By Russell Libby
MOFGA Executive Director
At this year’s Common Ground Country Fair, we celebrate the work of Rachel Carson. It’s now 50 years since the release of her critically important book, Silent Spring, which we should all be reading once again.
If we take one thing from her writing, it is that Carson is right. We can’t poison the earth, thinking we can control an insect or a plant disease, without impacting everything around us. The same is true for her brilliant books on the oceans. Everything is connected. There is no “away.”
We can all make individual decisions that help minimize our impact on the earth. We can eat local, organic food. We can avoid pesticides. We can provide habitat for wildlife in and around our gardens and farms.
But if we’re really going to make the big changes, to change the way people farm on a broad scale, if we’re going to end the growing reliance on genetically engineered (GE) crops and industrial-scale livestock production, we have to work together. Our shared voices will make a difference.
We can start close to home. A MOFGA member called recently, trying to figure out what to do about spraying of nearby blueberry fields. The family gets advance notification of the spray, and each time leaves the house for 24 hours, with their infants, to try to minimize exposure. But the neighboring farmer believes in spraying right to the property line, and the affected family doesn’t think that situation is right.
Here’s where our shared voices can make a difference. The Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) hears a lot from farmers who want to spray about how hard it is to do setbacks and about the impacts of those setbacks on their businesses, but the BPC hears little from Maine people who think they have no choice but to leave their homes to keep their children safe.
The only way to change this situation is with our shared voices. No families should feel forced to evacuate their homes to keep their children safe.
MOFGA has worked hard at the Maine Legislature to try to establish bigger buffers and better notification, but fundamentally, Carson was right. We can’t spray poisons in each other’s backyards. We have to find more solutions that enable farmers to move away from toxic pesticides, and we have to grow the market for organic food to create an economic incentive for farmers to do so. Local isn’t great when it means using materials as toxic as were used decades ago.
At the national level, issues that Carson wrote about 50 years ago are still deeply embedded in U.S. farm policy – and more embedded in crops. Applications are pending right now that would allow planting of GE corn and soybeans that resist both Roundup and 2,4-D herbicides. Provisions in the House Agriculture Committee’s version of the Farm Bill would expedite approval of biotech crops, even when the secretary of agriculture or a court has decided against approval.
We need strong, shared voices at the federal level, too. As a first step, MOFGA and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture brought together 18 organic and sustainable agriculture groups in Baltimore in May to discuss strengthening our shared voice in federal policy conversations. We envision that group, A Call to Farms, as one place where we can articulate core values – clean water; healthy crops and livestock; minimal ecological impact – and begin to change the direction of U.S. farm policy.
The Farm Bill as it’s now structured forces us to think about small, incremental changes when we know we need to tackle the big issues. That’s where you come in. Do all the things you can on your own, because they’re the right things to be doing anyway. Then pitch in, work together and speak up. It’s the only way we’re going to make systematic change in our food system, and in the larger world.
Meeting dates, locations and agendas of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control are posted at www.maine.gov/agriculture/pesticides. The next meeting is Sept. 7 in Augusta.
Action alerts related to state and federal legislation are included in MOFGA’s email bulletins. To receive the bulletins, sign up at www.mofga.org.