Full list: Agriculture in the News

VT Digger: Dispensaries OK’d to grow hemp

Oct. 8, 2015, 4:33 pm
by Elizabeth Hewitt
Full Article

Vermont’s four medical marijuana dispensaries got legislative approval to begin cultivating and distributing hemp products Thursday.

The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules unanimously passed the rule, which was amended to address concerns aired by Vermont hemp farmers at a committee meeting last month.

Hemp is a plant similar to marijuana, but it has a lower content of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that produces a euphoric reaction. While oils extracted from hemp are sometimes used for medicinal purposes, such as the treatment of epilepsy, the plant has a wide variety of other uses — including as a fiber or in food.

Hemp is tightly regulated under federal laws, but Vermont permits farmers to cultivate the plant for agricultural purposes.

After the Department for Public Safety proposed changes to the rules at an August meeting of the legislative committee, some farmers became concerned that the language could create an additional barrier to Vermonters cultivating hemp for agricultural purposes.

The new rule approved Thursday assures that dispensaries are regulated by the Department of Public Safety for both pot and hemp cultivation, according to Lindsey Well, marijuana program administrator. Meanwhile, hemp farmers outside of dispensaries answer only to the Agency of Agriculture.

Joel Bedard, a hemp grower in Chittenden County who had previously raised questions about the proposed rule, told lawmakers Thursday that he supported the amended language. As passed, he is confident that the regulation for dispensaries will not have any impact on farmers who cultivate hemp for agricultural purposes.

“It was mostly to prevent any regulatory oversight being placed upon farmers,” Bedard said after the meeting.

Bedard doesn’t have an interest in growing hemp for medicinal purposes. He is researching the use of hemp to clean soil, and says that the plant could also be used to clean watersheds.

Bedard estimated that there are some two-dozen people in Vermont with permits to grow hemp agriculturally.

The set of rule changes OK’d Thursday also will allow dispensaries to begin a home delivery service for pot and hemp products — much like some pharmacies offer with prescriptions.

About 2,200 Vermonters are on the medicinal marijuana registry, according to Well. Several hundred others are registered caregivers, who can grow marijuana plants on behalf of a qualified patient.

VPR: Legal Hemp Growing, But Not Yet Booming In Vermont

Oct 5, 2015
Full Article & Audio

Vermonters have just harvested their second crop of industrial hemp since the Legislature legalized it in 2013. But because of obstacles to cultivating hemp in the state, few farmers have grown the crop.

Last year only a half dozen people grew hemp in Vermont. This year, according to one grower, the number is up to nine.

One of the new growers is 23-year-old Evan Donovan who lives in the Northeast Kingdom.

Because industrial hemp is still classified as a controlled substance by the federal government, he is reluctant to publicize the exact location of his farm.

“We had about 2,000 plants this year from a pound of seeds, which was very good,” says Donovan. “We have about 80 acres here. I’m hoping next year that I can put hemp on about 10 to 15 of the acres and really increase production size.”

Donovan and the other Vermont hemp farmers imported their seed illegally.

In spite of it being legal to grow hemp in Vermont, under federal law the entire plant is considered a controlled substance. The hemp growers have had difficulty obtaining seed and want the Agency for Agriculture to facilitate its importation.

But the agency says it doesn’t have the staff or the resources to devote to that or researching hemp cultivation. That’s a shame, says Andrea Stander, director of Rural Vermont.

“I think we are seeing a transition nationally and hemp is going to return as the major agricultural crop that it once was in this country,” she says. “If we as a state don’t recognize that and start putting in place the infrastructure and the opportunity for our farmers to be part of that, we will miss out. Other states will get ahead of us.”

Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross says that Vermont’s likely future with industrial hemp will involve the making of value-added products, rather than competing with other states producing hemp as a commodity.

Nobody seems to know just how many acres were devoted to hemp in Vermont in 2015 but the number is not very high.

Common Dreams: Rallying with Pope, Climate Justice Campaigners Hail ‘Shovel-Ready Solution’

What is this magic solution?” activist asks demonstrators on National Mall. “You’re standing on it. It’s the soil.”
by Andrea Germanos
Full Article

An hour after Pope Francis spoke to Congress and issued “a call for a courageous and responsible effort […] to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” a rally on the National Mall highlighted a “shovel-ready solution” to the climate crisis.

Speaking at the Moral Action on Climate Justice demonstraton Thursday, Larry Kopald, co-founder and president of organization The Carbon Underground, said it’s “a solution that will put carbon back in the ground, a solution that will feed us better, make us healthier, create jobs, and even boost our economy.”

“What is this magic solution?” he asked. “You’re standing on it […] It’s the soil.”

Kopald and his organization are not alone is calling for soil to be seen as part of a climate solution, with organizations including the Center for Food Safety, Organic Consumers Association, the Rodale Institute, and Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya also touting the approach.

Kopald explained the problem with the dominant method of food production, saying, “Industrial agriculture techniques have destroyed most of the soil. Seventy percent of the soil on earth is dead or dying, and all of that carbon that should be in the soil is now stuck in the atmosphere causing climate change.”

But healthy soil fed through agroecological methods can be an effective carbon sink, he explained.

“Here’s the good news: If we restore that soil, we can bring that carbon back. We can fix the climate. There are a billion acres of land in the U.S. alone used to grow food,” he said. “If we restore those acres, if we restore that soil, we we bring down 3 billion tons of carbon back from the atmosphere […] every single year.”

The current system in which “subsidies [are given to ] to farmers using chemicals destroying our soil and causing climate change,” needs to stop, Kopald continued, with the subsidies instead going “to farmers who are willing to restore our soil, and feed us better food, and help reverse climate change.”

“We need to tell President Obama and the next man or the next woman who lives in the White House that we’ve got to stop focusing on the problem and start focusing on the solution,” he said, urging rally attenders to send a message to lawmakers to “fix the soil, fix the climate.”

The event, which organizers stated on their website invited people to “join thousands of people of all creeds, colors and faiths, on the National Mall in asking our world leaders to #FollowFrancis to take bold action for climate justice,” also included speeches by the Moral Monday movement leader Rev. William Barber, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo, and the musician Moby.

River City News: Massie Introduces “Milk Freedom” Bill

Full Article

Northern Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie introduced the Milk Freedom Act of 2014 and the Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014.

The Republican from Lewis County introduced the bills with Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and eighteen other members of Congress from both parties. According to a news release from Massie’s office, the bills are the first in a series of “food freedom” bills that he plans to introduce this year.

“As a producer of grass-fed beef, I am familiar with some of the difficulties small farmers face when marketing fresh food directly to consumers,” Massie said in a news release. “Our bills would make it easier for families to buy wholesome milk directly from farmers by reversing the criminalization of dairy farmers who offer raw milk. The federal government should not punish farmers for providing customers the foods they want, and states should be free to set their own laws regulating food safety.”

“Many consumers want to buy fresh, unpasteurized milk and regulations shouldn’t get between them and the farmer who wants to sell it,” Pingree said in the release.  “Given how many food scares there have been involving large-scale producers, it just doesn’t make sense to spend money cracking down on small, local farmers who are producing natural, raw milk and cheese. The enforcement of raw milk regulations has been overzealous and needs to be reined in.”

“As consumer, advocate, and mother, I have spent over a decade navigating a complex legal and regulatory maze to access raw milk and other fresh, local foods,” said Sarah Donovan of the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation. “These bills are an important step toward removing federal barriers between farmers and families.”

“Raw milk is the only food banned in interstate commerce,” said Pete Kennedy, President of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. “Congratulations to Representative Massie for starting the process of repealing a regulation that thousands of otherwise law abiding citizens violate every week in this country.”

Raw milk is fresh milk that has not been pasteurized, and may contain beneficial nutrients that have not been eliminated by the pasteurization process.  Although Congress has never passed legislation banning raw milk, the federal Food and Drug Administration has used their regulatory authority to prosecute farmers for selling raw milk.

The Center for Disease Control, however, warns against the consumption of raw milk.

Milk and products made from milk, such as certain cheeses, ice cream, and yogurt, are foods that when consumed raw can pose severe health risks, the CDC website reads, insisting that pasteurization is necessary.

According to the news release from Massie’s office, the Milk Freedom Act of 2014 would “provide relief to local farmers, small producers, and others who have been harassed, fined, and in some cases even prosecuted for the “crime” of distributing unpasteurized milk.  This bill would prohibit the federal government from interfering with the interstate traffic of raw milk products.”

Likewise, the “Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014” would prevent the federal government from interfering with trade of unpasteurized, natural milk or milk products between states where distribution or sale of such products is already legal.

No provision of either bill would preempt or otherwise interfere with any state law, Massie said.

“Today, many people are paying more attention to the food they eat, what it contains, and how it is processed,” Massie said. “Raw milk, which has been with us for thousands of years, is making a comeback among these discerning consumers.  Personal choices as basic as ‘what we feed our families’ should not be limited by the federal government.”

Off Grid Quest: The truth about why raw milk is illegal

by Yelena Sukhoterina
Full Article

Have you ever wondered why RAW milk is illegal? While the main argument by the FDA is that it has a higher chance of having Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria bacteria, the same can be said for many types of sushi and unpasteurized cider, believe it or not.

Yet those are legal (with exception of New York’s Cider Pasteurization Law and other isolated local laws). Why can’t raw milk, the type of milk that has sustained millions of people for generations, just come with a warning label?

Are we not trusted enough to make our own decisions about our health?

RAW milk was legal until 1986 & today the ban is based on mainly one study

The FDA banned unpasteurized dairy sales after a 1986 Public Citizen lawsuit, after the Health Research Group of Public Citizen Group heavily petitioned FDA to do so.

Recently, both FDA and CDC are seen quoting the same one study to back their former decision. The study looked at the years between 1993 and 2006 and found 121 foodborne illness outbreaks associated with milk products: 1,571 cases, 202 hospitalizations and 2 deaths. That is about 9 outbreaks per year. According to CDC, 75% are linked to unpasteurized milk products – about 6-7 outbreaks per year.

How high is the risk, actually?

The CDC states, “While it is possible to get foodborne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all.” But is it so?

According to the CDC, 48 million people (1 in 6 in the U.S.) get sick by contaminated food annually. In just one year, 2009-2010, there have been 1,527 outbreaks, 29,444 illnesses, 1,184 hospitalizations and 23 deaths. And the food that caused it varies from shellfish and eggs, to sprouts and vine-stalk vegetables.

This year there were Salmonella outbreaks linked to cucumbers, pork, frozen chicken and frozen tuna; last year E. coli outbreaks linked to clover sprouts and ground beef; and Listeria outbreaks linked to ice cream, caramel apples, and cheese between 2014-2015.

Most of these cases have one thing in common: the contaminated produce was from a large farm or company, often sourced from a different state or even country.

That seems high risk. But we get a little warning sign on the package and are allowed to make our own choices. And what about milk?



While there is no nationwide statistic about how many people drink raw milk (perhaps because most hide the said fact), Time reported that in just California, 100,000 consumers drink raw milk on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile the CDC is trying a scare tactic by telling us that there was a 70% increase of illnesses associated with raw milk – but the risk of getting sick is actually slim.

Between 2007 and 2012, the data shows that there were 81 outbreaks, 979 illnesses, 73 hospitalizations, and 0 deaths linked to unpasteurized milk.

If not to protect the consumers, then why the ban?

Since then the ban of RAW milk, an ongoing battle has been waged. The FDA has gone on the offensive and has raided farms, stopped food trucks, and sued local businesses for trying to bring raw milk products to those who want it; while the consumers have bought “cow shares” from local farms, called it “pet food,” and even bought their own cows to get around the laws. In the end, we are left with hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens, who break the law for what they believe will be healthy for them.

As of 2013, 40 states ban retail sale of raw milk, and 13 states ban unpasteurized milk products completely. You can see the updates about legality of raw milk in your state at RealMilk.com.

Looking at the risks that are clearly not higher than many other foods (legal to consume), for many farmers and buyers it is obvious that the ban is not to protect our health. Many have theorized that it is simply in place to protect the dairy market – pasteurized milk’s longer shelf life is more profitable and easier for the big companies to produce.

“If secretive government regulators are successful in their efforts to deprive consumers of unpasteurized dairy products, they will be emboldened to push us farther toward their vision of reliance on sterile factory food,” writes David E. Gumpert in The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle over Food Rights.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Hawaii AG Backs Vermont GMO Labeling Law

By Anita Hofschneider
Full Article

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin signed onto a brief defending Vermont’s right to require labels on food containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Vermont’s law has been challenged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and several other groups representing the food industry. They are appealing the case before the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Chin joined attorneys general from Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Hampshire and Washington in signing an amicus brief contending that the Vermont law is constitutional and legal.

The Hawaii Legislature has repeatedly considered GMO food labeling bills but hasn’t passed them. County councils on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island have separately passed bills aiming to regulate GMO farming but those have been struck down by federal courts.

In the brief, Chin and the other attorneys general argue that the label “produced with genetic engineering” is “factual and uncontroversial.”

“Because it mandates disclosing only accurate factual information, Vermont’s labeling requirement furthers, rather than obstructs, the availability and flow of commercial information,” the brief says.

The brief also emphasizes that there are “legitimate and substantial policy interests” for imposing GMO food labels, such as reducing consumer confusion and deception when some genetically modified products are labeled “natural.”

That’s in response to the plaintiffs’ contention that “consumer curiosity” is behind the desire for labels.

“Through their elected representatives, the citizens of Vermont have expressed not just a “curiosity” about genetically engineered foods; they want to have the opportunity to learn, before they purchase a food product, whether a product was produced with genetic engineering, and with that accurate, factual information, make their own decisions whether to purchase the product,” the brief says. “This is a decision, reached through the legislative process, deserving of respect by the courts.”

Burlington Free Press: Patients, growers consider VT hemp oil law

By Haley Dover
Full Article

Shelly Waterman was looking for a miracle that could cure her daughter’s seizures.

Her daughter Hannah, 13, has neurological disorders. She has experienced seizures multiple times each day for most of her life. Two years ago, doctors diagnosed her with a rare and severe type of epilepsy that causes various types of seizures.

“We’ve been on five or six, maybe seven different pharmaceuticals, all in combination,” Waterman said. “None of which are able to say you are going to be seizure free.”

Hannah had gone three days without a single seizure, her mother said one afternoon in early September. Waterman of Burlington attributes this improvement to the combination of pharmaceutical drugs and a type of hemp oil from Colorado.

The oil product, Charlotte’s Web, is made from cannabis which is high in cannabidiol, or CBD, but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Waterman said.

THC is a chemical compound found in marijuana products, which produces a feeling of euphoria in users.

Because of the oil’s low THC levels, the product can be shipped from Colorado.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell wrote in an April memo that residents should not fear prosecution for possessing hemp oil products. The oil can provide some therapeutic benefit in treating seizure disorders, he noted.

New regulations regarding medical marijuana could provide the option for dispensaries in Vermont to cultivate hemp for symptom relief.

The Legislative Committee on Administrative Roles met for a second time Thursday to discuss the proposed regulations. The committee has postponed any decision on the rules until an Oct. 12 meeting to allow the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Marijuana Registry, to make grammatical changes and clarify definitions.

New this year is the option for dispensaries to grow cannabis plants with a THC level of 0.3 percent or less. Strains of cannabis with low THC levels qualify as hemp under Vermont law, and can be commercially traded in the state.

This law could allow for Vermont medical marijuana dispensaries to enter the therapeutic hemp oil market, and offer Vermonters the choice of purchasing a local product, said Lindsey Wells, program administrator for the state’s Marijuana Registry.

“We’re not trying to limit their options for hemp oil,” Wells said, referring to all Vermonters. “We want it to be available here.”

The cultivation of hemp is currently overseen by the Agency of Agriculture, Wells said. The new regulations will apply only to the four marijuana dispensaries in the state. Farmers who grow hemp for agricultural purposes would remain under the jurisdiction of the agriculture agency.

Dispensary managers interested in growing hemp would be required to submit a proposal to the Department of Public Safety, according to a draft copy of the rules. Managers would be required to list the proposed hemp strands that would be dispensed, updated plans for record keeping, inventory and quality control and the type of barrier that would be used to prevent unauthorized access or visibility to the product.

Homegrown hemp?

Shayne Lynn, executive director of Champlain Valley Dispensary and Southern Vermont Wellness, said he doesn’t grow any plants with less than 0.3 percent THC.

“I just don’t have the time,” he said.

Since he opened his first medical marijuana dispensary in June 2013, demand for products has eclipsed Lynn’s five-year business plan.

Vermont patients have sought medical marijuana treatment at a higher rate than the projections of lawmakers who crafted the original medical marijuana legislation.

Lynn’s dispensaries, located in Burlington and Brattleboro, offer products with various levels of THC and CBD, but none are low enough to be given to children, he said. The lowest THC levels found in the dispensaries are 1 or 2 percent.

He said staff at his facilities are on the hunt for strains of cannabis plants that are similar to the plants used to create the hemp oil that Waterman orders from Colorado.

That involves donated seeds that Lynn germinates, grows and tests to find the correct ratio of THC and CBD.

But even if he found the correct strain, it takes a whole lot of hemp to create any oil, Lynn said.

Andrea Stander, executive director of the advocacy association, Rural Vermont, echoed Lynn’s thoughts.

“No one is producing CBD oil yet because the infrastructure doesn’t exist,” she said.

The Agency of Agriculture allowed farmers and dispensary managers to begin growing hemp in 2014. So far, 20 people are registered to grow hemp in Vermont, including Netaka White, co-founder of Full Sun, a Middlebury-based company that makes craft sunflower and canola oils.

White said he has about a quarter acre of hemp this year. By 2017, he hopes to plant over 100 acres and begin producing Vermont-grown hemp oil.

He believes in the nutritional value of hemp oil and has purchased and ingested it for years. His current plan is to produce nontherapuetic hemp oil, but White said if he saw a need in the market to grow hemp for a medicinal purpose, he might consider the option.

Still, he has reservations.

“I wouldn’t want to jump through the hoops that a dispensary has to,” he said. “The Department of Liquor Control doesn’t monitor a corn farmer because his corn might be turned into whiskey.”

Hemp and the medicinal benefit

Waterman said that her daughter has been on a “pharmaceutical merry-go-round.”

Hannah was diagnosed Rett Syndrome at age 2. The genetic neurological disorder is found almost exclusively in girls and can affect their ability to speak, walk, eat and breathe, according to rettsyndrome.org. When she was 11, Hannah was given a second diagnosis of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a rare and severe type of epilepsy.

One of Waterman’s friends and former co-workers, Annie Galloway, told Waterman about a mother in Colorado that was using cannabis oil to treat her daughter’s seizures.

Waterman thought getting her hands on the medicine seemed like an unobtainable goal, she said.

“I knew nothing about this, absolutely nothing,” she said. “I was thinking ‘oh my god are we going to have to set up a hookah room?'”

There had to be a catch, Waterman remembered thinking. She went to Colorado herself to see what the fuss was about.

“My husband and I needed to know — if this is something that can really help her, I need to see it,” she said.

Galloway, the family friend, was already living in Colorado and working with Realm of Caring, a nonprofit organization that provides support services and resources for people using cannabanoid products. She opened her home to Waterman and introduced her to families who could talk about their experiences using the hemp oils and extracts.

“There’s that perception that it’s a miracle drug, so people say they don’t believe in it,” Galloway said. “This plant is meant to be consumed by people and the best way to consume it is in it’s raw form.”

Creating oils is great for children, she said, adding that the oils are nonpsychoactive because of the low THC levels in the oils. Galloway said it’s critical that people understand the difference between the hemp oils and traditional marijuana.

“I think the perception in a lot of the public is that you smoke this and it’s high in THC and we shouldn’t give that to kids because that’s bad,” she said. “I think we need to legalize it so we can study it, and people can have safe access to it.”

To Waterman, supplementing Hannah’s medication with the hemp oil is no different than combining three or four medications together. While Hannah’s day-to-day wellness can be bumpy, Waterman said she has been taken off of one pharmaceutical completely since starting to use the oil.

Waterman said the decision to start Hannah on the oil was well thought out and included many of her physicians.

“Even though this path is unconventional, our physicians were supportive and active in our efforts to gather info,” Waterman said. “All are cautious and would prefer more research be done in this area but have supported us all the way and are learning along side of us.”

She advocates for Vermont to take the next step to approve the cultivation of hemp for oils at the state’s dispensaries.

The Atlantic: Farmland without Farmers

As industrial agriculture replaces men with machines, the American landscape loses its stewards, and the culture they built.
By Wendell Berry
March 19, 2015
Full Article

The landscapes of our country are now virtually deserted. In the vast, relatively flat acreage of the Midwest now given over exclusively to the production of corn and soybeans, the number of farmers is lower than it has ever been. I don’t know what the average number of acres per farmer now is, but I do know that you often can drive for hours through those corn-and-bean deserts without seeing a human being beyond the road ditches, or any green plant other than corn and soybeans. Any people you may see at work, if you see any at work anywhere, almost certainly will be inside the temperature-controlled cabs of large tractors, the connection between the human organism and the soil organism perfectly interrupted by the machine. Thus we have transposed our culture, our cultural goal, of sedentary, indoor work to the fields. Some of the “field work,” unsurprisingly, is now done by airplanes.

This contact, such as it is, between land and people is now brief and infrequent, occurring mainly at the times of planting and harvest. The speed and scale of this work have increased until it is impossible to give close attention to anything beyond the performance of the equipment. The condition of the crop of course is of concern and is observed, but not the condition of the land. And so the technological focus of industrial agriculture by which species diversity has been reduced to one or two crops is reducing human participation ever nearer to zero. Under the preponderant rule of “labor-saving,” the worker’s attention to the work place has been effectively nullified even when the worker is present. The “farming” of corn-and-bean farmers—and of others as fully industrialized—has been brought down from the complex arts of tending or husbanding the land to the application of purchased inputs according to the instructions conveyed by labels and operators’ manuals.

To make as much sense as I can of our predicament, I turn to Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute, in Salina, Kansas, and his perception that for any parcel of land in human use there is an “eyes-to-acres ratio” that is right and is necessary to save it from destruction. By “eyes” Wes means a competent watchfulness, aware of the nature and the history of the place, constantly present, always alert for signs of harm and signs of health. The necessary ratio of eyes to acres is not constant from one place to another, nor is it scientifically predictable or computable for any place, because from place to place there are too many natural and human variables. The need for the right eyes-to-acres ratio appears nonetheless to have the force of law.
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The 50-Year Farm Bill

We can suppose that the eyes-to-acres ratio is approximately correct when a place is thriving in human use and care. The sign of its thriving would be the evident good health and diversity, not just of its crops and livestock but also of its population of native and noncommercial creatures, including the community of creatures living in the soil. Equally indicative and necessary would be the signs of a thriving local and locally adapted human economy.

The great and characteristic problem of industrial agriculture is that it does not distinguish one place from another. In effect, it blinds its practitioners to where they are. It cannot, by definition, be adapted to local ecosystems, topographies, soils, economies, problems, and needs.

The sightlessness and thoughtlessness of the imposition of the corn-and-bean industry upon the sloping or rolling countryside hereabouts is made vividly objectionable to me by my memory of the remarkably careful farming that was commonly practiced in these central Kentucky counties in the 1940s and 50s—though, even then, amid much regardlessness and damage. The best farming here was highly diversified in both plants and animals. Its basis was understood to be grass and grazing animals; cattle, sheep, hogs, and, during the 40s, the workstock, all were pastured. Grain crops typically were raised to be fed; the farmers would say, “The grain raised here must walk off.” And so in any year only a small fraction of the land would be plowed. The commercial economy of the farms was augmented and supported by the elaborate subsistence economies of the households. “I may be sold out or run out,” the farmers would say, “but I’ll not be starved out.”

My brother recently reminded me how carefully our father thought about the nature of our home countryside. He had witnessed the ultimate futility—the high costs to both farmer and farm—of raising corn for cash during the hard times of the 1920s and 30s. He concluded, rightly, that the crop that could be raised most profitably in the long run was grass. That was because we did not have large acreages that could safely be used for growing grain, but our land was aboundingly productive of grass, which moreover it produced more cheaply than any other crop. And the grass sod, which was perennial, covered and preserved the soil the year round.

A further indication of the quality of the farming here in the 40s and 50s is that the Soil Conservation Service was more successful during those years than it would or could be again in the promotion of plowing and terracing on the contour to control soil erosion. Those measures at that time were permitted by the right scale of the farming and of the equipment then in use. Anybody familiar with topographic maps will know that contour lines remain strictly horizontal over the irregularities of the land’s surfaces; crop rows cannot be regularly spaced. This variability presents no significant problem to a farmer using one- or two-row equipment in relatively small lands or fields. And so for a while contour farming became an established practice on many farms, and to good effect. It was defeated primarily by the enlargement of fields and the introduction of larger equipment. Eventually, many farmers simply ignored their terraces, plowing over them, the planted rows sometimes running straight downhill. Earlier, a good many farmers had taken readily to the idea of soil conservation. A farmer in a neighboring county said, “I want the water to walk off my land, not run.” But beyond a certain scale, the farming begins to conform to the demands of the machines, not to the nature of the land.
The great and characteristic problem of industrial agriculture is that it does not distinguish one place from another.

Within three paragraphs I have twice quoted farmers who used “walk” as an approving figure of speech: Grain leaving a farm hereabouts should walk off; and the rainwater fallen upon a farm should walk, not run. This is not merely a coincidence. The gait most congenial to agrarian thought and sensibility is walking. It is the gait best suited to paying attention, most conservative of land and equipment, and most permissive of stopping to look or think. Machines, companies, and politicians “run.” Farmers studying their fields travel at a walk.

Farms that are highly diversified and rightly scaled tend, by their character and structure, toward conservation of the land, the human community, and the local economy. Such farms are both work places and homes to the families who inhabit them and who are intimately involved in the daily life of land and household. Without such involvement, farmers cease to be country people and become in effect city people, industrial workers and consumers, living in the country.

* * *

I have spoken so far of the decline of country work, but the decline of country pleasures is at least equally significant. If the people who live and work in the country don’t also enjoy the country, a valuable and necessary part of life is missing. And for families on farms of a size permitting them to be intimately lived on and from, the economic life of the place is itself the primary country pleasure. As one would expect, not every day or every job can be a pleasure, but for farmers who love their livestock there is pleasure in watching the animals graze and in winter feeding. There is pleasure in the work of maintenance, the redemption of things worn or broken, that must go on almost continuously. There is pleasure in the growing, preserving, cooking, and eating of the good food that the family’s own land provides. But around this core of the life and work of the farm are clustered other pleasures, in their way also life-sustaining, and most of which are cheap or free.
I live in a country blessed by a shortage of picturesque scenery and mineable minerals.

I live in a country that would be accurately described as small-featured. There are no monumental land forms, no peaks or cliffs or high waterfalls, no wide or distant vistas. Though it is by nature a land of considerable beauty, there is little here that would attract vacationing wilderness lovers. It is blessed by a shortage of picturesque scenery and mineable minerals. The topography, except in the valley bottoms, is rolling or sloping. Along the sides of the valleys, the slopes are steep. It is divided by many hollows and streams, and it has always been at least partially wooded.

Because of the brokenness and diversity of the landscape, there was never until lately a clean separation here between the pursuits of farming and those of hunting and gathering. On many farms the agricultural income, including the homegrown and homemade subsistence of the households, would be supplemented by hunting or fishing or trapping or gathering provender from the woods and berry patches—perhaps by all of these. And beyond their economic contribution, these activities were forms of pleasure. Many farmers kept hounds or bird dogs. The gear and skills of hunting and fishing belonged to ordinary daily and seasonal life. More ordinary was the walking (or riding or driving) and looking that kept people aware of the condition of the ground, the crops, the pastures, and the livestock, of the state of things in the house yard and the garden, in the woods, and along the sides of the streams.

My own community, centered upon the small village of Port Royal, is along the Kentucky River and in the watersheds of local tributaries. Its old life, before the industrialization of much of the farmland and the urbanization of the people, was under the influence of the river, as other country communities of that time were under the influence of the railroads. In the neighborhood of Port Royal practically every man and boy, some girls and women too, fished from time to time in the Kentucky River. Some of the men fished “all the time” or “way too much.” Until about a generation ago, there was some commercial fishing. And I can remember when hardly a summer day would pass when from the house where eventually I would live you could not hear the shouts of boys swimming in the river, often flying out into the water from the end of a swinging rope. I remember when I was one of them. My mother, whose native place this was, loved her girlhood memories of swimming parties and picnics at the river. In hot weather she and her friends would walk the mile from Port Royal down to the river for a cooling swim, and then would make the hot walk back up the hill to town.

Now the last of the habituated fishermen of the local waters are now dead. They have been replaced by fishermen using expensive “bassboats,” almost as fast as automobiles, whose sport is less describable as fishing than as using equipment. In the last year only one man, comparatively a newcomer, has come to the old landing where I live to fish with trotlines—and, because of the lack of competition, he has caught several outsize catfish. Some local people, and a good many outsiders, hunt turkeys and deer. There is still a fair amount of squirrel hunting. The bobwhite, the legendary gamebird of this region, is almost extinct here, and the bird hunters with them. A rare few still hunt with hounds.

Most remarkable is the disappearance of nearly all children and teenagers, from the countryside, and in general from the out-of-doors. The technologies of large-scale industrial agriculture are too complicated and too dangerous to allow the participation of children. For most families around here, the time is long gone when children learned to do farmwork by playing at it, and then taking part in it, in the company of their parents. It seems that most children now don’t play much in their house yards, let alone in the woods and along the creeks. Many now descend from their school buses at the ends of lanes and driveways to be carried the rest of the way to their houses in parental automobiles. Most teenagers apparently divide their out-of-school time between indoor entertainment and travel in motor vehicles.

Local people who regularly hunted or fished or foraged or walked or played in the local countryside served the local economy and stewardship as inspectors, rememberers, and storytellers. They gave their own kind of service to the eyes-to-acres ratio. Now most of those people are gone or absent, along with most of the farming people who used to be at work here.

With them have gone the local stories and songs. When people begin to replace stories from local memory with stories from television screens, another vital part of life is lost. I have my own memories of the survival in a small rural community of its own stories. By telling and retelling those stories, people told themselves who they were, where they were, and what they had done. They thus maintained in ordinary conversation their own living history. And I have from my neighbor, John Harrod, a thorough student of Kentucky’s traditional fiddle music, his testimony that every rural community once heard, sang, and danced to at least a few tunes that were uniquely its own. What is the economic value of stories and songs? What is the economic value of the lived and living life of a community? My argument here is directed by my belief that the art and the life of settled rural communities are critical to our life-supporting economy. But their value is incalculable. It can only be acknowledged and respected, and our present economy is incapable, and cannot on its own terms be made capable, of such acknowledgement and respect.

Meanwhile, the farmlands and woodlands of this neighborhood are being hurt worse and faster by bad farming and bad logging than at any other time in my memory. The signs of this abuse are often visible even from the roads, but nobody is looking. Or to people who are looking, but seeing from no perspective of memory or knowledge, the country simply looks “normal.” Outsiders who come visiting almost always speak of it as “beautiful.” But along this river, the Kentucky, which I have known all my life, and have lived beside for half a century, there is a large and regrettable recent change, clearly apparent to me, and to me indicative of changes in water quality, but perfectly invisible to nearly everybody else.

* * *

I don’t remember what year it was when I first noticed the disappearance of the native black willows from the low-water line of this river. Their absence was sufficiently noticeable, for the willows were both visually prominent and vital to the good health of the river. Wherever the banks were broken by “slips” or the uprooting of large trees, and so exposed to sunlight, the willows would come in quickly to stabilize the banks. Their bushy growth and pretty foliage gave the shores of the river a distinctive grace, now gone and much missed by the few who remember. Like most people, I don’t welcome bad news, and so I said to myself that perhaps the willows were absent only from the stretch of the river that I see from my house and work places. But in 2002 for the first time in many years I had the use of a motor boat, and I examined carefully the shores of the twenty-seven-mile pool between locks one and two. I saw a few old willows at the tops of the high banks, but none at or near the low-water line, and no young ones anywhere.

The willows still live as usual along other streams in the area, and they thrive along the shore of the Ohio River just above the mouth of the Kentucky at Carrollton. The necessary conclusion is that their absence from the Kentucky River must be attributable to something seriously wrong with the water. And so, since 2002, I have asked everybody I met who might be supposed to know: “Why have the black willows disappeared from the Kentucky River?” I have put this question to conservationists, to conservation organizations specifically concerned with the Kentucky River, to water-quality officials and to university biologists. And I have found nobody who could tell me why. Except for a few old fishermen, I have found nobody who knew they were gone.

This may seem astonishing. At least, for a while, it astonished me. I thought that in a state in which water pollution is a permanent issue, people interested in water quality surely would be alert to the disappearance of a prominent member of the riparian community of a major river. But finally I saw that such ignorance is more understandable than I had thought. A generation or so ago, when fishing and the condition of the river were primary topics of conversation in Port Royal, the disappearance of the willows certainly would have been noticed. Fishermen used to tie their trotlines to the willows.

That time is past, and I was seeking local knowledge from conservationists and experts and expert conservationists. But most conservationists, like most people now, are city people. They “escape” their urban circumstances and preoccupations by going on vacations. They thus go into the countryside only occasionally, and their vacations are unlikely to take them into the economic landscapes. They want to go to parks, wilderness areas, or other famous “destinations.” Government and university scientists often have economic concerns or responsibilities, and some of them do venture into farmland or working forests or onto streams and rivers that are not “wild.” But it seems they are not likely to have a particular or personal or long-term interest in such places, or to go back to them repeatedly and often over a long time, or to maintain an economic or recreational connection to them. Such scientists affect the eyes-to-acres ratio probably less than the industrial farmers.

Among the many conservationists I have encountered in my home state, the most competent witness by far is Barth Johnson, a retired game warden who is a dedicated trapper, hunter, and fisherman, as he has been all his life. Barth has devoted much of his life to conservation. Like most conservationists, he is informed about issues and problems. Unlike most, he is exceptionally alert to what is happening in the actual countryside that needs to be conserved. This is because he is connected to the fields and woods and waters he knows by bonds of economy and pleasure, both at once. Moreover, he has lived for thirty years in the same place at the lower end of the Licking River. This greatly increases the value of his knowledge, for he can speak of changes over time. People who stay put and remain attentive know that the countryside changes, as it must, and for better or worse.

He tells a story about Harris Creek, a small stream along which he had trapped for many years. It was richly productive, and Barth was careful never to ask too much of it. But in 2007, confident that it would be as it always had been, he went there with his traps and discovered that the stream was dead. He could not find a live minnow or crawfish. There were no animal tracks. So far as he could tell, there could be only one reason for this: In the spring of that year, the bottomland along the creek had been herbicided to kill the grass in preparation for a seeding of alfalfa. In 2008, the stream was still dead. In 2009, there was “a little coon activity.” Finally, in 2013, the stream was “close to normal.”

I have also learned from Barth that upstream as far as he has looked, to a point two and a half miles above the small town of Boston, the black willows are gone from the Licking River. And in October 2013, he wrote me that the river had turned a brownish “brine” color that he had never seen before.

What happened to the willows? Two young biologists at Northern Kentucky University are now at work on the question, and perhaps they will find the answer. But other scientists have led me to consider the possibility that such questions will not be answered. It may be extremely difficult or impossible to attach a specific effect to a specific cause in a large volume of flowing water.

What killed Harris Creek? Barth’s evidence is “anecdotal,” without scientifically respectable proof. I have read scientific papers establishing that the herbicide glyphosate and its “degradation products” are present in high concentrations in some Mississippi River tributaries, but the papers say nothing about the effects. I have called up scientists working on water quality, including one of the authors of one of the papers on glyphosate. What about the effects? Good question. Nobody knows the answer. It seems that the research projects and the researchers are widely scattered, making such work somewhat incoherent. And besides, there is always the difficulty of pinning a specific cause to a specific effect. To two of these completely friendly and obliging people I told Barth’s story of Harris Creek: Does that surprise you? One said it did not surprise him. The other said it was possible but unlikely that the stream was killed by an herbicide. Was an insecticide also involved?

What caused the strange discoloration of the Licking River? Since the discoloration was visible until obscured by mud in the water when the river rose, I suppose that, if it happens again, the odd color could be traced upstream to a source. Will somebody do that? I don’t know. Is any scientist from any official body monitoring the chemical runoff from croplands and other likely sources? I have been asking that question too, and so far I have asked nobody who could answer.
In my search for answers, it may be that I have been making a characteristic modern mistake of relying on experts.

In my search for answers, it may be that I have been making a characteristic modern mistake of relying on experts, which has revealed a characteristic modern failure: Experts often don’t know and sometimes can never know. Beneficiaries of higher education, of whom I am one, often give too much credit to credentials.

Confronting industrial agriculture, we are requiring ourselves to substitute science for citizenship, community membership, and land stewardship. But science fails at all of these. Science as it now predominantly is, by definition and on its own terms, does not make itself accountable for unintended effects. The intended effect of chemical nitrogen fertilizer, for example, is to grow corn, whereas its known effect on the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico is a catastrophic accident. Moreover, science of this kind is invariably limited and controlled by the corporations that pay for it.

We have an ancient and long-enduring cultural imperative of neighborly love and work. This becomes ever more important as hardly imaginable suffering is imposed upon all creatures by industrial tools and industrial weapons. If we are to continue, in our only world, with any hope of thriving in it, we will have to expect neighborly behavior of sciences, of industries, and of governments, just as we expect it of our citizens in their neighborhoods.

VPR: Hemp Growers Concerned About New Hemp Rules For Dispensaries

By Steve Zind
Full Article & Audio

An effort to allow Vermont’s four marijuana dispensaries to grow hemp to produce a medicinal oil has raised concerns among Vermont hemp growers.

Claims of the therapeutic benefits of a hemp oil which contains an ingredient called cannabidiol, or CBD, have created a demand for the product, particularly among parents who feel it is effective in treating seizures and other medical conditions in children.

Lindsay Wells, the marijuana program administrator with the Department of Public Safety, says legislators are trying to respond to that demand by giving the state’s licensed medicinal marijuana dispensaries permission to grow hemp in addition to marijuana.

“The dispensaries didn’t have the product available and the legislature wanted to figure out a way,” Wells says.

Unlike marijuana, which is strictly controlled and legal only for medicinal purposes in Vermont, the hemp oil with CBD is legal and available to anyone who wants to order it from any of a number of sources. That’s because the oil, like the hemp it’s derived from, contains just a small percentage of  THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

If they were to grow hemp, the dispensaries would have to abide by the same restrictions that govern marijuana cultivation.

That raised concerns from Vermont hemp growers – and there are about two dozen of them – that they, too, would have to follow the restrictive rules.

So legislators are being asked to exempt them from the rules.

Joel Bedard, the founder of the Vermont Hemp Company, says he’s worried there still isn’t enough clarity to protect hemp growers.

Bedard also objects to the idea of the state controlling an aspect of agriculture that is otherwise freely practiced in Vermont.

“Currently in the state of Vermont, hemp is completely uncontrolled,” he says. “There is no aspect of industrial hemp that is considered a controlled substance. Why we’re taking the wording for marijuana, which is a completely controlled substance, and forcing it onto an uncontrolled substance is, I think unnecessary.”

The committee will continue deliberating the new rules for the state’s marijuana dispensaries next month.

VPR: Ag Agency To Impose Tighter Controls On Farms In Missisquoi Watershed

Sep 7, 2015
Full Article
The state Agency of Agriculture is moving to require more stringent controls to cut pollution from farms in the Missisquoi Basin of Lake Champlain.

The shallow bay in the northwest part of the lake is often choked with algae blooms in the summer. Those blooms are fueled in part by phosphorus run-off from farms.

Now the agency says it will hold a hearing in October on its plan to mandate what are called “best management practices” for farms in the Missisquoi Basin. These practices include buffers to prevent runoff from reaching streams, cover crops and fencing livestock out of waterways.

The proposal for best management practices is part of a potential settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Conservation law Foundation.

Chris Kilian, CLF’s Vermont director, says the settlement proposal outlines financial and technical assistance for farmers to comply with best management practices, or BMPs.

“This is a mandatory best practices program that has extensive flexibility and longer timeframes for implementation for farmers who follow through on their commitment to clean water,” he said.

Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said in a statement that he looks forward to hearing input from farmers.

Ross said the best management practices and the potential settlement with CLF line up well with the goals of Act 64, the state’s new clean water act.