(Posted by Howard Ernst.)
The truck ahead of me had a constellation of conservative bumper stickers. The kind of stuff you would never see on a Prius. Most of them were familiar conservative messaging, the obligatory National Rifle Association sticker in the rear window, a slogan against taxation (even with representation), but there was one sticker in particular that glared at me from the vehicle’s rear end. It simply stated, “No Farms No Food.”
At first glance, I thought little of the “No Farms” slogan. After all, in my forty years of wandering this planet I have never met a single person (not one) who is against farms. Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of goodhearted people who oppose the mistreatment of workers on factory farms; others who oppose the countless abuses against farm animals and livestock on factory farms; and more yet who oppose the toxic soup of chemicals that run off of modern food production operations and that pollute the nation’s waterways. But farms, with wholesome men in overalls, kids with 4H cows, and a happy dog to meet you at the gate? Have yet to meet anyone who opposes that.
The interesting thing about the slogan is that since no one opposes farms, no one can oppose the slogan. It’s as if someone won a political argument by simply stating a known truth. No Farms No Food; No Air No Breathing; No Cars No Traffic. No controversy at all. But of course, the message is far more sophisticated than that. People do not make bumper stickers to state the obvious. You have never seen a bumper sticker declaring that ice is cold or that water is wet. No, there’s something else going on with that farm sticker.
The subtle warning behind the sticker is that things that harm farms ultimately also harm us, because farmers are where we get our food and as living beings we require food. The slogan is one part of a larger syllogism. Remember syllogisms from middle school? A=B; A=C; therefore B must also =C. People require food; farms produce food; therefore people require farms. People in modern industrial societies have come to rely on farms, but of course not all farms are the same. As my friends remind me, some farmers pay substandard wages to their workers, mistreat their livestock, and pollute our waterways for greater profit. Do we really require these farms?
It turns out that the sticker is a major public relations push from The American Farmland Trust (AFT) , a sophisticated farm group that has been on the scene since the 1980s and that currently brings in more than $6 million per year from their individual, corporate and other donors. On March 21 of this year, the group issued a press release stating, among other things, that farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have made widespread improvements and that with more federal money (no mention of regulations), they would be able to do even more. On April 5, 2011, before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, Jon Scholl, president of the American Farm Trust, “the voluntary, incentives-based conservation approach [in the Chesapeake Bay region] is working.”
So now we can understand the hidden meaning behind the sticker. No need for stricter agricultural regulations, forget about the pesky Clean Water Act requirements and the TMDL process—if we just continue politics as usual, with a little more money from the government, everything will be just fine.
The facts are that the Federal government has already spent billions of dollars supporting agricultural production in this country; the voluntary, incentives-based approach to farm improvements has been tried for 30 years in Chesapeake Bay country, and has failed.
And after all this work and all this time and all this money, industrial agriculture remains the single biggest threat to the Chesapeake Bay.
It’s time for a new bumper sticker.