We, the people…and the Farm Bill.

Growing up in Massachusetts means a special kind of connection to the Fourth of July. Along with Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July is one of two holidays all Americans can claim as our own. Both were born in Massachusetts: Thanksgiving in Plymouth around a communal dining table and the American Revolution, which started with the shot heard ‘round the world in Lexington and Concord.

The Fourth of July here is almost as long-planned for as is Christmas and the winter holiday season. Patriotic fun abounds and is helped along by all kinds of traditions. Boston’s Harborfest is the ultimate spectacular. Here in western Massachusetts there’s a somber reading of the Declaration of Independence at Old Sturbridge Village; in New Bedford the traditional Blessing of the Fleet; fine art shows in Brewster; a road race on Nantucket and a week of fireworks displays in every region of the Commonwealth.

Sure, we all learned about the American Revolution as school children. Even before we studied American history in high school, we knew July 4th is the birthday of our nation. My dad was a Marine and a veteran of the Korean War. The Fourth was a big deal. Back then, we kids lit sparklers and the grown ups fussed over packing up snacks for the trek to see fireworks at Szot Park.

As a child, I didn’t give much thought to what the day really meant. I did know that voting was the first test of patriotism in my parents’ house. When I turned eighteen, I registered to vote. I have kept faith with what my father taught me.

Each of us who step into a voting booth honor our forebears: fifty-six men pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in a Philadelphia meeting hall to the original thirteen colonies, soon to become the United States of America. Honorable men, who debated for hours before signing the Declaration of Independence. Some gave their lives in the war that followed, many gave their fortunes, and all of them preserved their sacred honor.

All for a philosophy of freedom that turned the world upside down and changed the concept of what it meant to govern and be governed.  A nation of promise and growth “from sea to shining sea.” Lately, I’ve come to think of this day as more than
just the birthday of a nation.

I think a lot about our people, our farmers and our food. Watching the unfolding political landscape that lacks congressional cooperation in getting a farm bill passed to support our farmers and our people hits a nerve. The same one that made me register to vote 40 years ago, and the reason I encourage everyone to do the same. Voting matters.

There are those in Congress, notably US Representative Eric Cantor, who welcome the opportunity to break the traditional alliance between rural and urban by separating  the agricultural and nutrition title pieces of the Farm Bill. National Farmers Union Board of Directors passed a resolution this week that said, in part, “Not only would this be a jarring disruption to the historic coalition of urban, rural and conservation groups, it would also likely effectively kill both bills, producing no legislative action for either.”

Today we have two million farms down from five million farms thirty years ago, and 313 million people up from 227 million people during those same thirty years. According to the American Farm Bureau, farmers and ranchers receive only 16 cents out of every dollar spent on food at home and away from home. In 1980, farmers and ranchers received 31 cents. We have less farmers producing food for more people.

If you are looking for more good reasons not to let a new comprehensive Farm Bill go unpassed, I suggest you read Joel Berg’s article. Berg points out that supporting our farmers and feeding our hungry are not exclusive of each other, the crux of the rural-urban partnership that creates the Farm Bill is not partisan, it’s practical. While fingers have been pointed across both the aisles, it’s appropriate to call out Eric Cantor for his part in the shenanigans aimed at hurting our farmers and everyone else.

The Fourth of July is a reminder that our government is created and managed by our people, with no powers except those granted to it by our people. We seem to forget the basis of our nation’s founding sometimes, and we never should. Let your elected representatives to Congress know you want them to go back to work on passing a comprehensive Farm Bill before the extension of the 2008 Farm Bill expires on September 30.

If they can’t manage that, maybe it’s high time that we, the people, throw the bums out.

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