In The Elevator…

Grist, the online environmental magazine, asked a bunch of leaders in the sustainable agriculture and food movement to imagine that they somehow managed to share an elevator with President-Elect Barack Obama. While riding together, each person has one minute of Obama’s undivided attention in which to present their ideas involving food and farming.

What would they say?

In the article, “Going Up, Part 4,” Grist started the ball rolling by asking Michael Pollan, author of the well-received essay, The Farmer in Chief, and then moved on to a plethora of passionate authors, activists, farmers and educators, all of whom had great ideas to pitch to the incoming President.

Of course, this got me to thinking–what would I say?

I think that I might mention that while most Americans live an urban lifestyle that is far removed from the toil and work of producing food, our historical roots are sunk deep into the soil–at one time, most of us were farmers, and not that very long ago–as recent as World War II, many Americans grew some portion of our own food.

In this failing economy, with jobless rates rising higher than in previous decades, with the banking system on shaky footing and fuel prices fluctuating up and down, we may need to return to our agricultural roots, not just because it is good for the environment, but because we will need to in order to survive.

I would suggest that federal support for urban community gardens and farms could help the urban poor produce some of their own fresh food, and perhaps a program of tax credits for suburban and small town families who turn some or all of their yards to food production would encourage the middle class to not only produce some of their own food as well. Educational programs to help non-gardeners learn the skills needed to grow food, such as the current County Extension Agencies could be expanded so that there was more community outreach and involvement, as well as tying the Extension offices to public school Edible Schoolyard programs across the country.

Americans really want to roll up our sleeves and do something to help make our country great again, and these sorts of self-help programs will get people moving in a positive direction again, as well as providing good, fresh food to people who may otherwise have no access to it at all.

Now, for the record, if John McCain had won the election, I would say the same things to him–my thoughts on this issue are not partisan–I’d think like this no matter what.

So now I want to know–what would YOU say?


RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. I think it is all a good idea as long as it is voluntary.

    Comment by Jim — November 14, 2008 #

  2. I’m afraid I would be selfish and beg him to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act before I talked food/farm policy.

    If there were time left after doing that I would ask him to give the USDA some teeth, reform the organic labeling standards to be more like those in the UK, and stop subsidizing corn so heavily(less high fructose corn syrup anyone?) I know that the corn subsidies are tricky. There are a lot of farmer’s that rely on them and there are a lot of things besides food made from corn. Taking away those subsidies would throw a lot of markets in turmoil and probably drive the cost of oil a little higher again since there are a lot of plastic & fuel type products made from it these days, but I think that the overall benefit would be pretty good. There are food shortages in the world now because we are growing food for industrial uses rather than for eating. The monoculture ways of growing corn are also problematic and it wouldn’t hurt to grow something besides the yellow stuff in Iowa.

    What do you think Barbara?

    p.s.- planning on going to the protest in Athens tomorrow? ( ) I’ll be at our version here in Seattle.

    Comment by Benjamin — November 15, 2008 #

  3. Is it just terrible to ask him to raise prices on food in the groceries? We have CHEAP food here in America and I’m wondering if that wouldn’t drive people to start their own gardens, though it would certainly be necessary to raise awareness of where to get growing info because there’s lots of people out there that don’t have a clue where to begin. I don’t know, I’d love to see supermarket prices go up but maybe that’s a bad approach. what are your thoughts?

    Comment by z. — November 15, 2008 #

  4. z, you’re basically saying that you would love for people to be FORCED to live the lifestyle that you approve of?

    That’s the kind of brutal crap I usually get from the religious right. The difference lies only in the kind of lifestyle you advocate, but the threats and the force are strikingly similar. It’s liberal-scented fascism.

    Comment by Jim — November 16, 2008 #

  5. Jim, I never said any of it would be compulsory–why would you assume that is what I meant? Tax incentives are by their nature non-compulsory–they are the carrot, not the stick. Also giving grants and educational support to individual communities and school systems would be at the request of those communities and school systems.

    Please don’t assume fascist intent from my statements–that is further from the truth than you can imagine.

    Benjamin–as I understand it, both Obama and Biden want to repeal DOMA, and plan to work on that early on in the term. I have read that from several reputable news sources, and I am hoping and praying that it is true. I also think that if you go and state your concerns via email–there are forms you can fill out to send in your suggestions–and you get your friends and family–meaning every gay person and their friends, family and supporters to do the same, it will happen.

    Prop 8 pissed me off, too. But, one thing Kieth Olbermann pointed out that I wouldn’t have thought of before–it passed on a narrow margin, and the percentage of people who support gay marriage or civil unions (and both Obama and Biden support civil unions which would have the same legal ramifications of a marriage–it is just known by a different name) has risen fairly quickly over the past four years.

    We are getting there. Slowly–which is how most societal change happens, gradually. But, we can all do what we can to speed up the process a bit by speaking out in our communities, whether we are gay or not, and show our neighbors and friends and family that it really is a civil rights issue. If we help move popular opinion along -and- we communicate our opinions to our elected officials, change will come.

    Z–I wouldn’t ask for prices to rise. That is going to happen naturally because of the rise in oil prices and because of the economy. When we have so many people losing jobs and losing their homes and money, I think that artificially raising food prices is a bad idea–and isn’t very compassionate. There are other ways to give people incentives to raise some of their own food that would not only be kinder, but simpler.

    We may end up with something like the WPA during the depression, which would help us rebuild our crumbling national infrastructures, give people jobs and help the economy–and some of those jobs could be in farming.

    Jim–you stated it pretty strongly, but I generally agree with your second comment. I always prefer the use of the carrot in governing than the stick. The stick is best used as a last resort.

    Comment by Barbara — November 16, 2008 #

  6. hi barbara, i see that this post was made on 14th. today is 17th and so far, only four people have commented. many occasions, i’ve seen floods of comments on many other posts of yours. does this lack of response reflect the general attitude to your suggestions ?!

    Comment by renu — November 17, 2008 #

  7. Barbara,

    Tax incentives are not a “carrot”. The government already is punishing people by taking some of the product of their labor through force (taxes). Reducing taxes for politically-correct behavior is negative punishment, not positive reward. A “carrot” would be positive reward, and I’m not sure what that would be in a force context. Maybe if the government plundered money from another country and then shared some of the spoils with the citizenry for politically-correct behavior, perhaps? I don’t know.

    The notion of ruling people and punishing and rewarding them on the basis of how much their behavior pleases the rulers disgusts me. I know you see yourself as “enlightened” and “reality-based”, so perhaps you don’t understand my philosophical objection to a heavy-handed, “stick as a last resort” government full of good intentions. If I can phrase it in a way that might be meaningful to you, let me say that the notion of being governed denies me my right to self-expression.

    Comment by Jim — November 17, 2008 #

  8. Ah.

    An anarchist.

    I understand.

    No wonder you have nothing positive to say about anything.

    Comment by Barbara — November 17, 2008 #

  9. I would ask him to change the farm subsidy system in the US, so that it supports farmers who grow actual food — fruits and veggies — rather than requiring monoculture corn and/or soybeans (which aren’t eaten by people — they’re either fed to animals in CAFOs, or they’re used as raw ingredients in artificial processed foods.) Rolling back subsidies on corn and soy would have to be slow, but letting farmers grow some tomatoes or peas as well without losing their subsidies could be done simply and do a lot to help with eating locally — ironically it’s in the farm belt of the Great Plains that it’s hardest to eat locally, because the farmers rely so heavily on subsidies that they can’t afford to grow anything else.

    Comment by Andrea — November 17, 2008 #

  10. Andrea–I think that is a good point and a very good idea. Some of the farm subsidy program was changed in the last farm bill but not enough to really help smaller farmers and non-monoculture farmers, so there is plenty of room there for policy change that can help farmers and consumers get fresh local food.

    Renu–One problem with this post was that if you read all of the article I linked to, those authors are pretty thorough! There isn’t a lot more to say on the subject after that, really!

    Also, not everyone is as much of a food policy geek as I am, and some folks just are not into politics, even as it relates to food.

    But time will tell–we may get some more discussion here yet!

    Comment by Barbara — November 17, 2008 #

  11. Were I to discuss food with him, I’d say about what Andrea said.

    Or I might get more general and point out, forcefully, that subsidies distort. All subsidies. To farmers to grow the corn that makes us unhealthy. To the energy producers that produce dirty energy. To the employers that tie us to them via tax-benefited health insurance. To driving that pollutes our air and strongly discourages other forms of transport.

    More likely I’d address a different topic entirely, and go over all the recent history (past 20 years) that show that markets need reliable legal structures and regulation in order to work to the benefit of all. Markets without reliable legal structures and regulation turn into social Darwinism.

    Comment by Harry — November 18, 2008 #

  12. Jim, maybe I am a bit brutal but I think it’s better to spend more money on food and less on entertainment and other junk. Americans like their tvs and baseball games too much and that’s what is driving them away from our roots in the soil. they don’t have time to garden because they want to watch ESPN and CMT. And yes, as you suspected, I am religious, a Christian, in fact, and that’s just what I believe. I’m sorry, but I don’t think anything besides rising prices are really going to force most people to garden. As a country, we are just too lazy. We’d rather work more hours at our cushy office job to pay for those groceries than get our hands dirty growing our own tomatoes. But if the prices were high enough, people might begin to think of how they could provide for themselves.

    Also let me say that I really don’t understand all that much about food politics. I am just throwing around my opinions…maybe I really should study up on this since it does interest me. And quite possibly, raising prices of groceries alone is a terrible idea. But I suspect that when done in conjunction with a few other things, it really would help.

    And for the record, I grow bushels of vegetables all summer long for my family. If I can do it, just about any one can!

    Okay, did I make any sense at all?

    Comment by z. — November 18, 2008 #

  13. Barbara, when I saw this project, I thought of you:

    I love the idea of an organic farm on the White House grounds – what a lovely message to put out and if it supplies the White House too, you can’t get more local and delicious!

    Comment by Meg — November 19, 2008 #

  14. The idea of an organic kitchen garden on the White House grounds is a traditional one, after all, and there’s a similar initiative on it by

    Comment by MAC — November 26, 2008 #

  15. z…

    What about us city people, living in apartments, condos, and town homes?

    I live in a small, cramped condo with a tiny amount of patio space for growing anything. Last summer I grew a few pots of herbs, but I don’t have any real space for something like container gardening. And I can tell you right now, that my HOA won’t allow the use of the communal lawn area for gardening…no matter how bad the economy gets or how high food prices are (because it “devalues” the property).

    For a large population of people, gardening is a luxury and not practical.

    I would like to see the new administration take steps to make farming, and buying farmland, affordable for those of use who want to make the transition. My dream is to eventually buy a small amount of farmland for raising laying hens, growing a small orchard and veggie patch, and to raise a small herd of goats for cheese production.

    We, as a nation, are strangling ourselves by the loss of small, family farms–which are being sold for either commercial or residential development or being sold to the monster Ag companies.

    Small, family, agricultural development needs to be a priority.

    Comment by Roxanne — December 3, 2008 #

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress. Graphics by Zak Kramer.
Design update by Daniel Trout.
Entries and comments feeds.