Notes from the Kitchen: On Sustainable Food Practices & Public Policy Part II - The Ravens Club
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Notes from the Kitchen: On Sustainable Food Practices & Public Policy Part II

Days off are a true blessing! Although the team here has discussed the possibility of being open on Monday, and we are here most of those days. We enjoy the time to strategize the business, catch a few breaths and engage in extracurricular shenanigans! Last night, I spent some time volunteering at the Tilian Farm Development Center with folks we have purchased from in our first year.
Tilian, as well as many other sustainable agriculture initiatives in the south central Great Lakes region has been partially funded by generous amounts of USDA grants.

The 2012 Farm Bill is now making its way through OUR congress, and now is the time to speak up with your representatives in both houses to shape the system that supplies the food we provide ourselves for the future.

This past February, I had the chance to look through original copies of both the USDA annual reports from the 1860’s, and those of the Office of Patents, which handled Agriculture affairs at the Federal level before the creation of the USDA at the outbreak of the Civil War.

In quotations are excerpts from these documents, layered between a few of contemporary farming issues facing the Nation today. My perspective as a cook is supported by newsletters from Center for Rural Affairs and the weekly roundups of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. NSAC sent Alex Cacciari, from Seeley Farm Greens, located at Tilian, to D.C. to speak with our State’s representatives in Congress. It was good to discuss such matters with Alex and partner Mark Novak as we pulled weeds around some artichoke transplants earlier on a day off from the kitchen.

Conservation Stewardship
The program at present rewards farmers and ranchers already engaging in practices that protect their land year round for the generations ahead that will supply the food we enjoy. This is far better than paying the worst actors to change only when paid.

“It is the great amount of land under cultivation, the ease of which it is worked and the sparse population, which affords such large crops, and enables such a great surplus to be exported. But this condition of things cannot last. The most fertile soil must in time become exhausted by constant cropping, and both the yield and quality of products deteriorate. Such are the results of the American method of cultivation, a method of having a continent to cultivate and exhaust of it’s virgin fertility.”

Unlimited Subsidies
This money is the most wasteful and and counterproductive measure of current farm policy. Why should the Federal Government and the taxpayers money pay most of the crop insurance premiums for the largest farmers and richest landowners in the midst of record high farm income and Federal deficits?
Quoting from Historian Fredrick Von Schleget on the Agriculture of Rome:

“After a splendid career of prosperity, filling the world with her fame, Rome culminated and declined. No historical proposition is is more susceptible of proof than that the great cause of that decline were the laws enacted affecting real estate and the condition, skill and products of labor.
Changing this splendid base of prosperity, permanency, and power, whereby resting in the soil, Rome pierced the heavens with the power of thought, she grew proud and oppressive, the reigns of the middle class, labor became disruptable. The soil a monopoly and the masses of the people reckless, unpatriotic and degraded. A few proprietors held the land and owned the labor. The poverty of the many, with its evils of want, of ignorance and dependence, existed by the side of the excessive wealth and culture of the few”

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Act
Draws on progress made in previous Farm Bills, but picks up the pace of reform and addresses a cross cutting approach to meet the needs of these future entrepreneurs.
“The best Farmer is always the most intelligent man, and a community of knowledge is one of the strongest ties that can bind and bless a society”

“Let the Farmer, therefore as a cultivated man, magnify his occupation”

“It is not only a great mistake but a great misfortune the young men should feel dissatisfied with the comparatively slow gain of agriculture. They notice the rapid growth of the merchant, the trader or the professional man, limiting however, their observations to the few who are successful.”

Rural Development
Vibrant small towns have always been the strength of our identity. The draft coming out of the Senate subcommittee lacked focus on this regard, although when it was brought to the committee’s attention, Chairwomen Senator Stabenow stated that she was looking forward to including discussions on this matter in the debates ahead.
“Agricultural pursuits tend to moderate and tranquilize the false ambition of Nations, to heal sectional animosities, and afford a noble arena for honorable rivalry. The acquisition of slow, but sure wealth drawn from and reinvested in the soil , develops health of body, independence and simplicity of life and love of Country. While the rapid accumulation of wealth, not by production, but by trade and speculation, is unnatural and unhealthful. It too often unsettles moral principle and substitutes selfishness for patriotism. Never was truer or a more comprehensive line of poetry penned than that which declares, God made the country, man made the town”

“The United States are, and always must remain, an agricultural Nation. For this the soil, the climate, the institutions of the country, and the age of the world, have peculiarly fitted them, and it is the duty of the government to take all possible measures to secure to the agriculturists of America the fullest benefits of its ample resources.”

A couple additional thoughts from the resources mentioned:
“There are really but two sources of National wealth, the soil and the mind of a Nation”

“Every acre of our fertile soil, says a great political economist, is a mine which only waits for the contact of labor to yield its treasures”

Certainly a lot has changed in the time the first USDA reports were published about one hundred and fifty years ago, but maybe not so much as we like to think. As a cook, I am convinced the ingredients we use have more flavor and it’s worth sourcing from these producers, who deserve support from the Farm Bill currently before Congress. Please send an email or pick up the phone or a pen on your next day off!