Dept. of AG’s farmers market strikes discordant note

Wandering around the nation’s capital recently I weaved through some tourists and ended up in a cornfield.

Hard to believe, I’m sure, so I took a photo:

dc ag dept

The corn was thick and green and tall and everything corn should be. It was grown on a patch of soil just off the Mall, one of the busiest tourists centers in the country. Towering above it in the background loomed the massive Dept. of Ag building.

At first I thought it lovely to see such beautiful crops outside the center of policy making for our country’s food source. As we wandered we saw several of these little urban gardens, including a lovely flower explosion near the Dept. of Treasury and signs for a Dept. of Ag farmers market on Fridays.

Initially I pondered how far we’ve come in a short period to radically change the way we think about food and hopefully soon (but all evidence suggests, not yet) change the way we eat. I mean, can you imagine crops and flowers and a farmers market during the Bush Administration?

Eventually, my thoughts shifted from such pleasantries that this little effort of planting corn was clearly supposed to evoke to a far more cynical view. This was propaganda at its worst. Maybe the Bush Administration did start this farmer’s market after all?

The American Food Culture was once largely agricultural-based: native seeds turned to food and livestock raised on clean ground that turned to clean food. We had no idea what GMO was because it didn’t exist. But with the rise of the industrialized food economy — pretty much McDonald’s, Monsanto and Sysco serve as standard bearers though its far too simplistic to blame only them — we developed the most inexpensive, ecologically destructive and poisonous food system in the world.

The Department of Ag’s role is developing and executing federal government policy on farming, agriculture, forestry, and food. That policy, we well know is beholden to industrial food giants that put onerous burdens on local farmers and tip the scales toward the industrialization of the family farm. That policy has created a food system that favors billionaire stockholders over the people who pay the taxes for the Dept. of Ag to exist. That policy has created a national food system that is not only a joke among the other cultures of the world, but is proving to kill us with greater efficiency than ever before. That policy protects the farm bill, which does more to bastardize the notion of farming (turning entire Midwest states into corn and soybean mills akin to California’s industrialized cattle “ranches” seen from the I-5 freeway) into something few of our grandfathers would even recognize.

I’m admittedly painting with a broom here, over-simplifying a complex problem so interwoven within our culture we barely know how to eradicate ourselves. There simply aren’t enough “Surgeon General Warnings” to protect us from the myriad chemicals and radicals and toxins in our food and in the products we make our food with any longer. Laying it all at the Dept. of Ag building is an oversimplification as well.

But that Gothic monolithic building that covers a prominent block in the nation’s capital stands for something bigger than a patch of goodwill corn can eradicate.

By the time I left the corn patch, the initial pleasure it evoked was gone, replaced by a sadness for the lack of sound government policy, the ability to do anything constructive in the entire complex that is DC and more importantly for the rank hypocrisy that serves as education these days. Spin, the politicians call it. Once used only briefly in election cycles and shirked aside when the task of legislation and leadership began, it is now a 24/7/365 policy of government (and even merging into the media) mind control that’s primary mission is to make obsolete the essential “well-informed electorate.”

We’ve been spun so long we no longer know what stillness is. A corn patch outside the Dept. of Ag is spin, and hides the policy conducted inside that is as disharmonious with farmers markets as Mega Churches are to Christian Community.

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