By CALLIE JORDAN
Special to the News
I’m not a confrontational sort of person, so I have to be careful what bumper stickers I display. I do have one that everyone can agree with though; No Farms No Food. I got that one when I joined the American Farmland Trust, an organization that preserves farmland by enabling young farmers to stay on the land.
The Willamette Valley is one of their “hot spots” where irreplaceable farmlands are being lost to sprawl. Here in the Hood River Valley, development is not the threat; rather, the menace is from the economic policies created and maintained for the benefit of multi-nationals and corporate agriculture. Globalization and “free trade” benefit only the shareholders of companies who move their products and their investment freely across borders, without consideration for the local lands or peoples, and with minimal government involvement.
In an article in Iowa Farmer Today, Jan. 11, 2003, Mark Muller, of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade, a rural communities’ advocacy group, wrote, “The money spent trying to expand export markets would much better serve farmers if it was spent on fostering local value-added production.”
Here in the Gorge, several growers are making important changes in their business model and cutting out the middleman by producing and marketing their products directly. I bought Ryan Orchards’ apple juice at Costco; when Rick and Bette Benjamin pass out samples of their dried pears dipped in chocolate, they can’t keep up with the demand; Ron Stewart added state-of-the-art juicing and packaging machines for his organic juice blends and canned fruit; and the Willis family have moved into a larger facility to make their Gorge Delight pear bars.
We, as consumers and purchasers, have a big say in what products will be carried in local stores, what local companies will survive and thrive. We just have to pay attention when we’re shopping. Local grower Camille Hukari suggests consumers ask produce managers where the fruit is from and tell them they want fruit from the United States.
For produce that isn’t grown by U.S. farmers, we can look for labeling that lets us know that those farmers are receiving a fair price for the time and labor they have spent on our behalf.
Conscious consumer-ism means you vote with your pocketbook — for small farmers, for local communities, for self-determination.
Oh yes, there’s another bumper sticker I like, by Capitol Press: “Have You Fed Your Kid Today? Hug a Farmer.”
Callie Jordan, who lives in The Dalles, organized a video and forum on the American farm plight last week at Riverside Community Church in Hood River.