Get The USDA To Stop Corporate Farm Subsidies

green_tractor2There are only a few hours left to convince the U.S. Department of Agriculture to end one of the most noxious aspects of  mainstream commercial farming in America today: Massive payments to corporate farms that don’t need them. Known as direct payments, they now total $5.2 billion a year and, because the original legislation was so poorly drafted, are paid regardless of crop prices and are not tied to need. Corporate farms are using this taxpayer-funded bounty to outbid small farms–family farms–for land. President Obama has proposed phasing out direct payments, an action he says will save us $9.8 billion over 10 years.

Through the end of Monday, April 6, the USDA is taking comments on a rule to limit farm payment.  Food Democracy Now, the group that spearheaded the campaign to get organic food friend Kathleen Merrigan named to the USDA, has provided a sample letter, which I am reproducing below.  Don’t think that someone else will send in this letter and so you don’t need to. Every voice is critical for any to be heard! Please feel free to add your own sentiment and personalize the letter below before you send it.


Sample Letter – (Please cut and paste)

Mr. Dan McGlynn
Stop 0517, Room 4754
1400 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC  20250-0517
Emailed to:
or FAX to: 202-690-2130

RE:  Comment on Farm Program Payment Limitation Rule, Federal Register, Vol. 74, No. 23, February 5, 2009

Dear Mr. McGlynn,

I appreciate President Obama’s courageous call for subsidy reform and stand firmly behind his decision to end “direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them.” By reforming the rules on subsidy payments to farmers, this Administration can finally create a level playing field for independent family farmers that allows them to thrive, and grows opportunities for rural America and midsized farms.

In order to do this, I encourage the USDA to close the biggest payment loophole available under the current rules by providing a strong and effective definition for those “actively engaged in agriculture”.

Currently, wealthy corporate “partners” with minimal management involvement, in some cases, as little as two conference calls per year can qualify for payments.  I urge you to correct this problem.

For those who qualify solely by providing active personal management and no personal labor, the rule should require that person to:

1. Provide at least half of the total management required to run the farm; or
2. Provide at least half of the total management that would be necessary to conduct a farming operation commensurate in size with his/her requisite share of the operation.

Closing the “actively engaged in farming” management loophole will strengthen family farms and rural communities and help restore integrity to a program which is rife with abuse.

Sadly, for decades, both Republican and Democratic Administrations have allowed this abuse to continue. This Administration, which campaigned on commodity program payment reform, needs to end business as usual, clean up the system, and restore good government.  Enacting a quantifiable test for farm management is the best place to start.

[Your name & city here]


Send A Message To The USDA

A few weeks ago, Leonard told you about a group called Food Democracy Now. It successfully got a friend of organic farming, Kathleen Merrigan, to be nominated for deputy secretary of agriculture. Now it has a new challenge for us: Tell the U.S. Department of Agriculture that it can’t open the way to genetically engineered foods until we see more data about their safety.

Tomorrow night, March 17, is the deadline for submitting comments on proposed rule about GE crops known as Docket Number APHIS-2008-0023. Food Democracy Now wants the current rule, which it is calling the “Monsanto loophole”, withdrawn and its environmental impact statement released to the public.

If you’re still in the dark on GE crops, which Food Democracy Now says can already be found in 60% of packaged foods sold in the U.S., the group wants you to take a look at a documentary called “The Future of Food.” I’m embedding the first few minutes of it below; the rest can be found on YouTube.

And if, after watching this, you’re ready to send a message to the USDA, you can get started here by clicking through the docket link to the “Add Comments” tab.

Score One For Food Democracy

From “Grist” comes news that President Obama has chosen Kathleen Merrigan, director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at Tufts University, to be a deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Merrigan was one of the names on Food Democracy Now’s “sustainable dozen” list that I told you about the other day.

100,000 Americans for a sustainable USDA

food_dem_nowFood Democracy Now!, an advocacy group that includes farmers, writers, chefs, and lovers of good, sustainable food, is trying to raise support for that very thing in the new administration. The group has collected more than 85,000 signatures on a petition to change the factory food ways of the United States Department of Agriculture, but needs 15,000 more to make its goal. What is that goal? To get advocates for sustainability in the USDA as undersecretaries to its new head, Tom Vilsack, and to change the way America produces its food. Here’s part of its mission, in its own words:

We seek to transform today’s system by advancing best practices in food production, animal husbandry, conservation of natural resources, renewable energy and soil preservation. Through these efforts we hope to stimulate local food systems, promote rural economic development, encourage a new generation of farmers and respond to the growing public demand for wholesome, fairly-produced food. We will also support candidates who advance this vision and who embrace common sense policies that respect our nation’s air, water, soil, livestock, food workers, consumers and family farmers.

The group’s declaration has been signed by Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Alice Waters, Dan Barber and Rick Bayless, among others. To learn about its picks for undersecretaries–a group Food Democracy calls “The Sustainable Dozen”–and to add your name to the petition, click here. And tell a friend.