David Hoppe

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:: Legislature gets this one right

by David Hoppe

Defeat of SJR 12, the attempt to make factory farming a constitutionally protected part of Indiana’s agriculture, shows that our state legislature can listen to reason, at least part of the time.

As Kim Ferraro, an attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council put it, the defeat of this piece of industrial-scale flim-flammery, “should demonstrate to Hoosiers, who care about the environment, safe and clean water, animal welfare, and the rights of small family farms, that their voices make a difference.”

The bill had some powerful allies. It was drafted by the corporate hacks at ALEC, the Koch Brothers-supported bill mill, which produces big business-friendly boilerplate and then sends state legislators, or lawfakers, back to their respective assemblies to propose these things as if they’d sprung organically from some felt need on the parts of their local constituents.

Except in this case, such legislation was, in fact, designed to cut local communities out of the discussion by making sure that what local communities wanted — to not have a giant hog farm stinking up the landscape and killing neighboring property values, for example — would be trumped by constitutional edict.

As it happened, the vote was 22-28, with a deep sigh or relief..

Now, perhaps, those 28 nay voters will take this opportunity to think creatively about how they can actually help make Indiana’s agricultural scene stronger.

Although the Earl Butz-inspired Big Ag advocates like the Farm Bureau are having a hard time seeing it, Indiana is actually in the midst of an agricultural renaissance. Independent farmers and entrepreneurs have been working hard — with little or no institutional support — to rebrand Indiana’s food scene from the “Get Big or Get Out” ethos of the Earl Butz era, to a model emphasizing health, local sustainability and great taste.

Instead of planting fence post to fence post, creating vast monocultural fields of soybeans and feed corn, these folks are working with hydroponics, aquaculture, urban farming and a varied menu of fruits, vegetables and meats.

Although the Big Ag folks insist “you can’t feed the world” this way, an increasing body of knowledge begs to differ. In fact, in 2013, the United Nations proclaimed that the world’s food needs can, in fact, be satisfied through local, organic farming practices (http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Paradigm_Shift_Urgently_Needed_in_Agriculture.php).

You’d think that a state that prides itself on old fashioned values like personal independence and human-crafted quality would jump at the chance to embrace the new ag movement. These people have the potential to make Indiana a major food destination at a time when food is arguably our nation’s hottest commodity, as coveted by many as the latest smart phone.

Is much of this food too expensive? Sure. But the state can help to make distribution and access to fresh, local foods easier, which can help to bring down prices, so the local pros you see at your farmers’ market can better compete with the massively subsidized out-of-state corporate growers who get preferred treatment in the supermarket.

C’mon, state legislators! You can write this bill yourselves. You’re gonna love the way that feels.