I was able to go through some of the items that belonged to my grandfather, Freeburn Love. I came across some very extraordinary things, and one of them was this article from the Eastern Milk Producers monthly magazine for August 1969. It is my heritage and experience that prompts me to write this.
The Voice of Farming has been around since the very creation of the earth. Man has known the need to produce a safe and sustainable harvest for a family, neighbors, and others since the first seed planted and the first animal harvested. We need not discuss politics, religion, or philosophy at this point for this is a simple truth. Man is still the supreme creature on this earth and with that comes a set of responsibilities, principals as they are. One of them is to provide for a family and, to varying degrees, to others, as each is able. Those blessed with much, have much to be thankful for, and I am one of those blessed with much.
Agriculture lies at the very heart of any civilization. Without maize, the great Mayan and Inca nations would have never existed. Without rice, the ancient civilizations of Asia would have never had the opportunity to develop the way they have. Adequate, sustainable food brings peace and security to societies and nations. Nations have gone to war for fertilizer, food, and water rights. I am of the opinion that the Free Enterprise System and Free Markets are still the best way to allow an individual the opportunity for “pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Is it perfect? Of course not, but, I do not know of a better system at this time. Wars of world-sized proportions have been fought to repel forces that promised a better way only to be charlatans bent on taking away man’s liberties.
Ways to meet customers
Food is intrinsic to our survival. And, a man or woman should be given a fair, equitable opportunity to become a farmer should they decide to do so. The economics of farming have changed. But, the intent has stayed the same. If you ask a large farmer today, they will tell you that the small farmer will have a hard go of it. However, hasn’t that always been the case? Farmers developed the co-op business model to help pool limited resources with neighbors and others in the region to more effectively reach the developing urban markets and supply what the customer wanted. The co-op system grew into many shapes and sizes. For example, local purchasing units were formed for the purchase of electricity, heating oil, tires and more. Others took on more of a marketing and sales leadership role for the members. Dairy products, vegetables, and just about any other food….including coffee, cranberries, and orange juice are all marketed through co-ops. Perhaps the ultimate symbol of the Cooperative Movement was 100 years ago when the United State Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 and 30% of the United States population engaged in farming. Today….less than 2% are engaged in this admirable and high calling. Such a situation places much power in the hands of few, and the laws of Free Enterprise are correcting the situation. The consumer is taking action.
Where are the story tellers?
One of the most ardent supporters of farmers is the Cooperative Extension Service, which sprang up from the Morrill Land-Grant Acts of 1862 and was further reinforced by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. This system is charged with the advancement of sound, sustainable food production systems and is a vibrant association. I live in New York and am amazed at the work Cornell University is doing in the development and advancement of sustainable food sources by developing sound guidelines on a very wide range of farm products and services.
The United States Agricultural Industry has changed in the last century. The original story of agriculture told by men like our Founding Fathers Washington, Adams, Jefferson and more were all men of the soil. The Story of Agriculture is woven into the Laws of the United States. Food is essential, and those who produce it as just as important. And, as a country built on individual freedoms, this opportunity can not be taken away, even when we are facing such radical pressures on the farming economy as we are experiencing today. And yet there is hope, very vibrant hope. The desire for alternative foods and food sources is gain momentum, and I believe mankind is beginning to hear The Story of Agriculture in a new and exciting way. Social media is allowing the rapid dissemination of information. The local farmer is now able to “hang their shingle” in such exciting ventures as artisan bread, fresh produce, locally raised meats, wine, craft beer and, even, honey. Heck, even cider is making a comeback. And, even more exciting, the customer is now able to connect rapidly to their supplier of food.
Turning the page
What is happening is a mini-revolution in food production and marketing. Co-ops and CSA’s are reemerging and are utilizing web-based social media tools to spread the word and promote their goods. These are happening businesses and passionate about what they are doing. Heck, they even enjoy it! I am old enough now to turn a page or two in my life. The thing that I find that is the largest competitor to Free Enterprise and Free Markets is the lack of competition. The Founders were very aware of this. And the co-op system was developed for such a reason to help level the playing field between big and small, and in doing so, contribute to perpetuating sustainable and safe food for all people. Today, the system has spread around the world. Coffee co-ops and even aquaponic co-ops like The Family Fish Farm Network are being built on a co-op model.
Keeping a nation safe and sustainable
Our Founding Fathers, in the great wisdom, realized that we needed three branches of government and decentralized it through Federal and State bodies. The co-op system is to provide the same sort of stability to a nation’s food supply. It is to be another channel of supply to the consumer and, in the process, allow competition and Free Enterprise to flourish. To not have the small farmer supported by an active and supportive co-op with the needs of the members in mind is a dangerous path for agriculture and a nation. It is tempting when dollar signs are flash like neon lights to “protect ourselves” from competitors and grow, merge, and consolidate. This makes sense, right? Perhaps it does, or, perhaps it doesn’t. This decision is up to the farmers who own the co-op because it was created to serve them. I know of large farms that form small, particular cooperatives, and I know of ones that have tens of thousands of members. In the end, that cooperative, regardless of size, was formed to help the farmer members better serve their customers. May these days be the days of rebirth for this successful system.
Writer’s note: Here are just a few links to various sites. This is in no way comprehensive or intended to direct anyone to specific cooperatives. These are random listings and references used in writing this piece. I know there are thousands of good cooperative websites out there for you to read. Better get started! Thanks for reading!!