In those early days we were reaching for the "soul of agriculture." Agriculture might not seem like a very sexy word, but in fact, it has determined the better part of our human history, from the earliest attempts at survival to a McDonalds' Happy Meal.
The need for us to nourish ourselves daily is real. How we do that determines our health and the health of the planet, our culture and community values, and our future--we are the determiners. Our values are embedded in agriculture and, for better or for worse, it belongs to all of us.
So who's minding the store? Well, the answer to that is Monsanto--if we, the people, the determiners, fall asleep at the wheel. Here's a brief timeline.
- 1862--President Lincoln signs legislation establishing the Department of Agriculture. He calls it "The People's Department" because 90% of Americans at the time were farmers.
- 1870--the population of farmers dropped to 48%--almost half in only 8 years.
- 1920--farms are home to roughly 30 percent of the population. This would soon change. Migration, mostly by young people who left for the cities, escalated over the next ten years.
- 1945--due to a constant cost-price squeeze, farmers have no control over the cost of necessary goods or the price of their produce. Most small farms are taken over by bigger operations. The income from cultivating 50 to 100 acres of land is not enough to provide the amenities of modern life.
- 1967--a report given to President Johnson by the National Advisory Committee on Rural Poverty was called "The People Left Behind"
- 1970--Many large commercial farms have incorporated land from smaller farms, and farmhouses and barns are torn down to make room for more crops, changing the face of rural America. As the cost of modern farming rises, farmers buy more land and equipment on bank loans.
- 1980s--The annual income per farm, after expenses, is $9,000, while the average debt per farm, including mortgages, totals more than $30,000. Crop prices drop, and many farms and some small banks become bankrupt. This "farm crisis" results in the loss of many small-scale farms and devastates rural communities.
- Today--farmers are less than 1% of the American population, with more than half of all farms being rented, owned by business partnerships, or corporations, rather than owned and operated by individuals.
-- Farmer Renee