April 24, 2012

About the Program: This week we’ll be talking with activist Daniel Imhoff, who has written a book called Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, published by Watershed Media.

The Farm Bill is up for renewal in September of this year–it is generally renewed and revised every four years–and in his book, Dan explores its myriad complexities and the issues that will likely be coming up.

Farmer/writer Wendell Barry says:

The United States government’s agricultural policy, or non-policy, since 1952 has merely consented to the farmers’ predicament of high costs and low prices; it has never envisioned or advocated in particular the prosperity of farmers or farmland, but has only promised “cheap food” to consumers and “survival” to the “larger and more efficient” farmers who supposedly could adapt to and endure the attrition of high costs and low prices.  And after each inevitable wave of farm failures and the inevitable enlargement of the destitution and degradation of the countryside, there have been the inevitable reassurances from government propagandists and university experts that American agriculture was no more efficient and that everybody would be better off in the future.

Listen to the Program

Our Discussion with Daniel Imhoff

About a year ago, we spoke with Daniel Imhoff about his book CAFO: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, which described in graphic detail the cruelty and health problems associated with factory meat farming. He has recently released another richly detailed and illustrated book called Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill. Dan is the president and co-founder of Watershed Media in Healdsburg and he speaks and conducts workshops on a wide range of food, farming, and environmental issues.

–Your book is a collage of essays, photographs, charts, and quotes on about the Farm Bill that will come before congress in the fall. Why did you write the book and why did you present it in this form?

–In the Foreword to your book, Michael Pollan says, “Don’t Call it the ‘Farm Bill,’ call it the ‘Food Bill’,” and one of your aims in writing the book is to educate people about this huge piece of legislation. To begin, then, what is the Food/Farm bill, and could you tell us about its history? When was it created? for what purposes? How has it evolved over the years?

–What is the authorization and funding process that will be happening starting in September and carrying on throughout the life of the bill? [Authorization, Funding, CHIMPING, reconciliation, etc.]

–You write, “Delving into the Farm Bill can seem like visiting another country (if not another planet),…” (p. 12). You have a very helpful chart that shows the major components of the bill, and perhaps we could talk about each. What have been the promises, successes, and complications in the areas of:

…Commodity Support (22%) ~$89.9 billion. What’s a “commodity” crop as opposed to a “specialty” crop? What are the major commodity support programs? Are farmers really paid not to farm? Who gets the lion’s share of the support? How do small farmers make out under the commodities appropriations? What has commodity support achieved? What problems has it created?

…Nutrition (72%) ~$470 billion. What are the elements of this program? When and why did “Food Stamps” begin? How has the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) progressed over the years? How does it help its target audience of the hungry? How does it fail? Is ketchup a vegetable? Why does the Department of Defense participate in school nutrition programs? How does the commodities support program conflict with the stated aims of the nutrition program?

…Conservation and Energy (6%) ~$38 billion. What does the conservation element of the Food and Farm Bill include? What kinds of programs have been established? How has the conservation aspect fared under budget cuts? What have been its major accomplishments? Is it making a genuine contribution to global efforts to reduce pollution and increase sustainability?

–You point out that the agricultural lobby is strong and well funded. Who will be lobbying in Washington this fall? What will they be trying to accomplish? Do you see the ag bill being a major issue in the presidential campaign?

–In your book, Food Fight, you say, “It would be naive to imagine that the Farm Bill could be radically overhauled in any single negotiation cycle” (105). In this segment, we’d like to discuss some of your recommendations. [We know we can’t possibly cover all of these, but we’d like to spend about fifteen minutes discussing your choice of topics]. How can the Farm Bill catalyze See chart 22-23]:

–Beginning Farm Programs–Good eating habits and the food pyramid
–Organic agriculture
–Know Your Farmer programs
–SNAP good food incentives ( Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
–Ethanol from noncorn sources, biobased energy
–Energy efficient farming (National policy on renewable energy and climate change, p. 147)

–Land conservation.

–Perennial farming

–Many models in existence that are “ignored, marginalized or largely underfunded.”

–You write, “The time has arrived for a food fight,” (187) and your book includes an “activist toolkit” (p. 193. also described online at foodfight2012.org). What are the steps, and in particular, what can our concerned listeners do to get involved?
…Learn about the bill (as in tonight’s program)
…Adopt a local food charter
…Bring officials up to speed
…Communicate with representatives (Do you have recommendations for Northern California reps?)
…Be clear about connections [benefits]
…Create outreach/education
…Build coalitions

…Think beyond Washington
..Take the long view

–What will you and your various organizations be doing to promote a better Food and Farm Bill over the coming months?

Learn more at http://foodfight2012.org/.


1. Poor Old Dirt Farmer 3:53    Levon Helm      Dirt Farmer     Classic Rock
2. On This Old Farm     2:54    Si Kahn Courage Country & Folk
3. Factory Farms        3:40    Trouser Factory Farm Songs      Rock
4. Down on Penny’s Farm 3:44    Natalie Merchant        The House Carpenter’s Daughter  Folk
5. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary    The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary   Folk
6. Maggie's Farm        3:58    Bob Dylan       Bringing It All Back Home       Folk
7. Farmer's Delight     3:38    Busy Kid        Barbecue Beets  Electronica