Growing up in upstate New York was like living in a Norman Rockwell painting: rolling hills, lots of woods and plenty to do outside as a child. My father restricted our TV use to one hour a week. We were very excited to get Atari when it came out but my cousins (who grew up next door) and my sisters and I were encouraged to explore the outdoors—and boy, did we.
Each season was a different adventure. In spring we played softball. Well, I played one season of softball for Zoober Pools, with my father as coach. I was more of a soccer girl. But nevertheless I would head to the softball fields and always found something to do. The fields were across the road from a sprawling Karl Ehmer farm.
There were cows as far as one could see. Fourteen years after moving down here I took a trip back to visit friends I grew up with. All of those picturesque memories embedded in my mind had drastically changed. No more farm. Condos had replaced the Rockwell landscape. I came home very disappointed.
I could have never imagined that that feeling I had would turn into a passion for understanding what happened years later as I sat on the Flagler County Commission. In Flagler County agriculture is a significant economic driver. It often goes unrecognized. But it should be celebrated and supported. Let’s face it: farmers play a crucial role in any society, since they feed people.
I certainly don’t harbor any ill will against Mr. Ehmer for selling his property for development. But does it bother anyone else that the federal government has adopted policies over the years that make it nearly impossible for agriculture to exist in this country? Are foreign farmers laughing at us? How about the fact that you can go and get a hamburger at a fast food place for 99 cents and yet it costs $3.99 for a salad in a bag. Which is a much healthier alternative?
The last two articles in my series have focused on health and wellness and healthcare costs in this country. I had stated that these issues are all tied together and if addressed will help solve a lot of problems that plague us. So what has driven the costs up so significantly for our food sources? Think about it: years ago there were community gardens everywhere. They were self-contained and it made sense that they fed the neighborhoods in which they grew. The farms that are suffering the most in this country are small to midsize. They don’t have the ability to compete fairly when our government has given an unfair competitive advantage to those farms that do not even operate in this country. So how did this happen and what can we do about it? When the federal government negotiated free trade agreements, it failed to take into account unintended consequences that would unravel over time. As we continued to over-regulate our industries, we did not require the same for imported goods and services.
When I was working on my farm to flag proposal, I engaged a group of folks that worked in the industry for several decades. At one meeting one of the stakeholders brought a photo of that salad in the bag that we buy so often in our local supermarkets. In it was a live frog. And no, it wasn’t some odd delicacy. It was, however, from Mexico. And it was being sold for far less than the same bag that was grown, processed and distributed right in this country. (The Food and Drug Administration’s food-inspection program at our borders has been overrun while the FDA itself has been decimated by cuts, and now inspects only 1 percent of shipments of food into the United States, compared to the 8 percent it inspected in 1992, when food imports were much smaller.)
First and foremost we need to put the focus back into buying local in this country. There are a lot of regional opportunities right here that would allow our farmers to directly distribute within a 100-mile geographic radius. We could support a light processing center and facilitate a local transportation network that could distribute within this proximity, reducing unnecessary costs of transportation the consumer ultimately pays. And it would be a much healthier product. It would also put more money into the producer’s pocket. This could be replicated anywhere in the country. How the system is currently setup allows a potato farmer who contracts with lays potato chips to only make 8 cents off of that $4.99 bag of potato chips. Something is wrong with this picture.
Farm to Flag has a tagline: “Planting the seeds to a healthier America.” We can’t begin to reduce our surging healthcare costs in this country without addressing affordability and accessibility to healthier foods, by not educating the users of the system on personal responsibility and choices, and most of all addressing the obesity rates. By tying these discussions as one we can take the time to create the change necessary for a prosperous future in this Country.
Please tune in on Friday and listen to local farmers speak up about this issue. As always looking forward to your input and comments. They help me tremendously as I craft the discussion.
Milissa Holland, a Flagler County commissioner from 2006 to 2012, is host of Milissa Holland Live on WNZF 1550 AM, Fridays at 10 a.m. Her column will appear here every Wednesday. Reach her by email here, on Facebook or on Twitter. While she’s on the air Friday morning between 10 and 11, call her at 386/206-WNZF (or 206-9693).