In March, the LWV-SHR Lunch Unit met at the Five Points Farm Market to discuss the politics of food. Michael Drewry gave us the perspective of a smaller farm owner. He specializes in berries but raises diverse crops and livestock for the family table. Thus he doesn't treat the crops with anything he doesn't want to eat himself.
He began by talking about how immigration affects farmers. Much of the price of produce that isn't mechanically harvested is the cost of labor. He has a hard time finding getting enough workers without using immigrants but is concerned that under present regulations most immigrants he might hire are here illegally. He said the number one political issue for small farmers like him is reform of immigration law so that foreign agricultural workers can get timely and affordable green cards.
He talked about the impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Like everyone else, he wants assurance that food is safe to eat, but some of the requirements are a large burden for a small farmer. We also learned about the regulations required for food to be certified "organic." Rather than risk not meeting the requirements, he prefers to sell his produce as natural which isn't a regulated term.
We also learned about the difference between hybrid and GMO seeds. Crossbreeding to add desired traits has gone on since the beginning of agriculture. Mechanically adding a gene sequence to a cell is what makes the result a Genetically Modified Organism. An organic pest control might involve spraying a naturally occurring soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), on plants. Inserting genes from Bt into the plant would make it a GMO.
Should you wish to contact Mr Drewry, his farm is at 541 Strawberry Lane, Wakefield, VA 23888, his email is firstname.lastname@example.org and phone 757-899-3636 or 0360.