Well Fed Neighbor

Local Food. Local Jobs.

A letter to the St.Louis dispatch

Letters to the editor, June 5

A family-farm economy strengthens the nation

At a summit in Hillsboro this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
sought solutions to the crises that threaten to cripple rural economies.
We're at a critical crossroads.

America's family farmers are in jeopardy. Family farms face rising
production costs and volatile prices. Tightening credit threatens
farmers' livelihoods, making their survival less certain. Corporate
consolidation and a lack of competition have been rampant for years,
though the Departments of Justice and Agriculture are examining these

When farm families are forced off the land, rural communities lose
millions and the strength and integrity of our social fabric is
irreparably diminished. Industrial agriculture drains money from local
economies, degrades property values, damages the environment and
contributes to public health epidemics that threaten our economy and

Even in this troubled economy, family farmers are at the root of
flourishing local and regional food systems that are sustaining
economies, creating jobs, nourishing communities and creating a strong
foundation for a stable and prosperous future.

Patchwork Family Farms, a cooperative of 15 family hog farms in
Missouri, is an example of the good work happening across the country.
Patchwork farmers support independent producers, creating jobs for rural
Americans through a strong regional food system in which farmers sell
their products directly to consumers for a fair price and people have
access to good food produced by family farmers. When money changes hands
within a community, it boosts income and fuels job creation.

Despite a burgeoning demand for food from family farms, the largest,
most industrial farms continue to grow in size, and tens of thousands of
mid-sized family farmers are pushed off the land. Just 6 percent of
U.S. farms now produce 75 percent of U.S. agricultural products. A food
system that rests in the hands of many farmers, instead of a few,
bolsters the local economies that are the foundation for fiscal
prosperity in our nation.

The family farmers and ranchers best positioned to transform our food
system and rebuild local and regional economies are the ones in
immediate danger of losing their land, their businesses and their homes
if real change doesn't come soon. We learned an important lesson back in
1985 when we started Farm Aid. When the stakes are high for many, we
need to come out on the side of the family farmer. We'll all benefit if
we do.

Willie Nelson — Cambridge, Mass. President, Farm Aid


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