For Minnesotans the true Rite of Spring is planting season — even if the experience is remembered or vicarious. Planting season with real farmers on real tractors with genetically un-modified seeds, rotated crops and other practices that promote sustainable agricultural systems. Happily, nostalgia is giving way to reality as urban farming, farm to home, and farmers market programs and locavore cuisine raise the profile of family farming and the role that family farmers play in growing nutritious food to feed a hungry world — while protecting the environment and preserving the land.
Still, conspicuously absent from the mainstream headlines is the news that 2014 is International Year of Family Farming! This global effort aims to reposition family farming at the center of agricultural, environmental and social politics “by identifying gaps and opportunities to promote a shift towards a more equal and balanced development.”
IYFF offers the chance for a global conversation among family farmers and, even more, among those working outside the agriculture sector, to creatively re-think the central role, strength, and challenges to the family farm. Planners encourage policy makers to think systemically – to connect the dots that link family farming with the organic whole in which family farming is an essential player – the environment, economic development, sociological, cultural and community ties.
Who should celebrate the International Year of Family Farming? This is, after all, an international initiative, promoted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in particular. At the global level, attention is understandably on the mega-issues – addressing world hunger, building strong economies in third world countries, promoting sustainable agriculture. The UN website describes an ambitious vision and sets the context.
Still, for Minnesotans, family farming is a local issue that invites individual and organizational attention. Close to home, who has a stake in the celebration of the IYFF? Everyone, of course:
- Anyone or any organization that cares even peripherally about safe food or the environment
- Educators and educational institutions that shape both the opportunities and the attitudes of youth
- Local newspapers and the advertisers that support their role as the connectors of the community
- Urban oriented media that need to go on the road not just for features and oddities (fun as they are) but for hard news and news analysis.
- Government agencies that gather and manage data – if it’s not counted, it doesn’t count when resources are allocated or services delivered.
- The faith community whose rural presence is precarious at best.
- Proponents of broadband — though there’s been a lot of talk and action, there’s not been a so much talk about or engagement of small and family farmers
- Obviously, family farming matters to each of us because we all care about land preservation, clean water and air, safe food, the state economy, the welfare of all Minnesotans…
Bottom line — focus on family farming deserves to be moved to the front burner. The voices of family farmers must be heard in every discussion. The data needed to reflect the reality. The environment, the economy, the story of Minnesota’s heritage depend on our collective awareness and understanding of family farming as a core value.
The International Year of Family Farming offers Minnesotans a push to get up and do what needs to be done to understand and preserve our proud heritage.
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