This week we’re hosting Alternative Spring Break students from Xavier University, Ohio at our River Farm. For years now, 10-12 earnest college students arrive like migrating songbirds -- a mix of majors and experiences -- eager to help on the farm and learn how they can make a difference.
Most have never worked on a farm. Most can’t explain thedifference between organic and conventional systems. But they do know they wantmore fairness, they want to make more local food available to all.
We take them in hand, guiding them from the ground up. Thisis how to plant potatoes, to gather scraps to build an animal shelter orcompost pile. As they immerse themselves in the life of the farm, we help themsort farming fact from fiction.
They share what excites them about the local food movement – Stone Barns in New York (https://www.stonebarnscenter.org/the-farm/), documentaries like SuperSizeMe, aquaponic farms endorsed by pretty celebrities. We nod, smile. Explain that not every farm has access has to Rockefeller funds like Stone Barns and yes, documentaries are important, but what sustainable farmers need most is action.
For all the talk of new technologies and storybook farmsettings, none of it amounts to much when the rules don’t allow a farmer to succeed.After investing 13 years into starting urban and rural farms, Skip and I havefirsthand experience with the obstacles small family farmers must overcome inboth settings.
That’s why Farmer Skip is taking time tomorrow to share our experience with elected rulemakers at a hearing at the Legislature. Over the years, he and I have both testified to committees about laws that must be changed. Thankfully, FARFA (http://farmandranchfreedom.org/), an organization that works on behalf of small farmers in Texas, does the groundwork to ensure that Skip can share our experience – this time about taxes.
People assume that farms growing food for humans usingsustainable methods are taxed as farms. They are not. For years, our farm wasnot given an agricultural valuation primarily because Texas farms are definedby cattle. Simply put: You run cattle,you get a tax break even if you are not a farmer. You grow food for humans,your property is not considered farmland.
As a result our tax bill has been more than four times higher than it should be for years. Thisis just one example of how our money (and time spent on appeals) has beenwasted. I’ve also wasted time beingangry, fuming about how that money could have been used to build a barn, fillthe potholes in our road or upgrade our irrigation system.
Cursing the way things are and wishing for better equity andfood access, won’t make local food grow. The only thing that will is whenfarmers have rules that work with them, not against them.
This week, there are several EASY ways you can help yourlocal farmer. Read this and take action;http://farmandranchfreedom.org/two-priority-bills-head-to-committee-this-week-in-texas/