My family's nutrition is sustained by local farmers. What a great concept. They do what they are good at doing... and then I buy their whole foods and milk ...and this helps farmers to keep farming. It's a great relationship.
It sounded strange to my ears the first time I heard someone say that we have to defend our rights to buy affordable high quality food from local farmers. Who are we defending ourselves from? Well, I got a taste of the answer yesterday.
I received an email invitation to a public hearing where government officials would vote on a proposed regulation which would supposedly promote milk sanitation. I am all for milk sanitation, but get this! The regulation would require PA dairy farmers to buy a machine that would bottle and cap plastic milk jugs... and this would have to be done in a separate room from the milk tanks. This sounds simple for a factory, but terribly expensive and ineffective for a small farmer. It's like using a chain saw to cut bread. My needs are being met so well by an Amish girl who fills my glass milk bottles each week with clean hands right from the clean milk tank in the clean milk house. It just works.
Food prices are high enough. If these regulations were put into place, then farmers would understandably have to raise their prices or quit farming. So, I went to Harrisburg yesterday, and I got the privilege of hearing about 20 PA dairy farmers (many of them plain folks), plead this noble case. Wow, it was an intense 3 hour meeting with lots of heart-felt testimonies from people who just wanted to keep working hard on their farms with out being over-regulated.
I arrived at the 10:00am meeting just in the nick of time. It was held on the 14th floor at 333 Market St. in front of the PA Independent Regulatory Review Commission. I would say there were 50-60 people in the room for the same reason. Many of them were dairy farmers. I bet they never saw public speaking in their job descriptions. But they did it anyway. It's nerve-wracking being in front of government officials in suits and ties... oh, and one woman chief counsel... with all the standard protocols that we know nothing about.
When each farmer would get up and tell his/her testimony (with shaking voices) telling why this regulation would be too expensive for them and ineffective, the other farmers would clap supportively for him or her. The chairman told everyone not to do that. He said this is not a broadway musical where were get applause. We need to keep to the business of the law. Well, there was so much suspense in the room, and everyone tried their best to hold their applause until the very end ...when the proposed regulation was actually voted on ...and it was disapproved by a close vote of 3 to 2. Yeah!!!! The whole room erupted in a relief of clapping and cheering that justice was served. The chairman scolded the group again saying, "I asked you not to do that!" What an interesting 3 hours.
I'm sure this is not the end of the story. The Independent Regulatory Review Commission felt that the PA Dept. of Ag. could resubmit a proposed regulation that was separate from the federal standard of mechanized bottling and more suited for small farmers. I appreciate the regulations which keep us safe, but I will support our Pennsylvania farmers as the experts they are in their field. When I got up to speak at the meeting, I simply said that as a raw milk consumer I trust my local farmer's milk sanitation practices because he is serving the same milk to his own family, and he is an intelligent man with many years of expertise in food safety.
Love live trustworthy farmers! Long live just law makers!
P.S. For more information on behind the scenes defenders of local sustainable agriculture, go to http://www.pasafarming.org/