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No people or animals were injured in the making of this diary.
This diary is dedicated to all the folks who blame us alt-A mortgagees for the financial collapse, and think we should be the ones making the sacrifices.

    As some might remember, I used to diary here on an occasional basis, trying to give an anecdotal, view from the ground on how agriculture was actually being accomplished in new england. Last year, I was intimidated into shutting up, with threats of slander and unnamed retributions, and ceased all my internet activities. Well circumstances do change, and my diagnosis with kidney cancer, loss of my income several months ago, and an upcoming surgery have convinced me to start writing again, and to hell with the consequences. First the backstory in a nutshell....

Our Farm:  

   We purchased our farm property in 2001, and began preparations and work necessary to rebuild the property into a sustainable, organic farming operation. What this sentence fails to capture is the horrible amount of work leading up to the purchase. The purchase of the farm was the culmination of 10 years of hard work rebuilding (and living in) condemned houses, while each working 50-70 hours a week at our day jobs.
     At the time our household income was in the low six figures, from off farm sources, and the employment appeared to be stable over the long term. Accordingly, we made plans based on that income, concentrating our efforts on the building of infrastructure, and an emphasis on the physical sustainability of the farm considered as a system.
     Unfortunately this approach led us to an operation with a number of partially completed projects that currently make no contribution to the financial sustainability of the operation. Upon losing the outside income, in 2005, we were forced into a survival mode, which has continued to this day. This mode has allowed us to survive to the present time, with a minimal income sufficient to pay the bills and keep the mortgage current, but at the expense of the unfinished projects and ongoing maintenance of all elements of the farm.

So to Recap, and put some numbers to the anecdote:

       -The bank has received from us ca $460,000 over the past 8 years, and we owe another $900,000 over the next 33.
       -The infrastructure we have designed and constructed, and the labor (thousands of hard hours) that the 2 of us have invested has no value.
       -The fact that the farm is 80% energy sufficient is of no bearing, financially.
       -Thus far, we have received exactly $0 in subsidies, grants, and low interest loans.
       -We have an unfinished farm, not capable of supporting itself, unless the projects are finished.
       -We have effectively zero income since the end of november, when my off farm business was cut off (credit lines zeroed by the banks and suppliers).

The State:

The typical local farm, according to USDA is carrying around 400K in debt, anecdotally this is primarily held as ARM Mortgages with interest rates in the 8 to 9.5 percent range, on 30 year notes. Given the current average age of farmers in the state, this will result in an average of 700K in total debt (principle + interest) being passed to the next generation/buyers of the property.

Virtually all state grant programs, including energy programs not directly administered by DAR (Department of Agricultural Resources) have been awarded to multi generational farms, to such extent that most such programs now speak only of preserving the "viability" of existing agricultural businesses, rather than encouraging agriculture and food production within the state. The state's farm viability program has likewise been interpreted as increasing the financial success of already successful operations.

A Suggestion:

While efforts to preserve existing multi-generational farms are laudable, efforts aimed directly at maintaining the status quo are doomed to failure if the goal is to expand the agricultural base of the state and the pioneer valley. A de-emphasis of the current primary factors controlling the distribution of funding and technical assistance away from a financial emphasis, and toward food and energy production, and community benefit is critical, even though this leads to higher risk scenarios. Unfortunately, we are facing this critical juncture at a time when credit markets and funding sources have never been tighter and more risk averse.

A similar situation exists in the field of sustainable energy, especially where associated with agricultual endeavors. Given a choice between backing solar cell emplacements on a barn, and developing new biomass strategies, the conservative approach of existing technology has consistently won out as it presents fewer short term risks.

While the conservative approach currently in existence may seem the more moderate course of action, a mode off action that would see an increase in funding for current mechanisms and distributions, I would maintain that such a course sets us up for long term failure and continued emergency intervention as in the case of the recent dairy preservation task force activities and "bail-out".

      I believe a more fundamental approach is necessary, one where we examine what the primary goal of our activities is to be. Should one determine that the goal of agriculture considered as a system is primarily financial, that is the goal is to maximize profit at the expense of all other considerations, then we need do nothing. Indeed if this is our goal, then the closing of any farm in the state should be greeted as a sign of streamlining and greater efficiency, and activities such as preserving an existing farm should only be undertaken in the same spirit that one preserves an historic site or a re-creation.

       However if the primary goal of agriculture is to be the production of food and energy in a dramatically restructured socio-economic system than other consideration must rise to the fore, and vastly different considerations must govern how and what activities we contribute resources too. Additionally, we must take into account how differences in external factors are going to impact these structures and systems we must design and build. We must appraise new approaches and installations on the basis of long term contributions to sustainability and community. We must also look to the past, mining the best of previous systems and incorporating them where prudent.

Rather than stressing the short term financial yield, and basing the success of our programs on short term profits or improvements in profitability, this approach dictates measuring our success or failure over a longer term, and taking into account social and external factors and "expenses".

An Apology:

I realize this comes off as a rant, but it at least re-introduces me...
Hopefully the next one will be of more general interest.

Originally posted to farmerchuck on Sat Mar 28, 2009 at 12:18 PM PDT.

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