MOFFA – Lets Get Out the Organic Vote

Tom Harbold at a draft-horse driving workshop Carroll County Farm Museum, in Westminster, Maryland
Tom Harbold at a draft-horse driving workshop Carroll County Farm Museum, in Westminster, Maryland

Listen. Hear that? Nope, me neither. It’s the deafening silence, from both sides of the political aisle, on issues of agriculture and the environment. Yes, I know that “it’s the economy, stupid.” As someone who is badly under-employed, and searching – so far unsuccessfully – for a position which will enable me to make a living by doing some good in the world, I am all too personally aware of the miserable state of our economy, as the year 2012 limps to a close, and of the need to find a way to recover.

That said, ignoring the environment in favor of the economy is a prescription for disaster, long-term. Please excuse me for a brief diversion into linguistics: “economy” is based on the Greek words “oikos,” meaning “household,” plus “nomos,” meaning “rule” or “management.” “Ecology” combines “household” with “logos,” meaning (in this context), “knowledge.” It makes not just linguistic but also practical sense to place knowledge of one’s household before management of it. Yet politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to try to manage the economy while remaining woefully, and willfully, ignorant of the ecology.

Furthermore, we live in a closed, finite system. Except for solar energy – sunlight, without which, so far as we know, no life could exist (except, perhaps, for some weird types near thermal vents in the deep ocean) – and occasional meteors, the only resources we possess are the ones contained on and within this planet. We have no other options. The bottom line is that the Earth is the bottom line. Yet   the Obama administration is strangely silent on issues of the environment – or perhaps not so strangely, considering the number of individuals with ties to Monsanto that riddle it – while candidate Mitt Romney has openly mocked environmental concerns.

Referencing Obama’s assertion in his 2008 nomination acceptance speech that “We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment … when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” – words which, in retrospect, look more than a trifle optimistic – Romney declared that “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” pausing for the obligatory moment of laughter, “and to heal the planet. My promise … is to help you and your family.” While he may simply have meant that his ambitions were less grandiose, his comment left the clear implication that these are alternatives, between which we must choose.

The reality is that we are at a point in the history of humankind on Planet Earth where any attempt to help people and families must take into account the health and well-being of the local and planetary environment, or be doomed to failure. While economic stability is an important component of the sustainability equation (see this or other discussions of the “triple bottom line” – people, planet, and profits:, we are past the point where economics can safely be considered as something apart from, and mutually irrelevant to, ecology.

In a recent essay for the Scripps Howard News Service, columnist Bonnie Erbe has written about the economic consequences of several current and pending environmental issues, especially global climate change. These include a European study which indicates that climate change is already contributing to 400,000 deaths each year, worldwide, and costing the world’s economy more than $1.2 trillion, and the fact that in 2010, the International Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that more that 42 million people were forced to flee their homes due to disasters triggered by sudden-onset natural hazards.

Furthermore, a University of British Columbia study found that ocean fish could soon lose as much as 25% of their body weight, because they cannot maintain their weight in warming waters. The potential consequences to our food supply need no elaboration from me. MOFFA members are already well aware of the challenges to farming posed by climate change, including new and different insect pests – notably the marmorated stinkbug – as well as weather extremes ranging from droughts to flooding.

Regardless of whether one believes these events, and the climate change that causes them, are primarily anthropogenic (human-generated), primarily natural and cyclical, or something somewhere in between, they exist, and we have to deal with their consequences. Organic growers also have the deal with the consequences of the widespread use of GMOs, and the tremendous financial weight that can be brought to bear on the political process by their manufacturers, most notably Monsanto.

This election year we are electing not only a President, but one-third of our Senators and all of our Congressional Representatives. An article in Yes! Magazine ( notes that

“the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill contains three industry-friendly provisions, numbered 10011, 10013, and 10014. Collectively, they have come to be known as the “Monsanto Rider,” and the name is entirely appropriate. If passed, this bill would make it more difficult to stem the tide of GMO foods hitting store shelves.

These three provisions in the 2012 Farm Bill would grant regulatory powers solely to the United States Department of Agriculture, preventing other federal agencies from reviewing GMO applications and preventing the USDA from accepting outside money for further study. The bill would also shorten the deadline for approval [from three years] to one year, with an optional 180-day extension. And here’s the kicker: the approval time bomb. If the USDA misses the truncated review deadline, the GMO in question is granted automatic approval.”

Yes, you read correctly. If the USDA does not have time to test and approve a proposed GMO in half the time it has now, that genetically-modified product is automatically approved as safe without any testing at all. Our Representatives need to hear from us – all of us – that this is not acceptable, and that a “yes” vote on a Bill containing these measures will carry consequences.

There is much to think about, as we move toward the 2012 elections. While the hands of the current administration are far from clean, when it comes to agriculture and the environment, its history and possible future actions must be weighed against the likely even greater deference shown to corporate interests should Obama’s opponent be elected to the Presidency. There are pluses and minuses to every choice, political and otherwise, of course; it is unlikely that anyone will agree with any candidate on every issue. But at least the elections do give us a chance to make our voices heard, and so far, at least, big-money interests have not managed to totally silence the voices of “we the people.”

Let’s get out there and exercise our franchise!

Tom Harbold writes from Hampstead, MD. Contact him at

Introducing the Insight of Environmental Educator, Tom Harbold

Tom Harbold, Guest Blogger for Maryland Food and Farming Association
Tom Harbold, Guest Blogger for Maryland Food and Farming Association

My name is Tom Harbold, and I’m honored to have been asked by Holly Heintz Budd to serve as a guest blogger for the Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association’s new website. What are my qualifications? Since 1998, I have been working mostly as an outdoor or environmental educator. I hold a BA and a Masters in humanities disciplines, and in 2001, I graduated with a certificate in park management with a concentration in environmental education from Frederick Community College.

I’ve served as an educator at the Carroll County Outdoor School, a flagship week-long educational enrichment program for Carroll County 6th graders, and as a naturalist at both the local (Piney Run, in Sykesville) and State (Cunningham Falls, near Thurmont) levels. I’ve been a conservation educator for the Carroll County chapter of Pheasants Forever, an international upland conservation organization. And from 2005-2009, I was active with Spoutwood Farm Center, Inc., an educational and community-supported agriculture farm in Glen Rock, PA, starting as a working shareholder with the CSA, and working my way up.

From 2007-2009, I served as Education Coordinator for Spoutwood, and also coordinated the work-and-learn (intern and apprentice) program for the farm. Spoutwood’s programs include a 100+ member CSA, the aforementioned work-and-learn program for those interested in learning to practice natural farming/sustainable agriculture, an excellent observatory which holds regular “Evenings of Wonder” to share the glory of the night sky, and (since my tenure there) “Teen Battle Chefs,” a youth development program exploring culinary arts, food systems and gardening education, while battling obesity and chronic disease.

In addition, Spoutwood offers two major public programs: the annual May Day Fairie Festival, a celebration of the mythic arts and the warming Earth, now in its 22nd year, and the Mother Earth Harvest Festival in September, dedicated to sustainable agriculture and sustainable living in general. Spoutwood is not certified organic, but has used organic techniques since its inception; and its CSA is Certified Naturally Grown. Spoutwood is a proud and active member of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, and its President, CEO, and chief land steward, Rob Wood, has served on the PASA board.

Spoutwood helped to turn my interest in sustainable and organic agriculture into a passion, but that interest goes back to my childhood, where my maternal grandparents were early adopters of the organic movement. I remember sitting fascinated for hours, in the living room of the old farmhouse in Dennisville, NJ, poring over copies of Rodale’s “Organic Gardening and Farming” magazine, or digging gallon ice-cream pails of kitchen scraps into their big garden to enrich the soil. My paternal grandmother lived on a workiing – though, sadly, not organic – farm in Highland, MD, so I got bitten by the farm bug on both sides!

As regards writing, since 2004 I have written a regular op-ed column for the Carroll County Times, which frequently deals with agricultural, environmental, or sustainability issues. I have also written essays and articles which have been published in The Bay Journal, the sadly now-defunct Edible Chesapeake, the Upland Journal, and Farming: People, Land, Community.

My interests include sustainable and organic agriculture education (obviously!), whole and natural foods cooking, environmental education and the relationship between agriculture and environmental stewardship, draft animal power (especially horses and oxen) for small farms and woodlots, renewable and alternative energy, green building, and supporting and empowering local communities. Not to mention growing and cooking with fresh, natural, and local, foods!

Influences include, but are not limited to, the inimitable Wendell Berry, Amish farmer, author and philosopher David Kline, and “the father of modern conservation,” Aldo Leopold. I also draw wisdom and inspiration from the likes of Nina Planck (“Real Food”), Joann S. Grohman (“Keeping a Family Cow,” and the online “Heifer Diary”), Barbara Kingsolver (“Animal, Vegetable, Mineral”), Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” etc.), Richard Kunstler (“The Long Emergency”), Kim Hartke (“Hartke Online” blog), Mark Sissons and his “Primal Blueprint,” and the Weston A. Price Foundation, among others.

I appreciate the opportunity to share some of my thoughts with the MOFFA community, and look forward to getting to know you! Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or comments, and I shall do my best to respond in a timely manner. Happy and healthy farming, and eating!

“We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to treat it with love and respect.” ~ Aldo Leopold

Tom Harbold lives in Hampstead, Maryland. Contact him at