Eating is a political act, so says Michael Pollan, in that it offers three opportunities a day to choose what kind of food system you want, even more if you’re really hungry. That sentiment takes on new significance as a KFC-loving proto-fascist is about to take office in Washington.
As of this writing, Donald Trump has yet to name his nominee for secretary of agriculture, which says something about how much importance he places on the position. There have been a few names bandied about, but I’ll go out on a limb and say whoever gets tapped for the job will be a staunch defender of oil-addicted Big Ag and factory farms and no friend of small, regional farms, the likes of which help define the North Bay and support its rural economy.
While current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has helped increase funding for the organic industry and provided more support for vegetable growers of all types, America’s food industry and the farm bill that drives it is still dominated by fat-cat commodity farmers and the lobbyists and Farm Belt politicians who do their bidding. That’s not about to change, and the gains made by sustainable agriculture in the North Bay and beyond will need more politically motivated eaters than ever.
Michelle Obama’s organic garden on the White House south lawn will be hard to remove because it was recently fortified with cement, stone and steel, but don’t get too attached to it. As a fan of McDonald’s, and with the belly to prove it, Trump will probably not eat much produce from the garden. Replacing the garden (which reportedly produced 2,000 pounds of produce a year for the White House kitchen and local food banks) with an artificial grass putting green would be much more his style.
To be sure, shopping at the farmers market, buying organic lettuce and growing your own food is not going to starve the beast that is Trump. But it’s a good place to start and one of the better-tasting forms of protest available for those who want to defend a host of social, economic and environmental goods produced by an environmentally sound local agriculture.
“Everything starts with a seed,” says Tim Page, co-founder of FEED Sonoma, a microregional produce distributor in Sebastopol. “Farming is an amazing metaphor for the one-step-at-a-time philosophy.”
Page, and the farmers he works with, plan to keep on keeping on. “Our path has not changed,” he says. “We’re going to do it every day anyway, because we believe [ecological farming is] the path to healing our environment.”
But in spite of that, the North Bay only grows a small fraction of what its residents consume. What is needed are more consumers who vote with their forks, says Page. “The change needs to come from them.”
For Evan Wiig, founder of the Farmers Guild, a young farmer advocacy and networking group, Trump poses a real threat to the progress made in local agriculture. “It’s hard to get past the feeling of dread,” he says.
While the state is funding innovative programs in carbon sequestration and healthy soils, gains made at the federal level could be undone by a Trump administration not expected to be down with things like regenerative farming and pasture-raised beef.
Central to success of North Bay farms and rural America in general, Wiig says, is a direct connection between farmers and their customers. When farmers become anonymous producers, they become “price takers instead of price makers” and suffer at the hands of top-down food conglomerates.
Wiig says the silver living of the election is that it has ignited a great deal of energy for civic action. Whether you care about local food or immigrant rights, there’s now an outlet for that energy. To that end, the Farmers Guild and various social and environmental justice groups are hosting the North Bay Community Engagement Fair. The Jan. 29 event at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds will feature dozens of local nonprofits with volunteer opportunities for those who want to turn their complaints into action—if not lots of kale.
Go to www.facebook.com/events/578225585715100 for information on the Jan. 29 event.