If you have been following the news lately, you might have caught in the headlines a bit of a controversy emerging over Rhode Island’s plan to finance and support new farmers who want to break into the agriculture industry. This has generated a host of responses from certain established farmers. Tim Faulkner at EcoRI News did a great story on the topic:
Justin Dame of Dame Farm and Orchard in Johnston said the state proposal to buy farmland and sell it at a discount to newer farmers is another example of government picking winners and losers. The program, he said, will divide up-and-coming farmers, who typically run small farms and subscribe to the local food movement, from established, conventional farmers like himself. “It’s a breeding ground of us versus them,” Dame said during a Sept. 7 workshop at University of Rhode Island Bay Campus. “I think it can hurt the industry more than help it.”
Simultaneously, Libertarian think tank Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity and their CEO Mike Stenhouse have indicated they see this as part of a dubious “big government” land grab that quickly veers into the realm of paranoia and xenophobia.
But the Green Party’s Greg Gerritt, who has a wealth of insights on Rhode Island agriculture after years of study, has a viewpoint that is far different from either that might be worth consideration.
“The key issue is that Rhode Island needs more farmers. If you’re thinking about climate change, if you’re thinking about food security, you need new farmers,” he says.
Gerritt points out that, because of the droughts and floods already being seen in California and the midwest, it is important for Rhode Island to develop an agriculture system that can operate independent of the current centralized networks that rely so heavily on out-of-state produce. “Let me say first that I strongly believe that we have as a community both a responsibility and a need to get new farmers, immigrant farmers, young farmers, into the farming business.” The overwhelming indications from the climate scientists and food chain industry specialists is that the methods used over the past century to supply agriculture are unsustainable and tenuous given the status of climate change.
He feels that the state might face serious challenges trying to administer the program and thinks an organization might actually do the job better due to less constraints. He says that it would require a lot of work to create a land trust council but it would have better success than the state given structural challenges.
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“The critique on the other side by the Farm Bureau, by Mike Stenhouse and his Koch brother-funded fools, is that we need to do this differently, that they are not thinking about climate change, they’re not thinking of where our new farmers are going to come from, they’re not thinking about food security, they’re not thinking about how we really as a society need to change a lot about what’s in agriculture. The Farm Bureau, the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, they are basically defending the 1% and basically saying ‘if you don’t have old money, you can’t farm‘ even though farming is dying in the way they do it and we have lots…of people who would like to farm…and can cover niches that they would never agree to cover and do massive amounts for our food security.”
“They are completely out of touch with reality! They do not understand the situation we face ourselves around how climate change is affecting food security and how inadequate and unequitable [sic] access to farmland, with our expensive farmland unless you have old money, we’ve got to do something and we’ve got to do something pretty dramatic if we’re actually going to get to food security in Rhode Island. That’s what we need to think about real hard and they’re not. And so there’s an absolute need for a program to help farmers!”