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I’m from the government, and I’m here to help

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan hosted the national board of Future Farmers of America at the White House. Reagan repeated a line he used many times in his political career: ìThe 10 most dangerous words in the English language are, ‘Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.íî The line drew a laugh from the students, just as it always did from his audiences.Government assistance and programs have helped agricultural companies and families ever since the first Farm Bill was passed during The New Deal in 1933. But gaming the system and ìgrowing for the subsidies instead of the marketî quickly influenced what farmers grew, how they grew it and how much of it they harvested. Farmers, like many entrepreneurs, are smart. Why take a risk on a different crop when they knew there was a price floor guaranteed by Uncle Sam for corn or soybeans? Why switch to organic or regenerative methods when they had subsidized crop insurance, as long as they planted and sprayed the way they were told?You can’t fault the farmers for taking advantage of the last 83 years of money available, especially when it meant the difference between passing wealth on to their children versus losing the farm during the next drought. Besides, the glut of subsidized commodity crops like corn, wheat and soybeans indeed helped America feed the world. Exporting subsidized crops at pennies on the dollar may have helped keep our allies in line and contributed to winning the Cold War.But it meant over time, healthier foods were more expensive to grow and buy, compared to subsidized crops. As movies like ìFood, Inc.î show, corn and its derivatives ended up being turned into sugars like high fructose corn syrup, fuels like ethanol and even bioplastics. Commodity crops are fed to animals, although a higher share of native grasses or other feeds would be healthier for the animals and the end consumer.These subsidies may have won the Cold War, but are they making us lose the sustainability and local food war? If subsidies were available for healthier organic crops, would a bunch of kale from Whole Foods be as cheap as a Twinkie? The reverse could also be true: Why couldn’t the next Farm Bill pull subsidies from corn and soybeans to bring high fructose corn syrup-laden foods up in price to meet their true economic cost?Since the last eight decades have shaped our agricultural system to rely on the subsidized marketplace, it would be catastrophic for our overall food infrastructure, the families behind it and the grocery store shoppers’ pocketbook to pull the subsidy rug out from under them.Small, local, organic and regenerative food producers have to get smart ñ- as smart as those ìindustrial agî producers. If you don’t want us to game the system, don’t make a system. It is up to small regenerative farmsteads and ranchers to stop complaining about the system, and work the system. Find out what resources are available, and apply them to the regenerative movement.Small farmsteads and pastured meat producers often don’t feel they have the time or resources to keep up to date on the grants available in some years and not the next. Also, the application process is long, confusing and often jargon-filled. The key is to remember that many of the programs, including the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, are aimed toward helping groups of producers or the overall local food market in a region, rather than an individual farm. Small farms can encourage the farmers markets or field-to-fork organizations they’re involved in to apply and help all the producers at the market. However, there are still other valuable programs and grants open almost every year, and they can help even the smallest Colorado farm or ranch.The Natural Resources Conservation Service branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was originally founded as the Soil Erosion Service in 1933. It helps farmers and ranchers prevent another catastrophic loss of top soil like the early 1930s Dust Bowl. The NRCS funds programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which can help with technical and financial assistance for small regenerative farms that want to install high tunnels ó large hoop-framed structures that act as unheated film-covered greenhouses. They’re frequently used by small, organic farms in Colorado to give partial protection against hail and insects, and they add a few weeks to each end of our short growing season. The structures also help the environment when used by traditional agriculture by reducing pesticide and fertilizer runoff.The Double El Soil Conservation District runs Colorado State Forest Service’s Trees for Conservation program for eastern El Paso County and parts of Elbert and Lincoln counties. The tiny seedlings that landowners can purchase through the yearly program will eventually grow into valuable windbreaks. Natural windbreaks can help place snowdrifts away from farm operations, roads and driveways. Livestock enjoy the shelter and shade while raised on pastures. And many an organic market gardener has wept bitterly after dust devils and gusty winds flattened their tomato trellises. This program and its federally subsidized cohorts throughout the great plains have allowed farmers ó industrial and micro ó to plant millions of windbreak trees since the 1930s, and have saved billions of tons of priceless topsoil.When application deadlines are so short and the process is so long, it is easy for the farmsteader to say it is not worth the time and aggravation. It becomes yet another way for them to complain that the system is rigged for larger corporate-style farms. But rebuilding the local food shed and the local soil ecology is a long-term project for us all. The financial benefits are worth it, our customers are worth it and the movement is worth it.ìThere are two great times to plant trees,î the DESCD prints on nearly every brochure. ìThe first is 20 years ago ñ- the other is now.î Indeed, the 6-inch tall seedlings are an exercise in patience and long-term planning. But to paraphrase an ancient Greek proverb, the organic and regenerative movement grows great when old men plant trees whose shade – and windbreak – they know they shall never sit in.

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