The Local Farm, Food and Jobs Act – why it’s so important

Local Farm, Food, and Jobs Act Press Conference with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree
Jordan’s Farm, 21 Wells Road, Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107-9702
October 24, 2011 at 12:00 Noon
Remarks by Warren Knight, Smiling Hill Farm

Good Afternoon.

My name is Warren Knight and I am speaking today on behalf of my family and our extended family, our
wonderful employees, who live and work at Smiling Hill Farm. I was thrilled to be invited to attend today and
honored to be asked to speak as this is an issue that has defined our family farm’s existence. The local food
movement.

It is no exaggeration to say that without the local food movement, Smiling Hill Farm would not exist today. We
only survive because of our loyal, local customers who visit our farm and buy our products. We were once one
of many other small farms that surrounded Portland. But sadly, most of those farms, our past neighbors and
friends, did not survive to see this day, to experience the recent resurgence and appreciation of local agriculture.
Smiling Hill Farm’s history is long and mirrors that of many other New England farmsteads. Our ancestors
arrived in Scarborough in the 1600’s and began to eak out a living in this new world. Smiling Hill Farm has always
been a diversified farm with livestock and crops producing food, fiber and even fuel as we cut cord-wood
in the wintertime.

About the time of the Civil War, our farm began specializing in dairy and we delivered milk door to door in
Portland until the advent of the big dairy processors. Milk, like so many other food products, became a commodity
and we began selling our milk in bulk, with other farmers, to a dairy processor who packaged and distributed
it. Our farm became just another anonymous provider of a bulk commodity. We toiled, disconnected
from the very people who consumed what we worked so hard to produce.

This situation continued until the early 1980’s when rising costs and lower returns forced many small farms out
of existence in our region. “Economies of Scale” was the buzz-word of the agriculture-economists at the time,
you have to grow larger to survive. More mechanization, higher yields, greater production, become a factory
farm they said.

Of course that didn’t work for many small farms, including ourselves. We don’t have vast tracts of flat land to
exploit. Our diverse New England terrain with streams and brooks created naturally small acreages that had to
be managed uniquely. We couldn’t compete with the large flat farms located elsewhere.
At that point, Smiling Hill Farm reversed course and started again to sell products directly to the public. We
became part of the local food movement. This was a tremendous risk for us at the time, 1983. We started by
churning our own ice cream and selling it seasonally at a small stand on the farm.

When we saw that people actually would come to visit the farm we took the next step to pasteurize and bottle
our own fluid milk, churning our own butter and making our own cheese and yogurt. We continue to make
and sell our products locally and we also offer our small creamery to other farms to use. We had additional
capacity at our facility which we extended to dairy farmers. We shared our dairy plant with these farmers who
either didn’t have the time, or personnel or expertise or capital to invest in their own facility. These farmers
bring their milk to us, we pasteurize, homogenize and bottle their milk in their bottles and they take the finished
bottled milk back to their farms to sell and distribute directly.

This sharing of a resource works to the benefit of both Smiling Hill Farm and the other dairy farmers who get to
sell their products directly to the public and participate fully in the local food movement.
In addition to having a direct positive economic benefit to small farms like ours, the local food movement works
on so many other levels;

The environment, food safety, food security, health, economic development and sustainability,
First, the environmental benefits of a local food movement are numerous. Local foods are consumed locally
and therefore have immediate savings from transportation costs and fossil fuel use. Local foods require less
processing, and therefore require less energy to produce. Local foods also require less packaging which means
less trash. Less styrofoam, cardboard and plastic.

In the case of Smiling Hill Farm, we bottle milk in reusable glass bottles. Not merely returnable, or recyclable,
BUT fully reusable. We take the bottles back, clean and sterilize them and reuse them. This can ONLY be accomplished
locally. Returnable reusable packaging doesn’t work on a national or even regional level where disposable
one-way packaging is the norm. Reusable bottles can be used hundreds of times and displace hundreds
of plastic cartons that clog up landfills. Reusable packaging is only viable with a local food movement where
processing, packaging and consumption all happen in close proximity.

A local food movement also acts as a buffer against sprawl. Local agriculture means that open space/green
space/land under cultivation is preserved by allowing local farmers to survive and thrive. Municipalities and
states needn’t spend precious resources (tax dollars) preserving open space if local agriculture is encouraged to
thrive. The small farm that can produce an income will preserve itself. The local food movement helps make
that happen.

The local food movement is a movement that is primarily fueled by small farms and thereby encourages more
sustainable agriculture practices. In addition to embracing organic standards, small farms reject monoculture
and embrace genetic diversity. Small local farms will select and cultivate those varieties that will respond best
to the local climate, the local soils and the local preferences. Greater genetic diversity helps protect our crops
from susceptibility to a single disease, insect or weather event.

Small farms can practice crop rotation since they are not overly mechanized and invested or reliant upon a single
vegetable or grain. Crop rotation acts as a natural deterrent to predatory insects and diseases and therefore
less pesticides, less herbicides, less fertilizers are required. The constantly changing crop doesn’t allow time for
the soil to be depleted of particular nutrients (that have to be replaced artificially) nor allow time for predetory
insects or crop diseases to gain a foothold.

All of these things have a direct positive benefit to the environment and are helped by a local food movement.

Another benefit of local food is Food safety. This is a BIG one. Every month seems to bring to our attention
another horror story of a food borne illness. Most recently cantaloupes. Earlier this summer it was bean-sprouts
in Europe in the news. Unfortunately the effects of any food bourne illness is amplified in todays distribution
and processing marketplace where vast quantities of a single food item are processed in a single location. These
massive factories of food have provided cost savings for the processors due BUT have had a real negative effect
as any food borne contamination is quickly spread to multiple states as a single factory produces products under
many brand-names and private labels and distributes across a continent.

Epidemiologists are frequently stymied by these multi-state outbreaks where vast distribution networks mask
the origin of a contaminated food. In contrast, the local food movement by connecting the consumer directly to
the farm creates an easily identifiable route to trace any food product and quickly identify and correct problems.
Although a local food producer is not immune from the same potential contamination issues that may plague a
large national processor, with the local food movement any problem is local and contained, and the population
at risk can be minimized.

The local food movement also acts as a buffer for food security. Numerous small farms lessen the threat of an
attack on our food supply by multiplying the number of locations and decreasing the size of potential targets.
Think about it, if the majority of a particular food is processed at a single location, then the potential for a successful
disruption of that food source is greatly amplified and made a much more attractive target to terrorists.
By contrast, the local food movement by being small, diverse and widespread presents a much less attractive
target.

I also want to mention health in relations to local foods. Foods consumed locally often require less processing
because they don’t have to keep as long (also known as shelf-life) nor travel as far. They are fresher and
more nutritious because they are not adulterated with preservatives to allow transport to distant markets without
spoilage. Foods that are consumed locally allow farmers greater flexibility in selecting varieties that consumers
enjoy. Farmers can select a variety based upon taste rather then settleing for a variety based on resistantance to
bruising during long distance transport.

There is no ignoring the epidemic of childhood obesity that is sweeping our nation. Let’s face facts, one reason
kids (& adults) don’t eat more fruits and vegetables is taste. If they tasted better, kids would eat more of
them. Fruits and vegatables should be harvested at their peak when the natural sugars have fully matured in the
ripened fruit. Today most crops are harvested prematurely to allow for the delay in shipping to distant markets.
That stuff tastes like carboard and kids don’t like it. If we instead offer people food harvested at its peak maturity
it will taste better and people will eat more of it.

Speaking of this I would like to recommend a recent book that addresses just this scenario, the book written by
Barry Estabrook is called Tomatoland: and it has the very appropriate subtitle “How modern industrial agriculture
destroyed our most alluring fruit.” Mr. Estabrook documents how the tomato species most prevalent in our
supermarkets has became a beautifully-shaped gorgeous red-colored orb with a thick skin and absolutely NO
TASTE.

In a nutshell, it’s because we moved away from local agriculture. We let packaging and transportation dictate
the selection of our fruits and vegatables. That is NOT the criteria we should be using. We should use flavor,
we should use local viability (how a specific variety actually grows,unenhanced, in our local environment). If
people can eat a tomato that is hours from the vine rather than weeks, it can make a difference in food preferences
and food choices. The local food movement allows this.

Closely related to health and a healthy lifestyle are opportunities for recreation. More suburban farms, more
open space and more potential for recreation. Coincidently, this afternoon Smiling Hill Farm is hosting a
middle-school cross-country track meet. But I am back to the benefits of open-space and the issue of sprawl
that relates to livability and healthy lifestyles. Open space is green space, and green space is a carbon sink that
absorbs CO2. Another environmental issue. Do you see how all these wonderful things are woven together.
Fresh food, fresh air, local foods It all works!
 

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