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Food not campaign issue, but it will come to the forefront

December 09, 2008|By JEFF SEMLER

You can hardly pick up a newspaper, listen to the radio or turn on the television without some talking head telling you about the sad state of affairs of the economy.

I can tell you that it is a good news and bad news situation; first, take solace in knowing that the economy is never as bad as they say it is. Politicians often are criticized as being fear mongers yet that is exactly what the media does.

Now to the bad news; the economic picture for our county, state and nation is not rosy. Undervalued credit and over borrowing has taken its toll. Our nation has been borrowing money like drunken sailors and now unfortunately we are all suffering from a hangover. Since this isn't the political page, I am sure you are wondering where this is going. Hang on.

Our 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is quoted, "there is nothing to fear but fear itself." This was a man who was elected during an economic depression and whose presidency also saw a World War. I think we might learn a little something from him and what went on during this chapter of our history, so fear not.

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I do a fair bit of reading of the popular press and I found two articles that have piqued my interest recently along the lines of food policy in the light of national economic policy. The first is by the Cal-Berkeley journalism professor and foodie prophet, Michael Pollan, titled "Farmer in Chief," which was published in the New York Times Magazine on Oct.12 on page MM62 of the New York edition.

Pollan has his critics and what I find amazing is many of them are in agriculture. I assume it is because Pollan beats the drum of eating local and most of our agricultural system is set up to produce commodities as opposed to food.

At any rate, in his article Pollan writes an open letter to the president-elect. This was published before we knew who that person would be so it is not partisan. He tells the new commander-in-chief that while food wasn't mentioned in the campaign it will come to the forefront whether he is ready for it or not. He goes on to say that high food prices have not been an issue since the Nixon administration. He insists "the health of a nation's food system is a critical issue of national security."

I think this focuses on the fact that food is a primary need of everyone and we need to stop taking it for granted. The other article was written by a lesser known author, Jay Greathouse, which appeared on CommonDreams.org Nov. 22. Its title is "Family Farms Pulled Us Out of the Great Depression." Greathouse is director of Willie Nelson Peace Research Institute.

Greathouse reports it was FDR's rural development policy adviser, Cornell University Professor George F. Warren, who realized the important role agriculture plays in the economic health of a nation. He goes on to say, "true democracy requires agriculture of numerous family farms, owned by farmers rooted in their communities, not by corporate landlords."

Thomas Jefferson also recognized that as well as recorded in a letter to George Washington in 1787, "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness."

So stay tuned to see if agriculture gets the attention it deserves or if the system hiccups and it demands attention. In the meantime, do your part and consume locally produced food when you can. The local economy and open space depend on it.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.

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