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Jessica Catto Headshot

As Long as We Are Ringing in the New, Go Whole Hog -- And Even Cow

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Clearly our country was in the mood for change, but the change that is being forced upon us is not necessarily what we had in mind. Systems failures lie on the ground in pieces all around us like broken Christmas tree decorations: energy, banking, insurance, medical, and automotive, to name some. Let's add another that we might just overlook, agriculture.

What we had all hoped for was change that brought us peace, fairness and a renewal of science-based approaches to energy independence, medicine and environmental debacles. What we have and what the new president is left to resolve is reinventing the wheel.

Government rescued a sloppy banking methodology, a euphemism for simply lending money into thin air. Next came the insurance giant AIG, though they still party on our relief funds. Now the automotive behemoths need a "bridge to nowhere loan." Does our government really need to advance these institutions their allowance money?

Well, yes, drat it all.

The concept of government pulling industry fat out of the fire is not entirely new; it is the scale this time that is scary. Who will be the overseers that protect our taxpayer investment: a car czar, a super accountant, and a reverse party animal? However repugnant this rewarding of incompetence seems, and the auto execs are prime cases in point for most of us, America needs its industry, its credit, its jobs and its self-respect, both at home and abroad.

Of course, we will retool the auto failures into new energy and infrastructure industries, and our lending establishments will have to restrain themselves from passing the buck. We will protect and reconfigure our energy independence, our health, and our financial future, because we have the will and the leadership to so do. But will we protect our farmland? Another system is failing us and it is the most basic: food, glorious food.

Local farms as food suppliers of choice are increasing at a lively pace. There are several reasons. We want fruit and vegetables fresh, organic, and sweet. Think vine ripe tomatoes and tree sweetened peaches. We much prefer grass-fed beef because it is leaner, hormone free, tastes better and far less likely to carry mad cow or other feedlot transmitted diseases. Free-range chicken without additives is healthier. We like local farmers' markets for flowers, honey, cheeses, breads, and over all community flavor. They are fun.

Big agriculture needs to be overhauled and revisited on many levels. Too much food concentrated in one area or too many eggs in one basket present an inviting target. A new president can appoint a Secretary of Agriculture with some bold new ideas about our nation's food supply. Encouraging the growing movement for small, organic farms and local or cluster production would be good for land and soil renewal, for healthy eating, and for safer, smaller production centers. It would take courage and original thinking, but the President elect already has demonstrated a penchant for those attributes.

Commodity and agri-business lobbies would be breathing hard in the halls of Congress, but they, too, can accommodate to change with the rest of our systems. Supermarkets would not disappear, but there would be healthy alternatives and competition. Government needs to focus on abandoning regulations that frustrate these efforts while maintaining sound health criteria.

Michael Pollan, the guru of the movement to revamp our food production, thinks that our overweight country, our subsidies of corn, soy, wheat, and rice, and national food safety are all interconnected. Catching salmon in Alaska, shipping it to China to be filleted and then shipping it back here is a pure Rube Goldberg operation. Those kinds of arrangements beg to be streamlined.

Feedlots, as we have seen, are cruel, rank and disease prone. Smaller farms produce grass fed beef and bison in a more humane life cycle and managed properly are easier on the land. Hog farms are fetid, cruel and foul polluters. Why not promote fewer hogs across diverse farms. Hogs left to root for acorns in the woodlands for brief periods even provide clean up services.

For a lively discussion of the issues, go to this link.

So here we are thinking about massive government intervention on many levels. Maybe it is time to rethink government involvement and encourage more entrepreneurship in one arena: farming. How about it, Mr. President-elect? It is a fine time to revitalize our agriculture environment.

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