Because Kansas is the Wheat State, the Sunflower State and, arguably, the Meat State, our dear Senator Pat Roberts adores commodities and industrial-style farming. Poor Senator Roberts can’t get it in his head that loading up on fertilizers and poisons (for the plants) and drugs (for the animals) is not the only way to grow food. I guess that’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Know Your Farmer Know Your Food program bugs him.
Eat your arugula
David Goldstein, former colleague at the KC Star now Washington correspondent for McClatchy (the Star’s latest parent company), reported on the complaints of Roberts and fellow lovers-of-all-things-industrial-ag about Know Your Farmer. From the story:
Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas , John McCain of Arizona and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia complained in a recent letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that his agency spent $65 million last year on a program “aimed at small, hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets.”
Maybe someone should tell them about the soaring use of SNAP benefits (aka food stamps) at farmers markets. The market here in Lawrence, Kansas, for instance, saw SNAP usage double last year, and it’s on track to double again this year. Maybe poor people recognize good, healthy food when they eat it too?
And what a slap at the farmers who grow food for direct sale to people who eat it. Roberts evidently doesn’t know how much hard work those growers put into their growing and marketing efforts if he thinks it’s a hobby.
No crumbs for little guys
Anyway, Goldstein spoke with Bruce Babcock, an economist and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University. The money quote (emphasis added by me):
[Babcock] said it was “ironic” that the senators and others objected to the USDA spending $65 million on Know Your Farmer when commodity producers received $5 billion during the past two years, and the crop insurance industry received $7 billion.
Sounds a bit as though Roberts wants his friends to get all the money, not just 99% of it. Roberts, as you may recall, opposed a cap on support payments to commodity farmers.
An aside: At OpenSecrets.org you will find that industrial ag contributors figure large in Roberts’ current campaign coffers. And if you look at his donors across his career, they’re at the top. Roberts has received more than $1 million from various ag services and processors in his career. (No doubt contributions poured in faster when he chaired the House Agriculture Committee.)
Dan Nagengast of the Kansas Rural Center told Goldstein, “Generally, he’s (Roberts) got better judgment than to gratuitously dismiss something the health industry, environmental industry, rural development industry and people in small towns are interested in.”
Bring on a new candidate
Alas, Dan’s giving the senator too much credit, because Kansans have reflexively voted for the GOP’s man for years. Maybe we’ll get lucky and he won’t run again, but whether he does or not, Kansans need to be looking hard for a candidate who recognizes the value of small farms, local food and rural culture. That candidate certainly isn’t Roberts.
Off topic: While I’m griping, let me add that it galls me that Goldstein’s story came to be via a Google Alert, not in my local newspaper or in the Kansas City Star, for which he ostensibly is a correspondent. It was online on Friday and in newspapers across the country. It showed up on Saturday in the Wichita Eagle (and Saturday’s generally a poorly read paper). I’m going to give the Star the benefit of the doubt and suppose it’s holding it for the larger circulation Sunday paper. But still. Would somebody please remind me why I subscribe, beyond hoping to keep a few of my friends employed? Grrr.