One of the trends that I’m seeing as I travel around the country is the growth in demand for locally produced food, particularly fruits and vegetables. It is a trend that holds great promise for rural America because these farms, which tend to be much smaller in size, use lots of local inputs and could be an impetus in helping to revitalize some towns.
You would think that the USDA would be encouraging this trend but the rules written into the Farm Bill actually discourage farmers trying to diversify. A MN farmer recently wrote this month about his frustrations in a NYT op-ed piece.
Jack Hedin, 41, who is a small organic vegetable producer near Rushford, MN rented 25 acres last year to supplement his own 100 acres to plant watermelons, tomatoes and vegetables. In July the two landowners discovered that there was a problem with the commodity farm program which prohibited planting fruit or vegetables on corn base ground, putting the land out of compliance with the Farm Bill.
Hedin related, “I’ve discovered that typically, a farmer who grows the forbidden fruits and vegetables on corn acreage not only has to give up his subsidy for the year on that acreage, he is also penalized the market value of the illicit crop, and runs the risk that those acres will be permanently ineligible for any subsidies in the future.”
He finished with, “Farmers need the choice of what to plant on their farms, and consumers need more farms like mine producing high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables to meet increasing demand from local markets—without the federal government actively discouraging them.”
I continue to wonder why we need the government’s involvement in farming. Isn’t it something that the free market would be better at?