Tuesday evening, I joined York College students, faculty and York County community members for a screening of “Farmageddon.”
The documentary follows some of the struggles small-time farmers have had in dealing with state and federal regulatory agencies. And overall, it’s depressing. (The bright spot in the evening was the panel discussion of local farmers — I’ll get there, I promise!)
But first: The film opens with a fairly grisly story of a sheep dairy farmer whose farm was raided by 42 armed federal agents, who suspected her animals of harboring mad cow disease. They seized the animals. And they slaughtered them.
A note later in the film tells us (spoiler alert) that in the following years, after a court battle, the USDA released the test results from the animals — and they were negative.
Filmmaker Kristin Canty focuses on this story and the stories of families like them, who choose to raise or grow food on a medium scale — bigger than your backyard garden or duo of chickens, but far smaller than the 2,000-animal confined animal feeding operations that produce much of America’s food supply.
And if Canty has anything to say about it, these farmers are getting a raw deal. Regulations that suffocate small operations in paperwork or drown them in administrative fees and fines are a real threat to small farms, according to Canty. She had first-hand experience when she began purchasing raw milk for her asthma- and allergy-inflicted son. The more she spoke with small-time farmers, the more they explained the federal- and state-imposed hoops they’re made to jump through.
So what’s a customer to do?
How do local food advocates support the farmers they purchase from? A panel discussion following the film featured three voices — Warren Evans, the president of the board of directors at The Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education; Jonas Stoltzfuz, a grass-fed beef farmer in Perry County; and Rory Kraft, a professor of philosophy at York College and faculty member involved with the Sustainability and Environmental Studies minor.
Speak up. Whether it be through a phone call to your legislator, a conversation with your neighbor about the benefits of a local food system, or just taking $10 a week and spending it on locally grown produce — consumers can create change.
Evans mentioned an often-cited statistic in local food circles: $900 million is spent annually in York County to buy food for homes and restaurants. Less than one-half of 1 percent goes toward food that was grown here.
“It’s like bringing pineapples to Hawaii,” Evans said, explaining that York County is an agriculturally focused area. The abundance of local food sources makes it easier to support small farms — because they’re everywhere.
One audience member pointed out a resource available through the York County chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local. The group recently published a food guide, listing many of the local farms, farm stands, farmers markets and local food establishments in the area. If you’re unsure of where to go, it’s a good place to start.
Do you support local, small-scale farms? Leave a comment and share your story.