By KEN MULLER
For the Capital Press
On Feb. 28 in Corvallis, Ore., over 70 farmers and ranchers, representing communities from across the state of Oregon, came together to take back agriculture.
This was a meeting of the first annual Farmer and Rancher Delegation, hosted by Friends of Family Farmers. Together the delegates drafted the Agricultural Reclamation Act for Oregon, a road map for future food and agricultural policy that prioritizes family-scale farms and ranches, food security and rural economic viability.
Despite diverse backgrounds and agricultural philosophies, the delegates were unanimous in agreeing that the status quo is not working.
Without drastic and immediate change, we risk losing many of Oregon's current farmers and ranchers and driving away those young entrepreneurs who would be the future of agriculture. The existing rules and regulations pertaining to food and agriculture in Oregon are set up to be "one-size fits all," meaning that family-scale farms and ranches are subject to many of the exact same regulations that are required of industrial-style farms.
We would never require a bicyclist to have a commercial driver's license to share the road with an 18-wheeler. Yet that's what we do when it comes to regulating Oregon's farms and ranches.
Regardless of whether it's meat, cheese or vegetables, regulatory roadblocks interfere with the relationships between producers and consumers and make it difficult to get food from our farms and ranches to the people who want it.
We understand that some regulation is necessary to ensure food safety and security, but argue that the safest, most secure food is that which is produced closest to home by farmers who must answer for it.
In our case, unless we put our animals through the stress of hauling them several hundred miles from our farm in Southern Oregon to the nearest USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, we cannot sell our beef or pork by the cut. In order to obtain a single 100 percent grass-fed steak from an animal killed in a stress-free environment on the farm, a customer must purchase an entire live animal or a share ... .
If we want to sell someone a dressed chicken or Thanksgiving turkey, we must either build our own Oregon Department of Agriculture-approved slaughtering facility or break the law.
For too long politicians have paid lip service to supporting small farmers, the often-cited "rural backbone of America," while instituting policies that favor large-scale agribusiness and make it difficult for the small farmer to survive.
We don't want subsidies, handouts, favors or even sympathy. We are simply looking to reclaim what should be the right of every American: to produce and consume the food we want.
The work in Oregon is the first of its kind, and provides a unique perspective to the growing national food movement that is focused on vitality and cultural connectivity.
A final version of the Agricultural Reclamation Act will be approved and made public in May. Get your pitchforks ready and stay tuned for how you can sign on and be a part of changing the future of food and agricultural policies in Oregon.
Ken Muller is a member of Friends of Family Farmers and the owner of Rogue Valley Brambles, a pasture-based family farm in Talent, Ore.