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Changing Paradigms in Food and Farming

Our world is in a bit of an uproar these days. Never before have we seen so many challenges come to the fore simultaneously. Here in Vermont, we are very fortunate to live in a rather civil society, especially when we consider the toxic political environment that we see on the national level. We still have plenty to worry about right here in our own state, however. Hardly a day goes by without some mention of water quality and environmental pollution in the news. This past August we saw some of the worst-ever blue green algae blooms in lakes Champlain, Carmi and Memphremagog. Fingers were pointed, and the usual blame game transpired. In the last month, the Department of Agriculture has come under fire for lax enforcement of water quality regulations. Some legislators want to know why farmers are exempt from Act 250 jurisdiction. The question of who and how we will pay for Lake Champlain cleanup looms large.

The state’s dairy farmers, both organic and conventional are in the poorhouse. Vermont’s iconic dairy industry has been in an economic pinch for some time. The prices farmers are paid for the milk they produce are well below the costs of production. Until recently, organic dairy production has been an economic lifeline for many producers, but for the first time ever, organic prices have dropped as much as $6 per hundredweight in the last few months. Quotas have been imposed on organic milk production, further lessening farmers’ income potential. Stress levels on dairy farms continue to increase as farmers find they cannot pay their bills.

Meanwhile, retail outlets that sell dairy products are in a war for market share. Something as nurturing as food becomes a “sale item” like a television set or some other consumer good. Food prices are lower than ever while the cost of production back on the farm continues to rise. Why is it that cheap food is standard fare here in America? This madness all began in the years following World War II. After the lean years of the 1930s and food rationing during the war, Americans were ready to eat. At the same time, chemicals like nitrates and phosphates that had been used in the making of munitions were repurposed as agricultural fertilizers and pesticides. By 1950, a new industrial agricultural revolution was in full swing. Crop yields climbed, farms consolidated, and meat consumption increased. Tractors completely replaced horses for motive power. As agriculture became more mechanized, people began to leave their farms and rural communities for more opportunities in urban and suburban areas. If one is looking for the beginning of the long decline in rural America, look no farther than the 1950s. The green revolution was underway.

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