First, let me say that the article is basically a long headline. Long on buzz words but short on content.
Right off the bat, the notion that American farmers have ever “operated in a free market” leaves me scratching my head. Before 1906, that statement could only refer to property rights, as there was little in the way of a “market” outside of one’s own community.
The establishment of the Food Safety and Inspection Service had nothing to do with farmers. It was passed to protect the public from “…the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or misbranded or poisonous or deleterious foods, drugs, medicines, and liquors, and for regulating traffic therein, and for other purposes.” In brief, it reacted to the widespread commercial adulteration of foods such as the addition of water to milk or the infamous “Bread Spread” which contained no fruit and was made using coal tar, artificial pectin, flavorings and grass seed and was sold as strawberry jam. Ironically, the initial push for federal action came from farmers and manufacturers concerned with competition from inferior or low quality products.
If this is the “free market” period that Mr. Salatin celebrates as Halcyon days, he would still be incorrect concerning the life, and more often the plight, of the American farmer at the turn of the century.
The modern image of the Family Farm that we carry with us is, for the most part, an invention of Hollywood. The farm as independent, self-sustaining and self-sufficient is an image that ignores the realities of community and the basic human desire for a better life for our children. In reality the life of a small holder was often a life filled with uncertainty, punctuated with bouts of poverty held together with the hope of a better future. This is evidenced by the rapid adoption of labor saving technologies and the ready abandonment of farming in the face of outside economic opportunities such as jobs in mills and factories – a dynamic that can still be seen today around the world in developing countries.
When the subject of Martha Boneta is folded into this discussion it becomes even more apparent that what is actually being spoken of here is property not farming. To be more precise in her case the subject is contract law. Ms. Boneta purchased her land (64 ac) directly from the Piedmont Environmental Council in 2006 at which time the easements and codicils were firmly in place on 1232 contiguous acres. She paid a below market price due to the restrictions placed on it and agreed to be bound by those terms.
The fact that she began to move outside these restrictions has nothing to do with “free markets” and everything to do with contract disputes. The laws that were passed as a result of her actions/protestations serve merely to create a mediating body for future disputes among those involved in these types of easements.
Mr. Salatin and Ms. Boneta are commercial players in a commercial landscape and should be treated as any other commercial enterprise