18 October 2013

Debunking the Urban Farm Myths

Small, independent, and/or family-owned farms – both in urban and rural areas – are the solution to the problems that giant agribusinesses like Monsanto have created. The agribusiness operations, while creating cheap food (enabled by government subsidies), cause numerous problems, including: pollution of our air and water, abuse of workers (especially undocumented immigrants and migrant workers), inhumane treatment of animals, growing numbers of foodborne illness outbreaks, and the unlabeled sale of genetically engineered foods.

In contrast, small farms raise food in an ethical and healthy manner. But the cost to the small farms is significant, and they have been slowly driven out by our government policies. Since 1935, we have lost 2/3 of the farmers in this country. (See: http://www.taxpayer.net/library/article/corporate-consolidation-in-agriculture-fact-sheet). Small farms are and should be appropriately regulated – but they also need to be supported so that we have healthy, safe food raised with respect for workers, the environment, and animals.

Below are a few of the myths that have been circulating regarding urban farms in East Austin, along with facts stating the truth. All facts have been researched and confirmed. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or message me at alexandra AT rootspr DOT com.

Myth #1: East Austin urban farmers pay their staff below minimum wage.
FACT: Federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour. The four urban farms in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood pay workers between $9.50 and $18.00 an hour. (Note: This is one of the reasons that their prices are higher than grocery store prices – along with the fact that their farming is not subsidized by the government, which only subsidizes corporate agriculture/agribusiness, and the fact that small farmers are already subject to many costly regulations.)

Myth #2: East Austin urban farmers are taking away land from neighborhood citizens.
FACT: Boggy Creek and Springdale have been in East Austin for 21 years, Rain Lily opened 10 years ago, and HausBar bought their property 4 years ago. The four farms make up a combined 15 acres out of the East Austin area over a span of 21 years. The farmers live in the residences on each property as part of the community.

Myth #3: If we allowed the proposed urban farm ordinance to pass, we're going to see a whole bunch more urban farms taking over East Austin.
FACT: Farming is far from lucrative – for some it means operating at a loss – and it certainly isn't easy. Most farmers work from sun up through sun down, seven days a week, 365 days of the year…rain, shine, heat, or freeze. Because it’s not a well-paying line of work (without benefits or health insurance), most farmers need a second source of income in order to stay in business.

Myth #4: The proposed urban farm ordinance allows for the "decaying of body parts."
FACT: Any processing of animals would have to be done in accordance with the state health regulations, which do not allow for carcasses to be left around decaying. What HausBar was doing was a controlled composting process. Moreover, in order to address neighbors’ concerns, HausBar has already committed to using a commercial composting service from now on so that they can avoid any possibility of creating an odor nuisance for their neighbors.

Myth #5: HausBar Farms was processing animals illegally.
FACT: HausBar has been licensed by the Texas Department of State Health Services to process poultry and rabbit since 2010.

Myth #6: There is a "stench" from HausBar 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
FACT: HausBar was processing and composting for 2 years before anyone complained. After the complaint from their neighbor, multiple different City of Austin Departments visited and inspected the farm. “Without exception, these inspectors stated that they detected no unpleasant odors coming from the farm,” said Dorsey Barger, co-owner and resident of HausBar Farms.

Myth #7: The urban farm ordinance will allow urban farms to proceed without regulations.
FACT: Urban farms are already highly regulated – and they will continue to be regulated – by the following departments: City or Austin Code Compliance, Health and Human Services, Austin Water Utility, Watershed Protection, Planning and Development Land Use Review, and more. The new ordinance deals with zoning only, and it does not get rid of any other regulations.

Myth #8: Organic food grown/raised by urban farms is for trendy and elite people.
FACT: As long as we don't support our local food movement – which includes urban farms – organic and sustainably grown food will continue to be expensive. The government subsidizes industrially produced food – grown with chemicals – which pollutes our environment and hurts the people working on those farms and facilities. The more we can do to challenge the corporate food system, the more local food will become more available everywhere, and therefore less expensive. This change will not happen overnight, but if we don't do something to change it, it will stay that way.

About the blogger, Alexandra M. Landeros:
Alexandra grew up in the United States and Mexico and has lived in South Austin since 1998. Becoming unemployed in 2012, due to layoffs, she started freelancing, mainly working in the local food movement to help protect small, independent farmers. This aligned with the changes she had made in the way she ate and viewed food. After not having had health insurance since 2006 (and still not insured), and going through various health problems, she began eating primarily locally, seasonally, and sustainably grown food. Her health improved, and her journey continues. She has also worked with various Latino nonprofit organizations in Austin (Latino HealthCare Forum, Manantial de Salud, Serie Project, and Las Comadres para las Americas).

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