As if we were living out a rerun of a 1970s Heartland horror movie, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has echoed the ominous, damning words of Earl Butz, the Agriculture Secretary under Republican President Richard Nixon: “Get big or get out,” Butz infamously said, a bitter command as thousands upon thousands of family farms began collapsing under the consolidated onslaught of multinational corporations, vertical integration, and bank debt.
Butz’s words and policies undermined support for family farms, and encouraged the metastatic growth of factory-farms and a stupendous increase in subsidized production of staples for export, in turn a glorious benefit for the fast-food industry and makers of processed foodstuffs. All of this contributed to making America the world’s most obese nation, a nation also distressed with staggering rates of diabetes, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other diet-related diseases.
The trajectory of corporate control, consolidation, chemicalization, and colonization has continued unhindered by public concern.
Now cometh Sonny Perdue, Republican President Donald Trump’s USDA Secretary: “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Perdue proclaimed in September, thereby adding a rhetorical kick in the ass to the painful plague of bankruptcies and farmer suicides currently afflicting rural America.
This latest slam came just weeks after Perdue mocked farmers during a Minnesota Farmfest listening session. A former salesman of ag chemicals, Perdue uttered a cruel joke about the very people he is supposed to help: “What do you call two farmers in a basement? A whine cellar.”
Truth be told, Butz, Perdue and their ilk have given farmers a lot to complain about. According to the National Farmers Union, in just the last five years, more than 67,000 US farms went out of business. This cancerous decline of family farms and rural communities is not inevitable. It’s the result of the “get big” policies that have ruled agriculture for the past 50 years.
These slap-in-the-taxpayers-face realities underscore the critical importance of the resilient, community farm and food initiatives that have arisen so dynamically in the US and abroad in recent decades, with scant government support.
The emerging, networking community food movement, with its emphasis on organic, sustainable, regenerative farming systems imbued with economic and social justice, arises in a time of vast environmental contamination. The umbrella term for all these initiatives — widely used around the world and emerging in the USA — is agroecology.
Agriculture can be transformed from being a major contributor to pollution and climate change, as it is today, to being a major remedy. That’s what agroecology (and deep agroecology) are all about. It can be the foundation for our next evolutionary step as human beings living on a finite planet.
Based on the multitude of hard realities engendered by corporate chemical agriculture, it’s time to uproot the “get big or get out” farm slogans of Earl Butz and Sonny Perdue, and to supplant those damning words with something both wise and realistic: “Go agroecological or go extinct.”
Photo credit Pixaby
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