The formation of Gov. Strickland’s Ohio Food Policy Advisory Council (“”Council formed to establish, enhance Ohio food policies,”” Aug. 16, 2007, Farm and Dairy ) is encouraging. This council could be helpful to farmers who sell directly to consumers and for consumers who want to know the persons from whom they purchase their food.
Small-scale farming and local food production have taken much abuse over the last 40 years. Get big or get out was more than a threat; it was part of a plan that nearly succeeded in destroying family farms, local food systems and rural economies.
Whether intended or not, the codes governing direct sales of farm products to consumers have been punitive, sometimes forcing family farms out of the market place. This has diminished the financial base of rural communities.
When farmers sell their products directly to the consumer, these farmers bring 100 percent of the food dollar back to the farm and these food dollars circulate many times in the rural communities.
We all win in systems of local food production.
Farmers, usually small-scale, family-based operations, producing nonindustrial amounts of products that are sold directly to the consumer, should not be governed by the same rules and regulations as the large-scale production systems that move food products among many handlers along the route from farm to table.
Food moving an average of 1,500 miles between source and table can be “”owned”” and handled by as many as nine entities. Often, these products are more than one week old when purchased from the final retailer.
If Strickland, along with Director of Agriculture Boggs and the Ohio General Assembly, truly wants to support rural Ohio and its family farms, as well as residents who want to support rural economies with their food dollars, he will insist that a new, nonpunitive, forward-thinking, economically sound policy be established.
To launch the program, Strickland and Boggs should publish the names and credentials of those who have been chosen for this advisory council. We, the consumers who want fresh Ohio products and the farmers who want to produce for us, must be properly represented in the decision-making process, which has not been the case in the past.
If this council is just another lineup of representatives from industry and factory farms along with a few political paybacks, we should object.
If this new council approaches its work with the intent of helping and facilitating Ohio’s economy, if they put their political baggage and special interests aside, they will serve the governor’s stated purpose and help all Ohioans.
If they serve only their special-interest groups and those who have controlled our agriculture policy for decades, this advisory group will do little more than rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.
All Ohioans should read and reread the governor’s statement: “”Increasing the percentage of food grown, processed and consumed in Ohio will provide significant financial benefits to the state and our farmers and give our citizens access to fresh, Ohio-grown produce.””
These fine-sounding words cannot become more than political rhetoric unless major changes are made in Ohio’s rules, regulations and codes, which continue to be punitive and draconian, clearly designed to determine who has access to markets.
Let’s do it right this time. Let’s demand change. Let’s open the marketplace to all players in the American tradition of a free-market economy.