“The fundamental problem with America’s farm programs: They mostly reward those who own the land, not those who farm it, or are most in need, or grow the healthiest food, or do the best job of protecting soil, water and wildlife habitat.”
No matter how many movies we see on the problems with our industrial farming system, most of us will always conjure the iconic image of a wholesome family farming the land when we think of agriculture. But your tax dollars may not be going to who you think.
A report by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit that monitors federal programs, concludes that the U.S. government is sending hundreds of millions of dollars to people in urban areas of the country, some of whom have no direct connection to agriculture. According to EWG’s updated 2011 Farm Subsidy Database, $394 million last year went to residents of almost 350 cities with at least 100,000 people each.
The fact is, you can be a city slicker in Miami Beach or Beverly Hills and collect farm subsidy payments. All you have to do is have an ownership interest in some Iowa farmland. While 60 percent of American farmers must get along without a dime in federal subsidies, the so-called farm “safety net” benefits a narrow band of the wealthiest agri-businesses and absentee land owners and the lobbyists who ensure that the subsidies keep flowing.
“Freedom to Farm” was a program passed in 1996 to reduce government subsidies to farmers and allow more flexibility in what they planted. However, with a slump in commodity prices, the government continued passing emergency supplements that have increased subsidies and benefited absentee “farmers.”
EWG has been calling attention to the issue in its City Slickers report since since before the Freedom to Farm program started.
Back then, EWG’s researchers reported that 1.6 million subsidy checks worth more than $1.3 billion had been paid out to urban residents over a ten-year period.
“City Slickers” underscored the fundamental problem with America’s farm programs, and it still exists today: They mostly reward those who own the land, not those who farm it, or are most in need, or grow the healthiest food, or do the best job of protecting soil, water and wildlife habitat.
This begs the question: Can we make our agricultural system truly “sustainable” if people who are disconnected from farms and the land are getting compensated?