September 26, 2007

Beyond growing your food

This year I have had the great privilege to get to know and appreciate the members of the Board of Directors of the Community Alliance With Famers. Check out their link in Food Links. Beyond growing the food, her farm sells through farmers' markets and CSAs, the president of the board, an organic farmer in the Capay Valley, is a fact based voice of reason and spokesperson in the legislative battle over safety regulations for the processing of leafy greens.

As most of the illness outbreaks are traced back to processed, bagged leafy greens, strict regulations are geared toward this part of the industry. It would be almost impossible for thousands of small and medium size farmers who sell their greens in bulk to meet these regulations. Blanket regulations, if adopted, would significantly limit your choice at the markets. A biodynamic vintner on the board grows grapes in the Russian River Valley. He has also been back to D.C. three times this year to lobby for changes to the Farm Bill. He wants what's best for the nation -- focus some of the new Farm Bill resources on fresh fruits and vegetables instead of just commodity crops like corn and soybeans. A 5th generation peach farmer farming 400 acres wrestles with a doubling of his irrigation costs, a 1/3 increase in labor costs per ton, and the effects of the new laws precluding help from many migrant laborers to provide high quality peaches that many of you probably count on in the winter when you buy a can at the grocery store or a package at Trader Joe's. A sprouts farmer from the Central Coast and an organic rice farmer from the foothills give sage marketing and operational advice about the operation of CAFF's local food distribution system upon which Kaiser Permanente depends for fresh fruits and veggies for its hospitalized patients. Other board members are working to stop the random destruction of hedgerows around farms including the poisoning of every animal in sight because of the misguided belief that the animals transmit the E.Coli that infected some spinach.

All the facts aren't in yet. We should wait before we destroy a potentially beneficial habitat. In medicine, I am used to depending on controlled clinical trials. The politics of food safetey is a different world. Other members are deeply involved in agricultural policy issues in Sacramento on a daily basis. They work daily to advance the cause of agricultural reason with our legislators. Another board member and I are discussing the ramifications of certifying the way the foods Kaiser Permanente uses are grown. Ultimately, food grown in a way that's good for the planet and wouldn't put children who just happen to play for a while in the field where their parents work at risk, is the best. Of course, we aren't at a place where the whole food system can rely on the production capabilities of small family farmers growing food in ways that are healthy for everyone. However, whatever we can do is better than not doing anything at all. The board's executive director is charged with keeping all of this organized. It's a very challenging job for him. And for me -- I just continue to try to find more ways to connect those who grow good fresh food with those who eat it.