All posts by Sheila Velazquez

The Undervalued Small Farmer and Food Insecurity

The average hourly wage for someone working in farming in the US is less than $13 an hour. Ignore the numbers for the total average income of farm families, because they nearly always include the income of one full-time wage earner. For a couple, it could be either partner, but trust me, one of them works a full day and then returns to work the farm until dark during most of the year. And guaranteed, the work they do when they come home is much harder than what they do at their outside job.

I thought maybe that had changed in the years since we had a small farm, but apparently it hasn’t. I recently spoke with a young farm wife and mother who stopped by to pick up some tomato starts on her way home from her office job. She named several women from neighboring farms who were also in the workforce, even though they’d rather be home weeding vegetables in preparation for the weekend farmers’ markets and being with their kids.

If you farm in the West, where heat and drought are growing worse every year, you may have foregone planting the usual vegetable crops, culled your animals, and stripped your fruit trees. That’s because most of California is under drought emergency, which is not expected to improve.

So where will our food come from if the West Coast farmers are forced to give up? The large corporate farms typically grow one crop, and this lack of diversity also means a lack of food security. We rely most heavily on Western states for the bulk of our US-grown vegetables and fruits. Farms in other regions, including here in New England, are often smaller, more diverse, and run by a couple, one of whom earns that “less than $13 an hour.” Drought and temps are increasing here too.

One of California’s main crops is almonds. We raise and export most of the nuts grown on a million acres in this $10 billion market. One almond requires one gallon of water to grow to maturity. That’s a lot of water. Raising beef requires a lot of water too—for the corn to feed them. We also export beef and other meat products. The companies who make the big bucks benefit from big government subsidies. Remember that small farmer who sells through a CSA or at the farm markets? The only subsidy she gets is maybe a “thank you” from someone who knows the hard work that went into that lovely tomato or beautiful squash, which she probably picked before you even had your first cup of coffee that morning.

If ever there were a subsidy that should be created, it would be one for the small farmers, because they deserve to make a living and because eventually you may have to look to them for much of your family’s food. Part of our trade deficit with China is made up of imported food products that include 90 percent of the vitamin C consumed by Americans, 78 percent of the tilapia, 70 percent of the apple juice, 50 percent of the cod, 43 percent of the processed mushrooms and 23 percent of the garlic. Right, that apple juice you give your kids probably didn’t come from New England or the Northwest, nor did the cod come from coastal Maine. I won’t even go into the health and safety concerns surrounding so many imports, nor will I elaborate on the geo-political risks associated with our food security or lack thereof. And if small farmers decide to switch professions so they can actually “feed” their own families, well . . . Use your imagination.

Why must we use our resources (water) to export more than $4 billion worth of almonds, for example, when we could be helping farmers and orchardists produce safe, locally grown food for us? Why did we import $10 billion worth of vegetables in 2020, equal to a third of the quantity available to US consumers? We rely on California for most of our US-produced produce, with Mexico being the secondary source.

Getting back to climate change, or what it was known as before the term frightened too many media progressives, climate catastrophe. What happens when California can no longer supply our food, if China shuts down exports, if there is political upheaval south of the border, if hackers shut down our transportation systems? So many possibilities. How friendly are you with the lady next door who grows vegetables in her little raised bed garden? Maybe you should get to know her better—and ask her for tips on growing some of your own.

The post The Undervalued Small Farmer and Food Insecurity first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Desiccated Hearts and Souls of Working-class Americans

Desiccate: deaden, devitalize, lobotomize, castrate – Merriam-Webster

In the United States the average man and woman has been dismissed, devalued and manipulated by both parties and the financial system. They have been prevented access to healthcare, decent-paying jobs, affordable education and food security. And their hopes and dreams have been crushed by the absence of humanity of those who exploit them for benefit.

President Trump’s term served a unique purpose. The turmoil surrounding his presidency brought out the worst in both parties, so that now it’s hard to tell one from the other, but does give us a clearer idea of their sameness. Both have embraced and expounded on such extreme positions that even moderates in their own parties are looking for cover. This fiasco has provided a better understanding of the charade that is our legislative branch.

The media is no different. I was once a big fan of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow when she was a bold and brassy commentator on Air America. That was then. News readers (I can’t call them reporters, because they aren’t) now regurgitate whatever rolls on the teleprompter as news or original thought. Many are ignorant lemmings who cannot even pronounce the words before them. Listeners are informed by media spokesmen who toe the line for those who would control power, fearful that if they deviate from the script, they will lose their jobs and status. If they spoke from the heart, the soapbox might be kicked out from beneath them.

Trump has been the pariah who has enabled many of them to avoid all that is important to the American people. Eventually, after the media and the Dems squeeze every last drop of juice from this playbook, he will be gone. To whom or what will they turn to keep us from questioning anything remotely connected with the actual lives of everyone who isn’t them? You can be sure it will be no topic that casts a dark shadow over the financial elites and cultural gatekeepers who are intent on securing their own wealth and positions at any cost.

If they were reporting news, media outlets would show footage of the poverty in this country, the food bank lines, the undernourished children, the ancient people staring out their windows in despair—the ones who remember. There is plenty of old celluloid in storage that documents the Depression and Dust Bowl years back when film was very expensive and cameras were incredibly heavy, yet dedicated reporters recorded their times in history so that we would never forget.

They also filmed conditions in countries that were being destroyed and exploited by American imperialism. The British news organization Pathé documented the conflicts from 1910 until 1970 when it was displaced by television. As a kid, I went to the matinee, which included two movies, cartoons and a Pathé newsreel. I watched the Korean War in black and white, right after Tom and Jerry. We had a clear understanding of war, with all of its death and destruction. We saw it every Saturday. Pathé has digitized their newsreels and makes them available. Viewing should be required in every curriculum.

I get daily emails linking to the stories of the mainstream media. Read one, you’ve read ‘em all. And I do not watch the Sunday morning talk shows anymore. As I sometimes do when I can’t view my favorite sports teams real time, I get the wrap-up. So much sameness. Few options allow the brave and the bold to offer opinions mostly free of corporate influence, and actual news. I smile thinking about how Matt Drudge broke the Clinton/Lewinsky story in 1998, and many others with the help of his “sources.” Independent journalists continue to break stories, for which they are usually persecuted and imprisoned. The general populace continues to look away, preferring not to make waves in support of the First Amendment and the Constitution in general.

Where will our news be found when these journalists and their online platforms are replaced by the next new bright and shiny things. Just as The WWW (Wild West Web) of the 80s morphed into the corporate mind control tool of the present, I fear that complete domination will be exercised by the lords and ladies of the evil empire.

I also fear for coming generations who will be unable to base their moral compass on the history of generations passed, the people who actually did stand on soapboxes, the protestors who were harmed, and often killed, for speaking truth to power, the politicians who met with constituents in smoky bars, the journalists who also dropped by after meeting their deadlines.

Neither of the two parties is capable of real change. That will come only when new leaders in new parties rise to represent the people, with a new wave of populism that will be documented for history by a cadre of dedicated journalists unfettered by corruption and malice. It will be a thing to behold.

The post The Desiccated Hearts and Souls of Working-class Americans first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Welcome to Our World

Furloughed federal workers who are finding life tough because of the partial government shutdown are sacrificing and taking extreme measures to make ends meet and pay their bills. They are visiting pawn shops, asking for loan extensions, applying for SNAP (food stamps), using food pantries and visiting soup kitchens. They are taking any part-time temporary work they can find at whatever pay rate. They go to bed each night wondering how they will get through the next day, week, month. Sort of like a huge chunk of U.S. workers.

When the strike is over, they will get back pay, great benefits and continued security. Unlike a huge chunk of U.S. workers—like my paper doll ladies. And federal workers have a growing support network of people helping them with donations and work. My ladies aren’t so lucky. Oh, and these are only ladies because I suck at making paper dolls, and these came out decently. Make believe they are either men or women. Your choice, because they are pretty much being screwed equally.

Collage, “Paper Workers,” by Sheila Velazquez.

All of the government, academic and other studies I have looked at clearly show that government employees whose educations do not include advanced degrees earn roughly one third more than private-sector workers. In these economic times, they have a good gig.

Most workers in the actual “gig economy” live creatively. Two of my ladies have two jobs. One has three. None have benefits. All are temporary and part-time, as in they can be told without warning not to come in the next day. One with children can’t afford child care, and so trades with other moms in the same boat. Nobody gets enough sleep. Two of my dolls are slightly overweight, not because they thrive on unlimited organic food, but because two of every three meals are based on rice or pasta. At least they aren’t hungry—most of the time.

Their problems are hidden by the media, which never reports on the true state of American workers, driven as they are by a heavy Washington fist and powerful special interests, and by the federal government, which continually changes the rules of the game by fudging the way in which inflation is counted. For example, Americans’ food costs are used in calculating the cost of living (CPI/Cost of Living Index). The rub is that if we cannot afford better cuts of meat and have turned to ground beef, the CPI remains the same basing cost on cheap hamburger over steak, for example.

Every government statistic tells us happy days are here again. We have low unemployment (see my earlier article, “Working for Legumes“), to see how those numbers are manipulated. As I previously noted, the government gets its information by calling a limited number of people on their landlines. Landlines, hmm. Mostly older, comfortable, secure folks. Maybe federal workers. The people who are scurrying around looking for hours have given their mobile numbers to prospective employers so they don’t miss a call. And since many of these gig jobs provide income that goes unreported, no one is going to volunteer this info to the feds. Right? It has been estimated that roughly one third of workers are working in the gig economy. Look around at your friends and family. How many have one well-paying secure job—with benefits?

We have two issues here. Security and benefits and a livable minimum wage. I believe the former will never be adequately dealt with until we organize, dare I say unionize? I once belonged to a union, and I always felt that someone had my back. Instead of a job-specific union, we could organize as workers who demand a just and fair minimum wage for all. Of course, the media and special interests would yell “communists.” Just remember who has what to gain or lose.

The Labor Department changed the way in which inflation is calculated in 1980 and again in 1990. Elizabeth Warren told a Senate hearing in 2013 that if the inflation rate had kept up with worker productivity, the minimum wage would be $22. Add five years of inflation, and that number would be $24. Forget $15 an hour. Every candidate will offer us that. I say let’s go for $30, which is what minimum likely should be by the time the election rolls around. It’s time to give the paper dolls a break.

• First published at The Greylock Glass