What North Carolina Eats

When doing research into rural issues earlier this year I had started to take a look at farming in North Carolina. As a student at NC State, where the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is still one of the university's biggest colleges, and where our Veterinary schools is considered one of the best in the nation, I know how important farms are.

Without farms we don't eat. It is as simple as that. And while research is being done to investigate "vertical farming" for our increasingly urban and suburban society, we must continue to focus on rural communities.

Let us begin by looking at some statistics surrounding farms in North Carolina.

According to census figures, in North Carolina, of the over 31 million acres in our state, just under 30% of land is currently in use as a farm. Now, not all North Carolina farms are producing food, with almost 30% being used as woodland. However, as of 2002 North Carolina had almost 5.5 million acres of crop land in our state.

In 2005, North Carolina produced (by value) 37% of the tobacco in the United States. North Carolina farmers produced 14% of US hogs, 11% of US broilers, and 15.5% of all US turkeys. In terms of exports, North Carolina ranks 12th for US states exporting food. But, we ranked #2 in tobacco, #3 in poultry and related products and #4 in live animals and meat.

The recent surveys paint a not very happy figure for rural North Carolina. Between the 1980 and 2000 censuses, NC's rural population grew by a half million people. By contrast, our urban population grew by 2 and a half million, and estimates indicate that between 2000 and 2007 our state's Urban population has grown as much as the rural population grew between all 1980 and 2007.

Our state's farmers are in tough shape. In 2000, 59.5% of the rural population over the age of 25 had either dropped out of high school or only completed high school. That is over 12 percentage points higher than the urban population. Consistently, rural areas in our state have had unemployment rates over a point higher than urban areas, with only half of the job growth.

According to the 2002 census, almost 80% of farms in North Carolina have less than 50,000 dollars in receipts every year. But, the numbers look even worse if you delve a little deeper. The average farmer in North Carolina is over 56 years old. If the current trend continues by 2040 the average age of a farmer in North Carolina will be 65.

As our technology has increased the amount farmers can charge for their work shrinks more and more. This is a huge problem, when you consider that 58.7% of NC farmers have farming as their primary occupation. Rural America needs our help.

One of the big problems with this economic situation is the question of immigration. On the one hand, migrant workers are essential to farming these days. A recent press release from the conservative NC Farm Bureau cites a self commissioned study that indicates an immigration bill based soley on enforcement (what Duncan Hunter and Elizabeth Dole want) would cost North Carolina farmers $260 million annually. However, an immigration bill that goes too far could create a permanent underclass.

The situation that many of these migrant workers, and owners of small farms, find themselves in is one of poverty. When we talk about poverty, most people think inner cities. But, increasingly, we are learning that poverty is as much, if not more, of a problem in rural America. Just take a look at these two maps.

The first is a map of counties in North Carolina, designating each as being urban or rural.

The second is a map of counties in North Carolina, with the percent of each county that is in poverty.

Its not just about farmers, and its not just about poverty. Rural America is in trouble. Take a look at this page, discussing doctors in America.

Differences in Physician Population by Location
1995 Active Physicians Per 100,0005
Large metro areas...................................................304
Small metro areas...................................................235
>10,000 persons & adjacent to large metro.............123
>10,000 & adjacent to small metro.........................123
>10,000 & not adjacent to metro............................168
2,500-10,000 & not adjacent to metro......................88
2,500 & not adjacent to metro..................................53

In rural America, health care really is about access. Not access to insurance, but the ability to even find a doctor.

Its also about education.

Rural schools serve over 40 percent of our nation’s students, but receive only 22 percent of federal education funding. NEA is working with Congressional leaders to alleviate this disparity in funding.

All of these issues added together place an even greater strain on our societal safety nets. In rural America the costs of providing certain services can often be larger. While the cost of living is generally lower in rural areas, the nature of those areas require that greater distances must be travelled. While the inner city poor are often able to rely upon public transportation, poor Americans who live in rural areas must either buy a car or rely upon the kindness of others. While this might mean less in terms of rent, it means more in terms of gas and car maintenance.

We must solve the problems faced by rural America. We must protect the family farm. The man I support for President has some ideas, but even in all of my research I am still at a loss for what to do. Rural America has been under siege for 80 years, and they need our help. This isnt just about small incremental changes to farm bills. This is about significant, systematic change in our country.

We will not fix the crises faced by rural families with small "farm bills" and the ilk. We need to change the way our country thinks about Poverty, the way we think about Rural issues, and how we think about Health Care.

What else can you do?

You can follow Kirk's lead and only buy local.
You can use this link to find growers close to you.
You can also buy organic. However, your ability to know what foods are organic and which are not is increasingly threatened. Find out more here.
An important thing to do is to support organizations dedicated to protecting family farms, like Family Farm Defenders and the National Family Farm Coalition.
On another front, you can help groups that work for family farmers and work against CAFTA and NAFTA, which have further hurt family farms. Groups such as the Citizens Trade Campaign or the National Farmers Union.

Once again. No Farms No Food. Educate yourself about rural America, take the big steps, take the small steps and help out the men and women who feed us.


Bookmarked already`

I'm out most of today, but I look forward to coming back and reading this cover-to-cover.

Nice work.

Have a good one....

I'm in and out, but have a little something to post.

Nice work Blue....I also will read more thoroughly in a bit. Getting ready for a work crew at the house.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

its a little long

and it could be 5 times this length.

I hope its not too long to get attention at DailyKos. We shall see.

Draft Brad Miller-- NC Sen ActBlue

"Keep the Faith"

Rob and I have been buying locally

for a while now. We both grew up in very rural areas and our folks always had family gardens and folks tended to swap produce. Neither one of us is terribly impressed with that cardboard, non-nutritious, bred-for-shipping crap you get from Big Agro. Archer-Daniels-Midland and Cargill are major consumers of tax dollars in government handouts, yet they can't produce a single product worth eating. Worse, these two consume such a quantity of subsidies that the local farmer simply cannot survive.

GLBT people have been practicing "keeping dollars in the family" for a couple of decades now. Rob and I believe in keeping our money (hence our neighbors' jobs) close to home. We certainly can't trust the government with our money, since they throw it at the hyper-wealthy who don't need it and deny it to the ones who are giving the most. Buying local is the only way for consumers and the small farmer to survive.

As for me, I'm hoping for some success with my blackberries. That's a three-year wait until the canes get up to speed, then it's 40 gallons per plant per year (I now have 14, soon to double within a year.) Next year, we're starting a stand of Moso bamboo for an easily-renewable wood source. Ever seen that beautiful bamboo-wood flooring? That's where it comes from. Moso is great soil-renewer and a copious producer of oxygen. The land we live on now has been so abused for so long, we're doing everything we can do to restore it... and still keep the lights on and eat in the meantime.

T'ain't easy when you're starting out broke.

Half the trick is finding crops you can manage to keep up with and ones that won't damage the land you've got to work with. That's where big agro really screws the pooch. ADM and Cargill don't mind polluting the livin' thit out of the ground and the water. Honestly, it doesn't take much more effort to effort to farm organically -- but corporate laziness and greed prevail in a Republican-controlled climate (sigh).

Thanks for the localharvest link! Rob's already networking in our county.

"The most unamerican thing you can say is 'You can't say that'" - G. Keillor

(PS: If anyone knows of a tiller cheap-or-free, send me a PM! :-) )

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
Mohandas Gandhi

One thing you said

is a big problem.

"T'ain't easy when you're starting out broke."

Simple supply and demand dictates that local, healthy foods are often more expensive. If a family is struggling to pay rent and medical bills, are they going to drive 5 miles to buy organic or are they going to drive a half mile and buy the cheapest thing they can find at the grocery store?

Draft Brad Miller-- NC Sen ActBlue

"Keep the Faith"

A lot of times that depends

on taste. There are a lot of folks my age who remember what real food tastes like. They may not buy organic every time (gas, time and money being in ever-shorter supply), but certainly there's enough demand to keep us in butter-and-egg money. How often have you had a taste for strawberries, especially when the sign is out by the road saying "we've got real ones, ripe now"? Or blackberries? Or peaches? Man, when I want a peach, I want a real one, not some chunk of inedible cardboard, hybridized to tastelessness to survive shipping from South America.

Or maybe that's just me. But I want my food to taste like food, not like the container it got shipped in. Most of the produce I see in supermarkets, well, I'd rather eat the container. I'm pretty sure I'm not completely alone in this.

I think the important things are to find an unoccupied niche in your area, fill it without killing yourself or the land, provide a product that health-conscious people will want -- and most of all -- network with your small-farm neighbors. Luckily, this is NC where folks are more wont to cooperate, unlike some areas of the country I've lived where folks would cut your throat and laugh. There's a chance to have success here; I think those who can should make the most of it.

Admittedly, I'm extremely lucky to find and get into a place where I can make the most of it. But there again, I'm getting good advice from neighbors' experiences. Small-farming isn't for everyone -- there's some real sweat-equity that goes into it. Rarity, variety and quality of the crops in an area are all factors in developing demand.

I'm not looking to whup the world and I would think neither are my cohorts. Most of us just want decent, edible food at a reasonable price. PS: Barter is a good thing -- a very good thing. Our forefathers settled this land on it and it may be our survival if the hot air suddenly leaves Wall Street on its ass (which I believe is liable to happen). It's not JUST about the money -- its about having something of value.

"The most unamerican thing you can say is 'You can't say that'" - G. Keillor

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
Mohandas Gandhi


run a campaign for fresh blueberries"

I dont even buy strawberries in Raleigh because they are so tasteless.

Draft Brad Miller-- NC Sen ActBlue

"Keep the Faith"

Come Help, Please!

There are real farmers in the comments!

I'm running out of opinions!

Where are Susan and parm, and Doris? ( I know - they're working )

We each do what we do according to our gifts.

Throw it a rec if you have time. ((hugs))

Are We Moving Up or Down, Blue?

on the list, that is. I can't tell.

Oh. This is so important. I mean all of our problems are but damn. Farmers are out in the field. LITERALLY. They don't have time to swap ideas and get busy agitating and activating.

My heart so breaks for them. That's why I was so heavy into the OLF. Yes, pilot safety. But I really got mad on the farmers behalf and the more I thought about it ....


I have to go right now .... but like the Terminator says....

I'll be back.

I think

it is off the most recent list. But about 30 recommends and over a hundred comments, so Im happy.

Plus I got a really good idea for the next diary. Oooh on the rec list, I wonder if it will stay up!

Draft Brad Miller-- NC Sen ActBlue

"Keep the Faith"

If You're Happy, I'm Happy

Let's see if we can get farmerchuck happy, too.

That would take a miracle. Good thing I believe in them, isn't it? ;)

Just finished reading...

...your entire post and thread at Kos. So much great information, links and personal stories. My lunchtime well spent. Thanks for such a great post.

Conscious evolution, it's what turns me on. There's got to be a difference between right and wrong.-DTB

Conscious evolution, it's what turns me on. There's got to be a difference between right and wrong.-DTB

Was talking with a local ag guy about furtilizer

NOOO really, furtilizer, the good poop. He is extremely conserned that the stuff needed to prep the ground, nitrates and other things are being bought by the Chiniese at an alarming rate.

The price for these items just to get the ground ready is growing faster then our farmers will be able to handle.

We need to protect our farmers or we will be at the mercy of who ever will import to us. I remember classes where WE where the feeders of the world, and shortly, probably in 10 years or so, we will be dependant on other countries for food?

We will soon have a huge problem on our hands, the ability to feed ourselfs quality foods.

Was listening to the radio this morning about how the price paid to a dairy farmer for his milk has basically not moved since 1982. He is still getting $1.40ish for a gallon of milk. He stated that dairy farmers in his state (con, VT, New Hampshire, somewhere up there) has been steadily declining because they cannot life on that price.

Our farmers big and small need to be protected. Subsidize our farmers, help our farmers, buy from our farmers first.

This country has the potential to correct all this, but when it is cheaper to buy foriegn foods, and if an AFTA is allowing it, then our farmers are the ones who are paying for this.

Big business will say that closing down free-trade will increase the price of all goods, but I contend that 300,000,000 people buying from the US will encourage other countries to work with us. They still need our dollar. If the AFTA's are in place to much longer, they WONT need our dollar.

I Love Farmers

Have I mentioned that lately?

Oh, I have?

Well, Then I Just Said It Again, didn't I?


Great post. Thanks for hat tip and thanks for getting this message out to folks.