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Old 12-07-2009, 06:07 AM
 
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I had a chance to talk one on one with Maine Agricultural Commissioner Seth Bradstreet last week and that was an honor. Perhaps it helped that his family and mine had farmed side by side for a generation or two in potatoes and so there was a connection. He brought extremely bad news about Maine Agriculture to the Soil and Water Conservation Districts...losing their funding. This got some aninmated responses...of which many came from me.

He took it well.

That was because beginner farmers in Maine have few places to go for help. Many, many organizations make the claim to help them, but few actually are doing anything meaningful but snapping up grants. You can't go to the UMO as the cooperative extensions budget has been slashed to the bone. NRCS is a great resource but you have to match certain qualifications for certain programs or you are out of luck. (as an example my bid for a composting pad for sheep manure was denied because "sheep people don't compost", which makes changing the status quo tough). MOFGA is pretty strong, but they got their clout for a reason and 97% of the food grown in Maine is non-organic so they end up helping...and influencing...people in very limited and demanding ways.

The best ally a farmer has is really the Conservation Districts since they have the ability to work with a variety of people and agencies and help farmers. Since it is a locally driven committee of supervisors and assistant supervisors, their 76 year track record is legendary. Whether you want to start a 1000 head dairy farm, or a 1 acre veggie plot, they are the go-to people in Maine (and the nation really).

That is about to change. The state is looking to slash the S&WCD's 288,000 dollar annual budget (all 16 districts combined) altogether. It is stupid because the 16 districts eventually dole out 7 million dollars to the local economy. If I gave someone $288,000 dollars and a year later I got 7 million back in return, I would write checks all week long.

I was able to talk to Mr. Bradstreet about this, and a few other legislatures and got so cranked up I fired off a few letters to Tom Vilsack while I was motivated. It is really crazy that 76 years ago the Federal Gov mandated that states start a soil and water conservation society knowing a locally based organization could do far more then a bureaucratic gov agency could do...only to have the soil and water conservation districts prove it by really changing farming from an era of black blizzards to no-till farming we see today. In short what a resounding success they have been. It just irks me that legislatures start a million regulations farmers must follow, then pull the financing for organizations that help us deal with these regulations, right out from under us.

Where the heck are we supposed to go for advice?

As always it was great to stand up for beginner and small scale farmers, and I do thank all those on this forum for caring about local ag.
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Old 12-07-2009, 09:55 AM
 
Location: Forests of Maine
29,728 posts, read 47,507,271 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrokenTap View Post
... It just irks me that legislatures start a million regulations farmers must follow, then pull the financing for organizations that help us deal with these regulations, right out from under us.

Where the heck are we supposed to go for advice?

As always it was great to stand up for beginner and small scale farmers, and I do thank all those on this forum for caring about local ag.
I hear you.

It is my understanding that 100 years ago, a much larger percentage of people were in Ag; then compared to today. Today only a very tiny portion of our society is in Ag. To boost the Ag numbers the government even goes to the extent of including grocery store workers.

While this shrinking of a field has gone on, the population of our nation has grown.

Not only does a smaller group of farmers feed the nation; but that smaller group of farmers feeds a much larger nation.

Because farmers are such a tiny voice their cut of representation is likewise tiny.

I recall many years ago Paul Harvey talking about there being more Ag 'advisors' and bureaucrats on the Federal payroll then there were farmers.

It is my understanding that the primary Ag focus by legislators today, the primary 'voice of Ag' today is corporate Ag [Monsanto, Purdue, Kraft, ADM, ...].


I have no idea what anyone can do about it now.

The gubbermint has decided to spend record amounts of money that has not even been printed yet; and yet the budgets for programs that you mentioned are slashed.

It makes no sense to me.

I go in the grocery store and I see produce from overseas.

My SIL [who lives in DC and is very active in stuff] is very proud of our nation's programs to buy ever higher percentages of food and manufactured goods from overseas. She gets very upset at the idea of Americans buying USA grown foods or USA made clothing. She is active in a dozen groups that encourage this behavior, the corporation that she works for promotes it too.

There exists groups who lobby the nation's legislators pushing for the demise of the American farmer, American laborers, and I guess American business.

It makes no sense to me.
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Old 12-07-2009, 10:25 AM
 
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Mike Rowe did an interview awhile ago and said that it amazed him that in all the "dirty jobs" he did (250 shows) all of them could be reduced down to some sort of agriculture, or some sort of mining operation. He was a farmer himself growing up, a hog farm I believe so he knows what is what.

The demise of the American Farm is indeed a reality. The governing rule is, if my land had houses on it rather then growing crops, Maine and the USA could derive more property taxes. The truth of the matter is, in 2009 the world can produce enough food. In 2050 that will no longer be the case.

America's future is really governed by food...not just food, but cheap food. If you want to see what a stranglehold relying on other countries to "provide for us" has done, look at the oil industry. Now imagine some food conglomerate like OPEC controlling the nations food supply. Now consider this...oil makes us go from one place to another...food is 1000 times as important as oil. Kind of makes you want to go out an hug a farmer doesn't it.

I don't get it either FBK, but I am a conservative that thinks that actively doing more as a society (ag, manufacturing, etc) is better for us all. Old fashioned I guess, but I get my hands dirty too. I am pretty grounded in reality.
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Old 12-07-2009, 10:35 AM
 
Location: Maine
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I was asked last week to consider mentoring five farmers through an organization. I will probably do it at least once because I think we're going to have to work together more as organizations that farmers use dwindle.

Quote:
My SIL [who lives in DC and is very active in stuff] is very proud of our nation's programs to buy ever higher percentages of food and manufactured goods from overseas. She gets very upset at the idea of Americans buying USA grown foods or USA made clothing. She is active in a dozen groups that encourage this behavior, the corporation that she works for promotes it too.
I wish I'd known this when I met her last week. The soup I made four our lunch was 100% grown on local farms.
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Old 12-07-2009, 11:19 AM
 
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I see the Maine Soil and Water Conservation Districts as changing in their role. We have always been primarily the right arm of the NRCS but in recent years that has been wanning. I think with the state of Maines budget woes, an already compromised Dept of Ag could be fortified by putting us in their place. Not in every aspect of course, but in a lot of different areas. In short in stead of operating at the federal level, we operate at the state level. We already have the reputation, distribution, knowledge and history of success to pull it off.

The soil conservation districts are unique in that we were successful because we operated outside of the political arena that makes government run programs complex and wasteful. Yet we have the budgets to do a lot. It is that local-but government administrated mix that made us successful.

One thing I did disagree on regarding Mr. Bradstreet's point of view was that the $288,000 we are given equated to 4 jobs at the Dept of Ag here in Maine. I am thinking that is perfect, you cut 4 ineffective jobs, pay the Conservation Districts the $288,000 they always got, and we can take over the laid off workers roles. Even if the conservation districts have only one employee (Waldo County has 2) that would mean 16 jobs versus 4. And of course when you get local people asking localized questions you get a lot better advice.

Today, as never before, we have to do more with less. My way of thinking is to cut the Dept. of Ag to the bone since it is nearly ineffective now, and put a proven system and set of people in its place.
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Old 12-07-2009, 11:34 AM
JC3
 
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A few times I saw fresh tomatoes with Canada tags on them...those times I refused to buy them. And I had heard of no tomatoe crop problem in this country.
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Old 12-07-2009, 05:31 PM
 
Location: Forests of Maine
29,728 posts, read 47,507,271 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Maine Writer View Post
... I wish I'd known this when I met her last week. The soup I made four our lunch was 100% grown on local farms.


It is very difficult for her and I to play nice with each other, but we try.

I hope that you had fun
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Old 12-08-2009, 01:41 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrokenTap View Post
stand up for beginner and small scale farmers
I heard this interview of young farmers on NPR the other day:
WNYC - The Leonard Lopate Show: Young Farmers (December 04, 2009)

I thought you and other visitors to this thread might be interested.
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Old 12-08-2009, 03:39 PM
 
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A couple of mover and shakers on the Soil and Conservation Districts mentioned this, and I followed up today with John Piotti, House Majority Leader of Maine (and my own representative)...as well as leader of the Maine Farmlink Program told me that they just received a grant to help young farmers in Western Waldo County. It is a pretty small geographical area, but it may help some farmers on here.

I am going to have them look over my own farm plan and suggest changes and adaptions. People can call the Maine Farmlink Program in Belfast for a lot more info. I do know that it won't gear up on this until Feb or Mar.
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Old 12-10-2009, 06:09 PM
RHB
 
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I now work in the produce dept. There is a problem with getting romaine lettuce. The farmers are having a rough go, mostly due to the weather. Some of the comments I have heard, "they should have know how to handle it" "what is their problem" etc. Today there was another one of those conversations "they are farmers, so why can't they farm, maybe they need to get another job" it got me thinking about this thread.

As a society, we are very far removed from our food source. We are spoiled, we can just go to the store and get whatever we want. Our gardens are hobbies.

If I'm seeing this in Bangor, a very small city, the larger cities must be much much worse.

I think that's what we are seeing. The farmer, rancher is so far out of relm of awareness of a lot of people. The farmer, rancher, is busy doing their thing, they don't have time to form a lobbing group to make sure their voices are heard in our government. Since food magically appears in our store, and it's always there, there is no thought that cutting helps to the farmer is going to effect that "magic" that makes it appear.

My sister was mentioned in this thread. She lives in the greater DC area. I live in the woods in Maine. Although raised together, only a year apart in age, we became very different people. Our world view is very different. Where she sees helping a poor impoverished country as important, I see helping the neighbor as important. She writes checks to her charities, I do food and knitting for mine.

When the people who make the decisions, control the budgets, are removed from the farmer, rancher, and don't understand the lifestyle, the cutting of the good programs, the programs that actually help keep the "magic" alive, will get cut.

I think it's a sad fact of our society, and I'm not sure how to fix it.

BrokenTap, if you run for an office, I'll vote for you...but wait, then you wouldn't be a farmer anymore....no simple answers there....
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