2) Community based organizations rewrite the future of farming

Corn Maze Border, Warner Farm

Corn Maze Border, Warner Farm

Mike Wissemann spent Monday greeting groups of people coming to his farm to navigate this year’s corn maze. At 6:30 he left the meet and greets to one of his farm hands, left his Sunderland farm, and made his way to his town selectman meeting.

In addition to owning the Warner Farm, Mike Wissemann is both a selectman in the town of Sunderland and a member of the board of directors of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, or CISA. By being a farmer and active in town politics, Wissemann has a valuable perspective on future of farming from both an agricultural and legislative standpoint.

Morning Glory, Food Bank Farm

Morning Glory, Food Bank Farm

Farmers like Wissemann feel an impact when national and local governments intervene in agriculture. While initiatives like the Farm Energy Discount Plan have helped farmers during financially insecure times, many farmers claim that the government has overstepped its role in the realm of agriculture. With the help of local programs like CISA, farmers work to protect the future of farming through linking farmers and communities.

Barn, Food Bank Farm

Barn, Food Bank Farm

Michael Doctor expresses the feelings of many farmers when he says that government shouldn’t be involved in agriculture. On a national scale, Doctor accuses the United States Department of Agriculture of bad policymaking.

In light of the energy crisis, the government subsidized corn ethanol, a clean burning fuel, to create an alternative to gasoline. These financial incentives lead many farmers to exclusively produce corn which ultimately drove up the prices of other crops. Even with the boom in corn production, the price of edible corn products rose because the corn grown using the USDA’s incentive programs was used for ethanol.

Doctor explains that this “corn crisis” is a direct result of government interference. He says government’s poor judgment results in detriments to the environment, local and global economy, and consumers.

Fat White Pumpkin, Warner Farm

Fat White Pumpkin, Warner Farm

Doctor explains that the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, a more localized department, still has kinks it needs to work out. However, he does participate in many of the DAR’s programs such as the Farm Energy Discount Plan or the “Farm Discount.”

The Farm Energy Discount Plan gives eligible farmers a 10 percent reduction on their energy bills for electricity and natural gas. Farmers submit a request form, and the DAR determines his or her eligibility for the discount.

While this plan offers some financial relief to farmers, Michael Doctor, a skeptic, explains that it also “creates a reverse incentive.” In other words, while its purpose is to help decrease energy costs for farmers by discounting oil and natural gas, it directly discourages farmers from finding cheaper and more sustainable energy sources.

Barrels, Food Bank Farm

Barrels, Food Bank Farm

Where government initiatives fail, grassroots community organizations pick up the slack. Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture, or CISA is a Massachusetts based organization that works to unite farmers and other members under the goal of preserving local farms.

By grouping farms from all over Massachusetts together, farmers have a stronger voice in local and national farm initiatives. CISA, and other organizations like it, represent the change in legislature that farmers need.

Mike Wissemann explains that CISA started the buy local trend 15 years ago, and since then, buy local has surpassed the popular buy organic trend. Wissemann says that CISA “revved up the demand” for local foods and now consists of over 100 farms. A group this large with this much influence over farming trends gains the attention of local representatives and greatly increases the focus of legislators on the future of farmland preservation, sustainable agriculture, and local economy.

Two Big Pumpkins, Warner Farm

Two Big Pumpkins, Warner Farm

The process of growing and buying local food is not held solely in the hands of the producers and consumers. For good or ill, the United States and Massachusetts legislature, regulate this relationship and it impacts both farmers and buyers. Community organizing helps farmers reach the ears of sate representatives, but in the end of the day, legislators have the final word.

Field, Food Bank Farm

Field, Food Bank Farm

“Government doesn’t make a good farmer,” says Michael Doctor, but luckily for him and other Pioneer Valley farmers, Mike Wissemann also takes part in politics.

One Response to “2) Community based organizations rewrite the future of farming”

  1. Great information, Hollis! Well stated, great visuals and a strong message!

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