After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

“No Farms No Food”: No Regs?

(Posted by Howard Ernst.)

The truck ahead of me had a constellation of conservative bumper stickers. The kind of stuff you would never see on a Prius. Most of them were familiar conservative messaging, the obligatory National Rifle Association sticker in the rear window, a slogan against taxation (even with representation), but there was one sticker in particular that glared at me from the vehicle’s rear end. It simply stated, “No Farms No Food.”

Perhaps you’ve seen it.

At first glance, I thought little of the “No Farms” slogan. After all, in my forty years of wandering this planet I have never met a single person (not one) who is against farms. Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of goodhearted people who oppose the mistreatment of workers on factory farms; others who oppose the countless abuses against farm animals and livestock on factory farms; and more yet who oppose the toxic soup of chemicals that run off of modern food production operations and that pollute the nation’s waterways. But farms, with wholesome men in overalls, kids with 4H cows, and a happy dog to meet you at the gate? Have yet to meet anyone who opposes that.

The interesting thing about the slogan is that since no one opposes farms, no one can oppose the slogan. It’s as if someone won a political argument by simply stating a known truth. No Farms No Food; No Air No Breathing; No Cars No Traffic. No controversy at all. But of course, the message is far more sophisticated than that. People do not make bumper stickers to state the obvious. You have never seen a bumper sticker declaring that ice is cold or that water is wet. No, there’s something else going on with that farm sticker.

The subtle warning behind the sticker is that things that harm farms ultimately also harm us, because farmers are where we get our food and as living beings we require food. The slogan is one part of a larger syllogism. Remember syllogisms from middle school? A=B; A=C; therefore B must also =C. People require food; farms produce food; therefore people require farms. People in modern industrial societies have come to rely on farms, but of course not all farms are the same. As my friends remind me, some farmers pay substandard wages to their workers, mistreat their livestock, and pollute our waterways for greater profit. Do we really require these farms?

It turns out that the sticker is a major public relations push from The American Farmland Trust (AFT) , a sophisticated farm group that has been on the scene since the 1980s and that currently brings in more than $6 million per year from their individual, corporate and other donors. On March 21 of this year, the group issued a press release stating, among other things, that farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have made widespread improvements and that with more federal money (no mention of regulations), they would be able to do even more. On April 5, 2011, before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, Jon Scholl, president of the American Farm Trust, “the voluntary, incentives-based conservation approach [in the Chesapeake Bay region] is working.”

So now we can understand the hidden meaning behind the sticker. No need for stricter agricultural regulations, forget about the pesky Clean Water Act requirements and the TMDL process—if we just continue politics as usual, with a little more money from the government, everything will be just fine.

Sound familiar?

The facts are that the Federal government has already spent billions of dollars supporting agricultural production in this country; the voluntary, incentives-based approach to farm improvements has been tried for 30 years in Chesapeake Bay country, and has failed.

And after all this work and all this time and all this money, industrial agriculture remains the single biggest threat to the Chesapeake Bay.

It’s time for a new bumper sticker.

7 Responses to “No Farms No Food”: No Regs?

  1. So, Mindy–you’re rather see the Bay—the 2nd largest estuary in the country–be destroyed because the farmers can’t manage TMDL? Or that they don’t care about the Clean Water Act? I grew up in the farm belt–in the era before big Farm became the norm. Most of the farmers I grew up around felt that the %expletive% government needed to get its’ collective nose out of the farms and let the farmers do what they’ve always done. Never mind that farm runoff was polluting streams and rivers and killing the aquatic creatures. Never mind that they didn’t care one whit about soil erosion or would dump their manure right where it would wash away into the streams and rivers.

    Sustainable farming is not impossible and would drive the cost of food up more than a handful of percentage points. But everyone has to buy in for it to become the norm, rather than the exception. Only buy your food (as much as possible) from farmer who practice sustainability.

  2. My name is Jim Baird and I run the Mid-Atlantic office for American Farmland Trust so the author’s blog above is of particular significance to me. I’d like to respond with a few short points.

    First of all, your central characterization of American Farmland Trust as rejecting all regulation and being willing to “forget about the pesky Clean Water Act requirements” is absolutely incorrect. Your blog post failed to include the key portion of John Scholl’s testimony that immediately follows the half sentence that you quoted:

    “So the question then becomes, what is the most effective way to change the behavior of farmers on a landscape scale to take those next steps toward cleaner air and water? I submit that economic incentives and markets, not widespread regulation, are the most effective ways to change behavior in the field: however, we must recognize the fact that a regulatory framework is needed to propel progress.

    “An effective regulatory framework is important because it provides several things. First, it assures a basic level of performance that is needed to control pollution. Second, it assures fair competition and a more level playing field for those who do the right thing to protect their farms and ranches. And third, it provides a measure of accountability. We won’t know if we are making sufficient progress if we don’t have a yard stick by which to measure.”

    We are disappointed that you chose to leave out these important points and portray our position as something that it is not.

    A video of Jon Scholl’s full testimony and Q&A is on the House Natural Resources Committee website. http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=230358. (24 min. 30 sec mark).

    Or visit our blog for a written transcript.
    http://blog.farmland.org/2011/04/collaboration-incentives-and-certainty-needed-to-protect-water-resources/

    Secondly, the purpose of our “No Farms No Food®” message is to help people better understand and connect to farms while at the same time underscoring the importance of addressing issues around farms, food and the environment. Our aim, as in so much of what we do, is to bring more people “to the table” and into the discussion about problems that, as your group points out, is all of ours to solve.

    For those who would like to find out what we really do, you are welcome to visit http://www.farmland.org. To help us support the mission of sustaining working farm and forestland and helping farmers protect the environment, visit our site (http://www.farmland.org/actioncenter/no-farms-no-food/local-food.asp) for one of our bumper stickers. Whether you own a truck or a Prius.

  3. Epic non-response from Howard. Yes Howard, I read it. That testimony is pretty much not significant in any positive or negative way (sorry Jim).

    Jim, you are tilting at windmills here. Howard has never worked with farmers. Howard has never negotiated a conservation easement. Howard has never brokered a pollution reduction deal between industry, environmentalists, and/or a single government agency. Howard, flatly put, has never been directly engaged in solving the problems about which he so beautifully writes.

    Every time I read a post like this on this blog, I feel a sense of sorrow and repentance coming from the “57 Senior Scientist” authors because in their 20, 30, 40 years of working “on the Bay”, they have not solved a single significant problem related to the Bay’s health. The “earth generation” has failed, laughably – a point with which Howard would agree.

    So, in penance, they have written some books and spoken at some engagements about their books. And taken some sabbaticals. You know, all that writing about what is wrong with the world gets awful tiring.

    From my standpoint, there are two full generations of political scientists, environmental planners, engineers, and biologists ready to take the reins of the Bay movement. They need mentoring and guidance, not more evidence of old men grinding axes (which is the primary objective of this website).

  4. Most people, including you, have no idea of how farms actually work, what they do or how difficult it is to stay opperational in this web of buracracy we now function under. Like everything else in this modern world we live in, hype sells whatever you’re trying to market and this is no different. If you would like to get the facts straight about all of the contributing factors to the run off that fall under “agriculture”, it may help the “agriculturally challenged” make informed decisions. Most farmers are already preserving this environment on their own because they understand more than anyone the value of this earth. Most farmers don’t qualify for government subsidies that you speak of unless they “sell their souls to the devil” so to speak. Even if they do, their share is so small the trade off is not worth it. Farming as a profession is fading and so is farm land and the desire for working 14 hr days 7 days a week to live on less than minimum wage. Perhaps we should take government jobs so we can make better money telling others how to do their jobs when we don’t know what we’re talking about. There is no one in this family line to carry on this long standing farm and this beef farm will close when we can no longer do the work. This pattern is increasingly becoming the reality for many many farms. What we now enjoy as semi affordable food we buy at the supermarket will be a thing of the past. But, that’s ok, I live on a farm and my family won’t go hungry. While we’re enjoying our t-bone steak, mashed potatos and green beans, you all can enjoy your meat substitutes made from soybeans. Wait! where is it those soybeans come from??

  5. Howard you say the No Farm No Food people want more Gov money to make farming cleaner, well so do the central planner environmental crowd. Everybody wants more Gov money! That is the problem I believe. So do something…start a flier campaign to get residents and farmers to care on their own. Encourage and inspire, and regulate in moderation so we do not discourage free market principles (not that we’re very free anymore).

    I can only use myself as a barometer and I know that I am have changed in the last 15 years…I use less, recycle more, drive less but I do it for my natural surroundings not for the environmentalist movement who also has “changed” over the last 15 yrs. They totally demonize farmers, our bread basket. Small farming is the way, and via our buying habits we must send the message that we want food grown in a way that pollutes as little as possible!! WE CAN DO IT. Save the bay, save ourselves. Plus it is fun to do things softly. Screw carbon credit nonsense, that is a bunch of liberal bunk, emperor with no clothes. :)