Today I head off to the Maine Agricultural Trades Show at Augusta - I always feel like this is dessert for many of the farming stories I write throughout the year.
It's a big convention center filled with everything from homemade sausage vendors to milking machines, huge tractors, beekeeping supplies, and every farming agency you can imagine.
The event is showcased by dozens of workshops held over the three days that deal with issues farmers are facing - marketing, pests, certification, networking.
One group - Food for Maine's Future - is a bit of an extreme, alternative group, but they have come up with a spectacular plan. They are presenting our new governor with a list of changes that are required to keep the small family farms that populate Maine going and growing.
They have suggested:
* Enact an immediate moratorium on farm foreclosures.
*Conduct an inquiry into how corporate concentration and free trade has impacted Maine farmers.
*Provide assurances that Maine farms, cottage-scale food processors and cooperative food buying clubs will not be subjected to the harsh law enforcement tactics being used in other parts of the U.S.
As for the last one, many states, including Maine, have been cracking down on the sale of raw milk. Raw milk sales are illegal in many states, but they are legal here in Maine. However, some inspectors have gotten a bit extreme in their desire to regulate and test raw milk. Not in Maine, but in other states, people have been held at gunpoint when their food was seized for testing.
This does not concern me in Maine. If a producer is a clean producer, making good milk, he/she has nothing to fear when the inspectors come around. Enough said.
The other two issues, I believe, are real and serious. Many large producers, for example General Mills and Smithfield, are able to leverage government programs that allow them to buy inputs such as wheat or corn, below the cost of production. Smithfield has been particularly shrewd in using NAFTA terms to move much of its production out of the country, to Mexico and Germany.
All of this, as FMF states "undercuts Maine producers who have higher standards and charge the true cost of their food."
My answer? Buy local whenever possible. Don't purchase products from companies whose business practices are suspect or you personally have researched and found unacceptable. Simplify what we buy. Don't expect peaches in January - be real in the seasonal expectations you want. When food/fresh veggies are plentiful in the summer, can or freeze the bounty. You can buy in bulk at all farmers' markets and buying clubs when the veggie is at its premium.
It all comes down to personal choices. What is best for you? What is best for your family? And what can you afford?