Civil War in California

Familiar battle lines are being drawn. Salts of the Earth versus Clueless Elitists. Some farmers in California are up in arms about Proposition 2, which bans tight confinement of animals. They’ve started a secessionist movement to divorce the state’s agricultural heart from its cosmopolitan coast.

As this New York Times article about it makes clear, ain’t gonna happen. But it does underline the huge gulf between most traditional farmers and most consumer activists (and not just in California).

The farmers say consumers have no idea what farming is really like and have very unrealistic expectations. This is true. The activists say factory farming is obscenely cruel to animals, despoils the environment and poses threats to human health. This is also true.

The key word here is “factory” and the sad part is that factory farming is destroying just about everything that traditional farmers hold dear. There aren’t that many traditional types left. The farm lobbyists are not their lobbyists. It’s agribusiness, not consumer action, that threatens them the most.

If they want to keep their way of life, traditional farmers need support from activist consumers, a group whose numbers are growing fast and whose clout is ever-increasing.  Activists, on the other hand, need genuine farmers and plenty of them if we’re really going to have better food, from a better system, at prices most people can afford.

Getting these two parties together and phasing out the factories is going to take some doing, but this IS a change moment. Mr. Vilsack has a chance to be the best Secretary of Agriculture in history. Here’s hoping he seizes it .

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