Farm Subsidies

The Problem(s) with the USDA's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food"

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In September 2009 the USDA launched its "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative to much fanfare. At the time of its launch, programs tied to the initiative instantly secured "approximately $65 million in funding," with promises to strengthen "existing programs and develop new ones."

The purpose of the initiative, the centerpiece of which is this eponymous website (which boasts the catchy and easy-to-remember URL http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/knowyourfarmer?navid=KNOWYOURFARMER), is "to pursue sustainable agriculture and support for local and regional food systems."

In actuality, the website does little more than present several lists of USDA-sponsored programs. It's hard to see how a typical consumer can benefit at all from the initiative. The one substantive portion of the site where a consumer could conceivably come to know their farmer is where the site presents a link to an existing, off-site USDA search page at which visitors can locate a Farmers' Market. Yet this is hardly a revolutionary feature, as there are already private websites like LocalHarvest and Eat Wild that have been performing similar functions for years. Many people these days also have access to Google.

For these reasons and others, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is under attack. The GOP-led House Appropriations Committee recently called out (PDF) Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food as one of "a number of unfunded mandates, overly burdensome rulemakings and various initiatives" that the USDA and other federal agencies are juggling.

And if the utility of Know Your Farmer is suspect, some of the most troubling aspects of the initiative stem from questions over its funding. The problem? No one seems to have any idea how much the initiative costs. As I noted above, the USDA itself claimed programs tied to Know Your Farmer obtained $65 million in funding at the time of the initiative's launch—with at least some of that seemingly shifted over from existing programs. But, Kathleen Merrigan, the USDA's deputy secretary of agriculture, defended the initiative's cost, saying recently it has "no office, no full-time staff and no budget."

The budget claim is simply untrue, at least according to Merrigan's employer. See, for example, this USDA press release titled "Additional $4.5 million in Funding for 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' Initiative."

Meanwhile, Tom Philpott of The Nation last week twice defended the initiative's funding as involving only "modest amounts of money," though he modestly never specifies how much money that entails. (Unhelpfully to his readers, Philpott notes that Know Your Farmer is "essentially a website" and not "just a website.")

Philpott also blasts the person leading the attack on Know Your Farmer, North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx. And from the links he provides Philpott may have a point about her. But the fact Rep. Foxx makes a detestable strawman (or strawwoman), and that fans of Know Your Farmer often rightly oppose USDA subsidies for larger farms and farmers, doesn't mean Know Your Farmer represents good policy.

These conflicting reports over the efficacy and funding of Know Your Farmer—combined with a 2009 snafu in which the USDA had to admit the agency doesn't even know how many damn employees are on its payroll—provide more than enough justification to end any funding of the initiative. If deputy secretary Merrigan is right that Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food doesn't require any taxpayer funding, then why the hell is anyone crying foul over a move that would simply ensure it doesn't spend what it doesn't need?

Baylen Linnekin is a lawyer and the executive director of Keep Food Legal, a nonprofit that promotes culinary freedom, the idea that people should be free to make and consume whatever commestibles they prefer. For more information and to join or donate, go here now.

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  1. I would like to bring the alt text to everyone's attention. It's definitely worth a mouse-over.

    1. My farmer is a pedophile.

      And he fucks sheep.

      1. "Dirty Deeds Done with Sheep" must be his favorite song.

        1. my favorite lawyer joke ever goes as follows.

          A man was arrested for fucking a goat. He went to his friend and asked if he knew any good attorneys. The friend said he knew a great trial man but he was $5000 a trial. The guy says I can't afford that. The friend says I know another guy who is only $500. And he isn't really good in court. But he knows how to pick a jury. The guy says he will go with that one.

          The trial comes. And they pick a jury. Prosecution puts up its first witness the spinster who lives next door. The spinster says "yes, I was fixing breakfast and I looked out my window and I saw that man the defendent in his back yard violating this poor goat. It was horrible. And after he was done, that goat reached around and licked his penis off. I thought I was going to barf".

          The defendent listened to the testimony and knew he had hired the right lawyer when he over head one juror tell another "you know, a good goat will do that."

          I will be here all weeek.

          1. You're a great audience.

            Try the veal.

          2. Too predictable to be all that funny.

  2. We need more Foxxes in the USDA's taxpayer's farm house.

    'Know Your Farmer' sarts with follow the cash.

    1. A man was arrested for fucking a goat. He went to his friend and asked if he knew any good attorneys. The friend said he knew a great trial man but he was $5000 a trial. The guy says I can't afford that. The friend says I know another guy who is only $500. And he isn't really good in court. But he knows how to pick a jury. The guy says he will go with that one.
      @ I paid $32.67 for a XBOX 360 and my mom got a 17 inch Toshiba laptop for $94.83 being delivered to
      our house tomorrow by FedEX. I will never again pay expensive retail prices at stores. I even sold a
      46 inch HDTV to my boss for $650 and it only cost me $52.78 to get. Here is the website we using to get
      all this stuff, BetaSell.com

  3. Sorry for the threadjack. But this is hysterical.

    http://stuffexpataidworkerslike.com/

    1. I like all that stuff too.

      I guess I shoulda been an ex-pat aid worker.

      1. I hope you can grow a better beard than the dude in the picture.

      2. and actully I do too. and i would love to be an expat aide worker. But I could never lie to myself and think I was doing it for any other reason than to make money and have fun.

  4. Plus it fails to acknowledge that the biggest impediment to knowing your farmer and your food is the government itself.

    If you don't believe me ask a raw milk dairy...

  5. I love that "sustainable agriculture" is used to describe agricultural practices that would lead to either the destruction of most of the world's forests to have enough arable land or the starvation of a great deal of the world's population.

    1. Reminds me of the Mini-Cooper I saw here in Michigan. It had the bumper sticker "Support your local farms."

      Farms are ok, but not the evil factories.

    2. That's a feature to them, not a bug.

    3. Technically, 'sustainable' doesn't necessarily mean organic. Though I suspect most of the advocates don't know that.

      It would be interesting to see if you could prove what method of agriculture is objectively the most sustainable, allowing all agricultural practices a fair shake.

      My educated guess is that it would turn out to also be the one that maximizes the long term profitiability of the farm.

  6. Everyone should have access to their own farmer like they have their own doctor, dentist, clergy.

    1. I have to make appointments with my doctor, dentist and weed guy(closest I have to clergy). I guess I only rent them.

      1. weed guy(closest I have to clergy)

        "What's it all mean, Jesus? Why are we here? What's our role in the world, and does anything we do really matter?"

        "No habla Inglis, Senor Brandon." (goes back to spraying weeds)

        "I really enjoy our little talks, Jesus."

      2. Entirely different kind of weed guy.

  7. I know my farmer. It's Dow Chemical.

    1. Montsanto

      1. I'm a Monsanto girl myself. Fuck the retards, GMOs are going to save the planet.

        1. I don't know about that, but they definitely aren't going to cause me genetic damage. Although it might be nice to be immune to Round Up.

        2. I agree about GMOs. But I will still continue to eat locally produced, often organic food because it tastes better.

          1. The organic seems irrelevant. The not-picked-early-for-long-distance-shipping element is relevant.

        3. FRANKENFOOD!

  8. But, Kathleen Merrigan, the USDA's deputy secretary of agriculture, defended the initiative's cost, saying recently it has "no office, no full-time staff and no budget."

    So that's $65 million dollars for 0 jobs created or saved making it infinity dollars per job created. Or slightly better than the stimulus.

    1. so does that mean this office is shovel ready?

  9. The girls that runs the Smoothie stand at the Lexington Farmer's Market is the hottest female I have ever seen in the flesh. That is all.

    1. Siamese twins?

      1. I wish. It's just that I cannot fucking type today. Maybe something is wrongs with my brains.

        1. Not a typo, as I happen to know that you are Dr. Hfuhruhurr, experimenting with two brains in your condo.

          1. Guards! Seize him!

            1. Dr. Necessiter: As you know, my research has advanced to a point where I can put her mind into the body of a gorilla.

              Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: I couldn't fuck a gorilla.

              1. Guards?

                1. It's hard to get good help these days.

                  1. I have trouble hiring good minions these days...

  10. In September 2009 the USDA launched its "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative to much fanfare.

    Yet, somehow, I missed it.

    1. Do you think by "know" they mean the biblical use of the word?

    2. The USDA can recoup the sunken cost of developing a web site no one visits by paying me to advance their website link on the searches for "food", "farmer", "dirt", "shovel", "tomato", "fertilizer", and "girls".

      1. If they wants the hits, they needs the "naked".

  11. "to pursue sustainable agriculture and support for local and regional food systems."

    No definition of "sustainable", and absolutely no suggestion why support for local 'food systems' is worth a penny.
    Neither rhyme nor reason.

  12. Tom Philpott is a huge dork.

  13. Do apiarists count as farmers? Because I am hoping to know one biblically very shortly.

    1. The USDA is pleased!

      1. 6/28 at 3.14. Nice. Tau and Pi. I'm such a nerd.

        1. Do I win something for doing that? Like power over the circle or something of that nature? Behold He Who Exerts Dominion Over All Things Circular!

          1. I have a nice but worthless Star Trek figurine.

            1. I accept!

              1. Is it a Wesley Crusher figurine? If so, I'll send you enough money for postage, at least.

                I have a blender on its last legs, and would like to break it with another useless object.

                  1. My four-year old daughter loves Data! She was telling my wife--I was at work--that an airplane she saw at the airport was too heavy to pick up. Well, too heavy for us, but not for Mr. Data.

                    I've been watching ST:TNG on DVDs from the library for some months now, and it's one of the few non-kid shows she likes to watch with me.

    2. "Hey, baby... can I put my penis in your ovipositor?"

      1. I never ask for kinky stuff the first time.

        1. I guess you are just going to shit on her chest then.

          1. Miss. You should've said "pollinate on her chest."

            1. I am assuming that Brett is no a bee. Do you know something I don't, pervert?

              1. I'm no pervert, but I know this: Bees make the best apiarists.

          2. Is that normal between cousins?

            1. Because we aren't related, and excrement is a little intimate for the first time.

    3. Is "apiarist" a euphemism for something I don't want to know about?

      1. No, I'm using it in the traditional sense. Beekeeper.

          1. I see what you did there.

  14. But the fact Rep. Foxx makes a detestable strawman (or strawwoman), and that fans of Know Your Farmer often rightly oppose USDA subsidies for larger farms and farmers, doesn't mean Know Your Farmer represents good policy.

    It's not a strawman, because Foxx really does exist. The fallacy you're referring to is an ad hominem attack.

    1. Wait a second. Redd Foxx is in Congress? That's so awesome! I thought he was dead!

  15. Entirely different kind of weed guy.

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