Wednesday, May 12, 2010
McCain on Farmer's Markets (read this one)
Recently John McCain and two other Republican Senators sent a letter to Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, condemning Vilsack's "Know Your Farmer Know Your Food" program that was introduced last fall. The program aims to "Connect Consumers with Local Producers to Create New Economic Opportunities for Communities," by aiding farmers with the marketing and proliferation of their products (more can be read here). The Senators claimed the project was directed at “'small and organic producers' whose customers generally consist of 'affluent patrons of urban farmers markets.'”
As of now, that is largely true. Organic, sustainable food isn't very accessible to the lower and much of the middle class. The costs of production, and subsequently the final product are much inflated compared with those of big agribusiness which supplies the food to the megamarts. Yet this is a fundamental problem in the nature of the current agricultural system, a problem which the "Know Your Farmer Know Your Food" initiative aims to mitigate. It seems that McCain and his cronies have missed the point. As of now farmers markets are places for prosperous patrons, but such initiatives as the one described aim to increase accessibility to, and with federal funding, lower the price of sustainable farmed food. This program isn't for the elite--the elite already have access to farmed food--its for the less affluent who don't have access to or can't afford such food.
With his letter, McCain is highlighting a pro-business position that demonstrates support for big agribusiness companies. Now remember, that he originally stated that he didn't support the program because it catered to the wealthy (which I don't believe it does), yet his support of the big farmer's, companies like Tyson and ConAgra and Monsanto, has that exact effect for a few reasons. The first is the fact that supporting such companies carries the connotation of supporting the big businessman as opposed to the humble farmer. The second is the fact that these companies are notorious for exploiting the small farmers and the "little guys" that work for them. The profits in these companies go straight to the top with few stops in between (See Food Inc. Read anything by Michael Pollan, Fast Food Nation and more). Therefore McCain's preference caters more directly to "affluent patrons" than does the "Know Your Farmer Know Your Food" program.