably a statement of fact. I came across this quote on the quote while writing this weeks earlier article on Limoneira. Tom Vilsack is the ex-governor of Iowa, now ag czar for the whole country. Safe to assume he probably knows a thing or two about farming. If not necessarily doing it, certainly about pandering to it.
Here’s what he also said, in an address to the Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas:
“To live and work in America means you have access to a tremendous amount of food, and most of it is produced here,” he said. (True enough. Many people also consume tremendous amounts of food, and have the ass to show for it.) “We would not have to import anything. We are a very food-secure nation, but there are very few nations that can say that.”
Vilsack said Americans typically spend 6 to 15 cents per dollar on food compared to 10 to 20 cents per dollar in other countries, giving Americans more flexibility with their paychecks. (we might quibble about the poor nutritional content of food produced by industrial agriculture)
He also touched on energy sources – oil, natural gas, wind and solar, and how most of that comes from rural America; that 16 percent of our population lives, works and raises its family in rural areas, but 40 percent of the nation’s military personnel come from those areas; and that 32,000 (well-subsidized corporate) farms produce 50 percent of our food. He also discussed the short-, medium- and long-term threats to agriculture.
It’s an important topic, this hollowing out of America rural heartland. People leaving the land, living in cities, and losing a connection to their food. AgSec Vilsack has no doubt expressed these sentiments in other places and venues, since this sounds like a standard stump speech. Familiar story, this is: a quarter of America’s population lived and worked on farms back in the 30′s and 40′s, millions of family farms producing the nation’s food. Now, barely 1 or 2 percent are farmers. And so on.
President Obama’s fight for rural America is personal. He was raised by a single mom and grandparents from Kansas. He hails from a farming state, Illinois.” ~ Tom Vilsack
More from AgSec Vilsack:
“Our short-term threat is we don’t have enough people to do the work that needs to be done on farms and in processing plants,” he said. “We have had a broken immigration system for years, and it threatens the survival of agriculture. The nation needs comprehensive immigration reform that addresses agricultural jobs. We have food rotting because we don’t have the work force we need. If we don’t address this issue, we will end up seeing agribusiness moving operations elsewhere.”
That we don’t have enough migrant workers to pick lettuce and apples is a real thing, but not necessarily because we choose not to let them in the country. It’s relatively easy (if not risk-free) to walk here. It’s that the work is tough and doesn’t pay very well.
Are you ready? Here’s his answer: although rural America only has 16 percent of the population, it gives 40 percent of the personnel to the military. Say what? You mean when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, the bottom line — you know all the cliches — the whole reason for increasing farms is to provide cannon fodder for American imperial might. He said rural kids grow up with a sense of wanting to give something back, and if we lose that value system, we’ll lose our military might.
It plays well with audiences, this romanticizing of farm life. At the very least, it sure sells trucks:
For more on an alternate take on farming and labor, try here: