When farms close, the land grows houses instead.

I have worked with over 100 Maine dairy farmers over the past 14 years. When I moved to Turner in 1989, there were six farms producing milk on the five-mile stretch of road on which we live. Today there is one, along with over 20 new houses.

Going back a few decades, when I was a kid, there were mostly farm kids in my school. The bus stopped every couple of miles and picked up more kids like me, who might have helped milk cows before school. Today, my son is the only kid in the entire Turner first grade who has parents actively involved in agriculture.

Farms that go out of business do not come back. The land grows houses instead.

This trend is not hypothetical or overstated. It is a reality that we are letting our ability to produce food locally slowly slip through our fingers.

Our nation has enjoyed a policy of cheap food that I believe will eventually cost us dearly. More and more, food production and processing is controlled by fewer and larger corporations. No one knows or cares much about this yet, since we have never been faced with a food shortage in this country.

In France, a nation that has had two world wars fought on its soil, the government subsidizes (i.e. values) small dairy farms out of an awareness that the ability to feed its population is something a country should never take for granted.

In the U.S., our federal government cut funding for the Northeast Dairy Compact, effectively telling our dairy farmers to try to survive on a substandard wage. Yet we have billions of spare dollars to wage war.

As most of us know, our local farms are in a financial crisis and the citizens of Maine are now faced with making a crucial decision: support legislation that would raise the cost of milk products in the store, thereby immediately putting dollars into the hands of financially strapped farmers, or do nothing and let the number of farms decline precipitously over the next few months.

Most people are also aware that farmers receive a little over a dollar for each gallon of milk, which sells for about $2.50 in the store. The processors and retailers in the “middle” of this loop are unwilling to take a cut in pay, so it’s up to farmers.

Now is the time support is needed if we believe in keeping our agricultural base alive in Maine. It’s time to literally put our money where our mouths are.

It’s hard for a society based on credit cards and cheap food to swallow a hard reality like this. But if Maine becomes one big suburb, taxes will be sharply raised and the opportunity to save our land base will have already passed.

Rebecca Myers is a veterinarian in private practice in Turner.

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