I love to visit the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (VICFA). I’ve been there twice now over the last few years, and even though raw milk can’t be sold in Virginia, they always have it out for visitors. In fact, this time there was a choice—goat’s milk or cow’s milk. That plus the fact that it is a very committed organization, committed to seeking legislative change to allow the sale of raw milk, and allow for the needs of smaller farms. A big part of that orientation was the result of Kathryn Russell, one of its founders, who was killed recently in an automobile accident.
I was at a VICFA-sponsored book signing Saturday evening in Charlottesville, VA, which had been organized by Kathryn over the previous eight months. I had the honor of being introduced by Joel Salatin, who wrote the foreword for my book, and who’s become something of a rock star in the foodie movement. He had some very nice things to say about my book (“It’s a wonderful book…a wonderful tool in your arsenal.”)
One of the more intriguing things he talked about, though, was how he’s sometimes treated by local business people. “People assume our neighbors love us,” he said, based on all the publicity he’s achieved. He recounted how he sought a delivery of sawdust (his Polyface Farm seeks to vary its use of carbon-based fuels). The supplier refused, recounted Salatin. “He said, ‘You let your chickens run loose. You abuse your cows because you don’t vaccinate them. You don’t want your cows taking antibiotics. I hate everything you stand for.’”
To Salatin, such reactions to foodies aren’t isolated incidents, but rather “illustrative of the pushback to the kind of farming we and many others are doing.”
His conclusion? “I think we are in for some real serious times coming down the pike…that we are Luddites…We’re not playing Pictionary. The industrial food system is playing for keeps.”
Playing on the same theme, I was asked during my presentation about all the publicity being given to Washington’s fascination with sustainability (some of which I discussed in my previou post). One questioner said, “(Agriculture Secretary) Vilsack is running around saying, ‘Know your farmer, know your food.’ Michelle Obama is planting an organic garden. What does it all this mean?”
I answered that this is a classic case of the government speaking out of both sides of its mouth, with forked tongue, shall we say. The real action, I explained, is happening over in Congress, with the focus on food safety. That will put the screws to any farmer who happens to take the Washingon happy talk seriously. High signup fees. Expensive HACCP plans. Huge penalties for supposed violations. Random searches of business records. Easy quarantines of any geographic area judged dangerous.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has never been loathe to throw its weight around, especially against smaller food producers, will have even more money and authority than it has today to do just that.
I have to agree with Joel. We’re in for some tough times ahead. As I’ve pointed out in the past, when it comes to raw milk, which is a proxy issue for other food issues, a lot of the enmity by regulators is highly personal. They just don’t like people who dare to question FDA and CDC prescriptions.
Everyone at the VICFA event was very impressed to see four of Kathryn Russell’s daughters in attendance. They were appreciative to me for attending, and I was highly moved at their resiliency and commitment in attending. They are pictured below.