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Volume 7, Issue 3  -  July, 2001

Letter to the Midwest
By Don Deichman

Ethanol, Community…Looted Markets

Two farmers, a public school science teacher, a certified Master Gardener, and a retired foreign service officer were among the productive mix of fifteen people at a Friends of Agriculture forum last week near Washington. Concerns about energy and gasoline prices and a letter by a Maryland farmer advocating ethanol (renewable fuel made from corn) were the forum’s starting points. A speaker who once headed the American Agriculture Movement (AAM), an early ethanol advocacy group, missed our event due to a traffic snafu, but there was no shortage of experienced voices. One had worked, twenty years ago, at Solar Research Institute. Another told of her group, Sustainable Montgomery, battling developer forces to preserve at least some farmland at the town of Ashton. Yet another was a charter founder of the Minnesota Gasahol Commission in the 1970’s.

Farmer Tom Linthicum told that his family with “probably the only true hog farm left in Montgomery County” found a niche market for bar-b-qued and freezer pigs. Their sows are kept on pasture, not in the intensive confinement of so-called modern farms that gives rise to animal welfare concerns. Using an area processing and locker plant, they avoid wild price fluctuations of more standard marketing.

One participant, Glenn Ellis, owns a 130 acre farm in nearby Frederick County, but rents it out to a neighbor. He wishes he could learn to make a living with small-scale farming, and suggested that bio-diesel (a fuel made from soybeans) may offer hope.

Alice Ortuzar, the Aston resident, provided the forum with organic ice cream to put on our strawberries picked at nearby Larriland Farm (These offered flavorful testament to our theories about valuing community and buying local.) She noted work of the Maryland Organic Farmers Association and “biodynamic food production.”

Two participants, science teacher Tabitha Hill and Mignon Bush-Davis, noted favorable the genetic engineering that “safe food” advocates among us often question. Hill said she is “not fearful of genetic changes” because she understands them (I was surprised that this didn’t spark any rebuttal.)

Rockville resident Paul Grenier, who does Russian interpreting especially applauded the Linthicum’s efforts, and noted the historical importance and appreciation of family farms in Europe. He inquired of Ellis and others about the net energy gain of bio-fuels, and participant Bob Gould pointed to a Delmarva Farmer article asserting that there is such gain.

One of the Friends of Agriculture founders, Sue Buckler, raised the matter of markets being increasingly global in scope, and told the group of an upcoming event by the League of Women Voters (LWV) exploring economic globalization. Several of us said we should support efforts to bring the LWV back as a sponsor of presidential Debates. (Maybe then there will be a candidate discussion of so-called free trade.)

The 1970’s gasahol promoter LeRoy Deichman (my brother), said it’s a mistake to not distinguish between renewable energy sources and non-renewable sources. He said: “No oil company has ever produced one drop of oil. All they do is find it, and if it’s close enough to the surface, they refine it. The only real producers of energy are those who produce renewable energy.”

A letter from former Nebraska State Senator Don Deret provided a nice flourish for a close. He wrote that “agriculture in the U.S. is underpaid annually in the amount of $300 billion.” Applying “the traditional seven time trade turn” to this, he said, “would generate an additional $2 trillion commerce annually.” He concluded that we should enforce the Commodity Exchange Act to “limit or abolish speculative short selling.” and “Send the free traders and speculators who loot the markets packing.”

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