By Elizabeth Henderson
For almost five decades, organic farming associations like the Northeast Organic Farming Association, the Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association and others across the country have been dedicated to supporting and expanding the community of farmers, homesteaders and conscious eaters who build their lives and livelihoods through agroecology — growing and consuming food, forage and other crops in as much harmony with natural processes and rhythms as we can muster.
Can we find solutions?<p>"The problem that has impoverished and destroyed farmers nearly always is that of low prices resulting from surplus production," poet and environmentalist Wendell Berry <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/01/opinion/wendell-berry-agriculture-farm-bill.html" target="_blank">told</a> the New York Times in a 2018 interview. "That is also, obviously, a land-destroying problem. The only solution to that problem that can sustain the small farmers is the combination of production control and price supports as exemplified by the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association as it was reorganized in my region under the New Deal in 1941."</p>
What does production control plus price supports mean and how did it work under the New Deal?<p><br>In 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, so many family farms were going bankrupt that the federal government stepped in to help them avoid eviction and to increase prices for their crops. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) <a href="https://fraser.stlouisfed.org/archival/1341/item/457089" target="_blank">declared an economic emergency</a>, justifying action as being in "the national public interest." The AAA set out to re-establish farmers' purchasing power, taking the years just before WWI as the base period when the proper balance existed.</p><p>To raise prices for farm products, the AAA reduced the oversupply by setting limits in the form of marketing quotas on the acreage farmers could use for basic commodities, and that first year, some crops were even plowed under. There were also marketing agreements that controlled the quantity, quality, and rate of shipment to market to limit some fruit and vegetable crops. Although agribusiness successfully brought suit against the first version of this parity system, the revised approach set up by the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of February 29, 1936, proved more durable and lasted through the 1960s.</p><p>Farm income in 1935 was more than <a href="https://archive.org/stream/CAT31056120/CAT31056120_djvu.txt" target="_blank">50 percent higher</a> than farm income during 1932, due in part to the farm programs. From 1935 through 1974, legislation each year set the level of the price supports from 50 to 90 percent of parity, depending on the supply of each commodity and the changing economic conditions through the years of WWII.</p>
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