Staying informed and engaging on issues that affect your farms and food is easier than you think. The importance of civic engagement in food is higher than ever. For the last 50 years the government’s policy has been “get big or get out.” Consolidation of our food and agricultural systems with the goal of the cheapest food possible has been driving small farmers out of business for decades. Judith McGeary, founder of Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, shares how she found herself in a position to speak up and advocate for small-scale farmers and ranchers who produce food using sustainable and regenerative methods.
Join FARFA if you’re in Texas – https://farmandranchfreedom.org/
Pretty ok (not great) transcript:
[00:00:00] Mason: Joining us today is Judith McGeary. Who based on your education clearly sounds like, I think one of the smarter people we’ll ever have on the show, Stanford, undergrad, UT law to fight the good fight for the environment. Do you remember your LSAT score? It was
[00:00:16] Judith McGeary of FARFA: a
[00:00:18] Mason: Oh, amazing. That’s perfect. Right? Wow.
[00:00:23] Judith McGeary of FARFA: I figured. Otherwise I wouldn’t remember it. It was kinds of numbers.
[00:00:30] Mason: And I’d imagine, did you get disenfranchised with environmental?
[00:00:35] Judith McGeary of FARFA: I got frustrated because I’d gone into it wanting to help the environment and wanting to help people. And that’s why I was drawn to them. I, to help people and it felt that as an environmental lawyer, I was really.
Like moving around these jigsaw puzzle pieces, but not coming up with really good answers, telling people how to get permits, how to stay within the laws, which is better than not. Right. Yeah. It’s perfectly respectable, but it wasn’t coming up with the kind of creative solutions that we really need to enable us to have a healthy environment and with four people.
[00:01:13] Jess: Yeah. Do you feel like you still got some wins out? Oh, is it just moving the needle
[00:01:19] Judith McGeary of FARFA: for you? It was, it was not really. I mean, I did respectable work, but now, I mean, I didn’t get anything out where I felt like, wow, I’m re I feel really good.
[00:01:32] Mason: So from there you filled, what was, I felt like a massive void here in Texas, fighting for natural food, public policy.
Um, for me in leading for the last 15 years in an organization called the farm and ranch freedom Alliance, or Farfisa every public policy org needs a good acronym. And so let’s first talk about your motivation to do such noble work, the, you know, fighting for the environment. And for ranchers, as you’re saying is not necessarily an easy job.
Did your passion, did that come as a kid or when did that kick in?
[00:02:10] Judith McGeary of FARFA: Uh, so I’ve always been passionate about the environment. I mean, as far back as I can think of, um, animals and nature were loves of mine growing up. Um, and that is what drew me to environmental. And as I got dis disillusioned with being an environmental lawyer, I went looking for, what else could I do?
I’m not planning to start a nonprofit and go into policy work. That was not, that was not on the horizon, but I met a professor, Dick Richardson at UT who said to me that if you care about the environment, you should care about where your food comes. And this was, let’s not discuss how many years ago, but it was back before local food was a thing.
And I think I said something like, oh yeah, I try to buy organic. And he looked at me and he said, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Uh, Dick was pretty blunt and he got me reading Allan Savory’s work on holistic management. He got me feeding acres USA and studying what we now call regenerative agriculture.
That term wasn’t around then. And it was this. It was to be corny, but truthful a light bulb moment. I went, oh my God, here’s this thing where we can help the environment. We can help wildlife biodiversity. We can treat animals. Well, we can provide healthier foods so that people are healthier and we can help small like local communities and rural communities.
Like there’s no downside. This is a win-win win, win, win, and cheese. What I came to realize later, the only people who hate it are the big businesses who are making money off the current system. But back when I started, all I saw was that there was this incredible synergy between how to help all of these things.
Yeah. And that was, that was my entry into all of this.
[00:04:05] Mason: And so. Uh, starting Farfetch. Was it a particular issue that got you going out of the
[00:04:12] Judith McGeary of FARFA: gates? Um, again, I hadn’t planned to start a nonprofit. What I plan to do after Dick converted me, um, was go actually be a consultant and help farmers transition from conventional to regenerative.
And I was studying to do that. And then there was this USDA program that came across my room. Called the national animal ID system and USDA, along with the big agribusinesses had developed this plan to require people to tag electronically and track every single livestock animal in the country. Wow. Yeah.
I thought it was an internet rumor. My husband actually was the first one to spot it. He saw a report. I was like nature. Now rumor was
[00:04:56] Mason: conspiracy. I was
[00:04:58] Judith McGeary of FARFA: like someone misread something that’s really stupid. Like there’s no way they’re going to do that. And then lo and behold, it came across my desk in this Texas register notice of a proposed regulation and I start reading it and I’m like, oh my God.
They actually planned to do this. And it was all designed. The structure of it was so that the big confinement operations would get like one group ID, but like pastured poultry operators would literally physically individually tag each chicken with an international unique 14 digit ID number, you know, and every time a coyote carried, went off, report it to a database.
It was nuts, but it had really flown under the radar. And so most folks didn’t know about it. Um, a couple of organizations that knew about it thought it was a sudden deal and there was nothing to be done. And there was no point fighting it. Um, but I looked at and I said, small livestock farms are going to be gone.
Like you do this. We lose the whole livestock side of the sustainable ag.
[00:06:00] Mason: And I looked around and there’s no one else standing up.
[00:06:04] Judith McGeary of FARFA: I got angry and I founded the group without a clear plan. Let’s just be really clear. I had no idea what I was doing.
[00:06:12] Mason: Yeah. I remember that we, you know, we’ve known each other, um, since about that time.
And I think that was the first time that I had. Testified in front of a legislative body was for you and for the NAI NAI, NAI.
[00:06:27] Judith McGeary of FARFA: S
[00:06:28] Jess: were you excited to start it? I know you just mentioned you were angry at what was happening at the time. So what other emotions were, were you having when you were starting farfetched?
[00:06:37] Judith McGeary of FARFA: Um,
I mean, I think there was ju I was just so outraged. It was, I still remember very vividly conversation with wonderful. Um, at the very first like public meeting around this, and he was a produce farmer, but he was there because they had just gotten like two pet goats for his young daughters. And he had tears in his eyes and he was like, if this goes through, he goes, I’ll still be a farmer.
I’m a produce farmer. I can, I can do it. He goes, I would have to tell my girls, they can’t have their goats, you know? And. He just, he was so heartbroken and, and I, and I knew, I mean, we were livestock farmers and I was sitting there watching our young lambs be born and thought about this will be gone. We can’t do this.
And so many stories like that. And I just, I couldn’t believe that they w that the interests of the big agribusiness. Really were so dominant that they would do this.
[00:07:45] Jess: And so what were some of those barriers like for that farmer? Not to be able to keep those goats or the baby lambs, like what did it entail?
[00:07:53] Judith McGeary of FARFA: So it, there were a lot of different barriers and the importance of them varied from farmer to farmer. The first step was you were going to be required to register your property with the government and for some farmers that privacy. Was just, that was a non-starter to begin with. Um, but then, and then in practical terms you literally had to ID each animal.
You’d have to register, get this 14 digit unique number for each animal, put an electronic tag on the animal chickens. You got just a wing tag, not electronic. Thank you. You then had to report all of the movements. So if you took the animal off the property to the vet, whenever you processed an animal, if a coyote carried off a chicken.
All of these reports, which would include fees with every report, because there were these non-profits like American farm bureau who were going to manage the databases and make money off of them. And again, at this all the time, you’re paying all of these fees and doing all of this paperwork. You know, the big guy is basically had almost nothing they needed to do
[00:08:56] Mason: because the chickens never left their house
[00:08:59] Judith McGeary of FARFA: and they have a 10,000 bird barn and it would get actually a group ID number.
They just had an like ABC group, ABC 1, 2, 3, and they’re done. Right. And so the,
[00:09:08] Mason: did it come off of the heels of the bird flu? Or why did it, how did it come.
[00:09:14] Judith McGeary of FARFA: So they used mad cow. So back then, you’d hear a lot about that cow, but when you dug into the documents and it was so hard when I started, cause I was like, oh my God, I sound like such the conspiracy theorist, but I swear to you, I still have it all in my filing cabinets of all of the documents.
And you went back, they started talking to the early nineties and it was about the export market because when you talk about companies like Tyson or JBS, then. They just care about the highest profit margin and the way they get the highest profit margin is being able to move animals and meat completely freely around the world so that they can sell this part is health Korea, this part in China and process the chickens and China and bring them back here.
That that free movement is vital for them to maximize their profits. Well, when you have an animal disease outbreak, it shuts down the borders. Well, their solution, and they very clearly spelled this out was if you could say, well, we know where this cow has been every moment of her life, so we can guarantee she hasn’t had contact with these other cows who have these disease outbreaks.
I can still be shipping my beef over to South Korea. Wow. So it was all about keeping international borders open without regard to disease risk that they could just sort of bypass it. And I literally had a Congressman staffer look at me and say, we need this program so that we can bludge in South Korea and to taking our beef.
Oh my gosh. And I was like, thank you for being honest. In the meantime, you’re going to destroy the entire small farm world, but you know,
[00:10:53] Mason: Incredible.
[00:10:55] Jess: And so with Farfetch, um, for advocates on behalf of thousands of small scale farmers and ranchers to produce food sustainably and who use regenerative methods for some of our listeners who may not be familiar with Farfetch, can you explain how it may directly affect them?
[00:11:11] Judith McGeary of FARFA: So w we w what’s happened. Sorry, let me try that again, to understand why group like firefight matters. You have to understand how we got to where we are. So for the last about 50 years, the government’s policy has been, get big or get out, literally in those words, consolidation of our food and agricultural world with the goal of the cheapest food policy.
Has been the very specific goal of the government. And so all of these regulations, all of these policies, all of these programs are designed to drive us. Not just not to help the small farmer, but literally purposefully to try to drive small farmers out and to have them consolidate. And so what we now have is we have all of this interest in small farms.
People want to grow food more sustainably. People want to buy healthier food without toxins, but it’s very, very, very hard to grow and sell food there. Because the entire system is stacked against it. So although I encourage people to go out and buy local that’s please do. It’s not going to solve the problem.
It’s like, you know, we have basically this huge mountain for small farmers pushing this Boulder up this mountain in order to raise food this way, what pharma does is try to start changing some of that stuff. Come in and get some of these regulations. Some of these programs changed. So they stop being so biased against the small scale operations and the regenerative operations.
[00:12:49] Jess: And so, um, with that, so for people who are buying local is they’re one step further. They can go. Is it becoming involved? Is it learning about. Policies. And how do, how can they be an advocate on behalf of local farmers or local
[00:13:03] Judith McGeary of FARFA: food? So it is to buy local and get involved civic. Um, I also say politically, and then people go, oh no, I’m not going to listen.
The parties. I hate our political system. I’m not talking about being a partisan. I’m talking about being involved in the governmental processes, which is how our system is supposed to work. Right. It only works when people engage. It’s never meant to have worked if, for people just to vote once every four years or every two years, and then step back and say, I don’t need to pay any more.
[00:13:38] Mason: Yeah. And there we S reading some of your prior or listening to a prior podcast, we heard something about a legislator and talking about how many people it takes to affect policy. Can you explain on
[00:13:53] Judith McGeary of FARFA: that? Some absolutely. You know, a lot of people don’t try because they figured there’s no point what does my voice matter?
And or maybe they tried and they, you know, I don’t care which side of this issue you’re on. You know, they called their legislator to tell them to vote against this abortion bill or for this abortion bill. And they know they heard the reports that the houses of people called and the legislators still voted, you know, the opposite.
And they’re like, see, they don’t care what we say. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. And I will say on something like abortion, gun rights tax policy, most of the time they already have their minds made up and it’s going to be really, really, really, really, really hard to move them. Yeah. But they have to decide they have to vote on a thousand different issues.
All of these millions of issues that come up, that they vote on, that they don’t have the first clue about and they don’t care about and they don’t know about it. So there’s a couple of ways they make their decisions. Uh, what does this other legislator who I think is an expert in this area say, and just, I’m going to follow him.
What does the lobbyists say who comes in, which is going to be big agribusiness or big food, or what did my constituents say? So it doesn’t take that many constituents in those situations. So one of the first times, um, activist conferences I was at, I heard a long time congressional aid talking and his comment was that he has seen as few as 25 phone calls turn a Congress person’s vote.
Wow. And that’s at a congressional district. I do a lot at the state level. Um, and I have seen as few as one called turnout when it’s a really good, powerful story and pretty consistently, you know, 10, 12 calls will really get their attention, get them paying attention and not guarantee that they vote your way, but make it pretty darn light.
[00:15:59] Mason: That’s amazing. And it, I remember as well when I was digging in some, I think it was a legislature. Someone told me that when it comes to our lives as a consumer or a person in a city or whatever, they. The what affects us is actually it’s like 20% national policy, 30 to 40% state, and then 40% locals. So that if you want to have an impact on your actual life, local and state is a far better place to get involved than, you know, calling on these huge abortion phone banks.
[00:16:40] Judith McGeary of FARFA: There’s a lot of truth though. I think it also depends on which issues you’re focusing on. So, you know, who gets your roads and repair who’s in charge of your schools? That’s all local or not all, but heavily local. The food issues are, are difficult. And it’s one of the issues that actually local is less influential than you would think on food, because generally the locals are following just what the state and the feds do.
And so if you want to make change, you really do need. There are things you can do locally. And it’s not, it’s a good thing to get involved locally, but the heavy moving happened, state and federal when it comes to food and agriculture.
[00:17:22] Mason: Gotcha. So state can be really impactful if it only takes eight to 10 phone calls and has significant effect on food, it’s a good place to get started.
[00:17:32] Judith McGeary of FARFA: Absolutely. And like I said, I mean, there was one, I was trying to get a bill introduced, um, a couple of sessions. And was having trouble finding a sponsor for it. It was a good bill, common sense, but like, it was just hard to get anyone to care. It was about egg grading. And most of the legislators I was at were like, really, you want me to put effort into what, what the heck even is a grading?
And I got a call from, from somebody, a farmer who had just discovered that this whole egg Redding regulation that he had not known about was going to like completely crater, his planned biz, you know, his plan business, like the way he’d structured. And he was like losing his hat over it. And I was like, okay, I know your, your, your legislator, um, his staff likes what we do, but they haven’t yet committed to doing any of these bills.
Call him, tell him what this means to you. That legislator filed that bill for us. Wow.
[00:18:27] Jess: That one phone call that one
[00:18:29] Judith McGeary of FARFA: phone call. He needed to know how, what it really meant. And he, and he was
[00:18:36] Mason: there. Yeah. And so do you have consumers as part of firefighters that mainly for the small producers, it
[00:18:43] Judith McGeary of FARFA: is both consumers and farmers.
And we have quite a few consumer members and to be candid, um, we couldn’t survive without our consumer members. Um, and this movement couldn’t survive without consumer activism. There are just too few farmers. Our policies are dictated by our far. You know, we, we, we go, I’m a farmer. My board is primarily, the majority are working farmers.
We want to know what our farmers need. Um, and then we ask and say, okay, consumers, you want to keep getting this high quality food? You want more of this high quality food. Here’s what we need changed and we need your help to do it.
[00:19:19] Mason: And one of the things I’ve always found really awesome about Farfetch is how approachable you make it.
And what we’re doing with most of the green.life is trying to make sustainability more fun and approachable. And so do you even, have you have workshops for people about civic engagement? Do you still do that
[00:19:35] Judith McGeary of FARFA: or. Oh, um, we want to keep up, go back to doing it
[00:19:41] Mason: in a post pandemic world
[00:19:42] Judith McGeary of FARFA: in the post pandemic world.
And we are planning to go back to doing the workshops and such, um, it’s been hard because trying to do them online. It’s really about the interaction. I mean, if you want people to, to feel what it means to engage an elected official and to get comfortable with that, you need a level of interaction that they’re not going to get.
If they’re just listening to me, talk on a zoom call. Um, but we are, we are going to do workshops again. We also do for those in Texas. Um, we do a citizens lobby day, at least once, um, every time the Texas legislature is in session and I’ve had people, people bring their kids, people bring groups of friends, and we literally, I have so many people tell me afterwards how much fun they had, how good they felt, because you’re talking about something you love and.
They’re actually, again, these legislators in the staff hear so much from the paid lobbyists and they listened to them. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that they’re not going to listen to them. But most of them really do want to hear from real people. They’d so much prefer it. And so few people come to talk to them.
And so few people talk to them about an issue that isn’t. There isn’t a red or a blue, a conservative or liberal where their political position is going to predetermined too much, like where they are on it. Our issue it’s we have great champions, both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans and the staff.
So staff loves talking to people about this.
[00:21:17] Mason: Yeah. And. Even, so I’ve done a couple on state level. I even went to a DC. I was, uh, on the border of the United fresh produce association and did a legislative day there. And I didn’t know, even. The United stances. I didn’t, I wasn’t well versed in them, but I just went along for the ride and just showed up.
And so I was an extra body everywhere. We went until we got to the USDA organic office. And then I was like, oh, I actually do have a lot of questions and things to say here, but it’s really fascinating for people, even if you don’t necessarily feel like. Care that, that passionate that you want to go talk to them, even just being along for the ride and saying, I support this.
And so I’m going to show up and be an extra body is helpful.
[00:22:07] Judith McGeary of FARFA: It helps. And I’d also say, so just like actually, just like you just did find the issue that you do care about, which issue is it? And it doesn’t mean you have to be a tactical expert. I mean, we have plenty of consumers again, who show up for our lobby days and they’re always like, Well, what do I say?
Or I had someone asking me, what do I say when I call? I mean, it’s not like I understand what egg crating is and I’m like, that’s okay. You don’t need to understand what egg grading is. Um, would you like to be able to buy local eggs from a small farmer? You know, have the, have your favorite restaurant be able to.
Yeah. Okay. Talk about that. That, you’re the expert on that you are the expert on how important it is to you that you would love to have the restaurants, you know, able to buy these eggs from these small farmers and your understanding is they can’t because of these grading requirements and there you are.
You’re the expert and that’s what they need to hear. Yeah. And I
[00:23:01] Jess: would say consumers probably aren’t a hundred percent aware of where to get the information or to. Where to find information that is impacting them on that level, where it’s like the local farmer’s markets eggs, can’t be served in taco deli or wherever they’re getting their breakfast tacos.
And so far, if it is that for people, right? Like that’s where we can go and we can subscribe to the newsletter and we can find out about different issues. Are in place are in
[00:23:25] Judith McGeary of FARFA: motion. Exactly. I mean, that’s one of our key purposes is to be that communications vehicle, let people know what’s happening, translate for them what’s happening.
But what the heck does it mean that the bill has been filed and there’s a committee hearing, you know, so, so explain to you here’s what is happening, why it matters and what you can do about it. Um, that goes beyond punching a little button that says I signed here. I’m going to pick on this. You haven’t asked, but I’m going to pick it up because it’s one of my favorite soap boxes and go for it.
Mason’s green again, my soap box on this one. You know, we, we sometimes will get, um, you know, emails from people actually often we’ll get emails. Like, gosh, why don’t you just make this easy where I can just hit a button? Like, why are you telling I have to call this legislator? It’s like, because hitting the button doesn’t make a difference.
Okay. Here’s a checking the box saying I support this, checking the box saying I support this. Does it make a difference? Here’s a dirty little secret of the nonprofit world. The main reason for those online petitions are to gather your name and your email so that they can fundraise from you. Now, I don’t want to be too horribly negative.
You know, what, what some non-profits do. A lot of nonprofits try is then take that whole big base of people and try to encourage them to do more and do more and do more. And that’s how they build a smaller cadre of people who will take action. But that’s the point, it’s that smaller cadre of people who do something beyond checking the box because legislators in their.
I don’t give a single darn about auto petitions. I walked in. I, I, there are a lot of examples. I’ve had legislators say this publicly on panel after panel, but I think my favorite example came from the last legislative session when I walked into a chief of staff’s office and she was taking this big stack of paper who was like over a ream of paper and she was about to put it in her bag and I walk in, I’m like, Hey, let me sort of look at it.
She goes, do you know what this is? I looked, I said, form letters, aren’t they? Yep. Do you know what they’re about to become not sure. She goes, scratch paper for my toddler to draw on. Oh man. That, yeah. Why should they care? Because most of the people who hit those buttons, they don’t know how that person ended up voting.
They aren’t following the issue. They aren’t going to remember it next November. So why should the legislators. It has got to be something that tells them that it does matter to you. You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to be a scientist or a lawyer. You need to show them that it matters to you.
[00:26:09] Mason: And there’s a lot of. You keep talking about this, not being political. So like to expand on that a little as it relates to food, because do the Le I mean, the legislators understand that everyone needs to eat. And so how do consumers, because a lot of people are trying to politicize the food. So how do we stay away from that?
[00:26:35] Judith McGeary of FARFA: So I think one of the first things would be to stop. And think about what you do when you’re trying to convince a friend of something or your spouse or your partner. I hear like, okay, I know my husband, uh, purchase things from this perspective. I want X, how am I going to get him there? Because it’s not an obvious route.
Oh, it relates to what he cares about here. This is his win. If he, if he goes with my, with me on this. Well guess what talking to legislators and staff are, is pretty much the same thing. So let’s say your legislator is a conservative who really focuses on reducing regulations, small governor. Businesses.
Great. Almost all of the things that help our type of farmer, not all, but a lot of things that help our type of farmer include reducing these regulations. And then here, we’ve heard in small businesses check the box. You’ve just given them why they should care about it. Or let’s say your legislators, a liberal, liberal Democrat.
Who’s worried about food access. And people having options for healthy food. Well, a lot of those same regulations caused the costs for small farmers to be much higher than they need to be. I mean, I can say the price of our meat includes a lot, a large chunk of it is the cost of processing, which is unnecessarily high because of the regulation system, regulatory system.
Great. Here’s the. Help our small farmers and you help us bring nutritious food to the market. And you’re reducing the toxins are released into the air and the water you’re, you know, there’s all sorts. It goes back to what I was saying. The very beginning. This is such a win-win win-win pick the issue. Is it clean air and water?
Is it human health? Is it food access? Is it small businesses? Is it rural economies? All of these policies are things that are good for all of those. And so the way you can avoid allowing it to be politicized is you stay focused on how this helps. Everybody really helps everybody, regardless of what angle they’re approaching it from.
[00:28:49] Mason: and one thing that’s come up recently and we talked about on a recent podcast with someone else’s GMO labeling, which should take on the news. Regulations going into effect. Are you up to date on it or,
[00:29:03] Judith McGeary of FARFA: yes, I am up to date on it. That, that the, the, the, the, the press look as I put my head in my hand was my reaction to the new GMO labeling.
It’s useless. Yeah. And we knew it was useless. I mean, we fought that. What was, what was nicknamed the dark act, um, for those who don’t know, you know, the GMO labeling, that’s gone in to fact, first of all, it exempts out huge swaths of processed foods on the claim that somehow, you know, since there’s no detectable, um, genetically engineered DNA in it anymore, it doesn’t matter.
Nevermind that genetically engineered crops have a lot other impacts that are relevant to consumers. So that’s a huge gaping hole. It exempts out most of the new technologies that are being used and it allows it to be given through a one 800 number or. So if a company doesn’t feel like pudding. So first of all, even if the company has to put it to begin with, like, it’s not, they can’t get around it because of their product is ultra processed.
If they don’t want to put on the package, you know, made with genetically and actually. It’s not even they don’t use genetically-engineered it’s, bioengineered, there’s a whole new term,
[00:30:13] Jess: no
[00:30:15] Judith McGeary of FARFA: bioengineering, or it sounds very green. Um, so you know, bio engineered, which most consumers wouldn’t know what they’re talking about now, and they still don’t want to do it.
If the company still does want to do it, they can stick a QR code. So less a, someone has a smartphone. B is comfortable with QR codes. I can raise my hand and be like, yeah, I’ve got smartphone, QR codes, and I do not get along and see, it’s going to sit there and take the time and scan each product that they’re looking at to see what the QR code tells them.
Right. I mean, it’s, it’s useless. It is absolutely useless. Um, but it’s enabled. The government to say, see, we’ve got GMO labeling. And, you know, basically the issue from a legislative perspective, from a lawmaking perspective at this moment is dead. Um, that people are going to have to take the affirmative actions of looking for, you know, GMO-free certified labels, um, organic.
Buying from farmers who they know and trust.
[00:31:14] Mason: Right? Yeah. I’d have to go an extra step because the government feels like they should deny us the information to make decisions for ourselves,
[00:31:23] Judith McGeary of FARFA: which goes against free market principles. I mean, this is what makes me crazy is so many, and there’s there’s hypocrisy on both sides.
So let me, I’m about to beat up on the conservatives. Let me be clear. There’s hypocrisy on both sides, but the hypocrisy on this one is so many conservatives who promote the free market. Um, ignore the fact that the free market depends on an informed consumer and who can make decisions based on that information.
And if you don’t tell us, you know, country of origin, labeling where our food comes from, you don’t tell us GMO things that consumers have said are relevant and that they want to know stop pretending we have a market ecosystem we don’t.
[00:32:02] Mason: Um, and you. How did FISMA go? I remember the, when that battle was heating up and then I unplugged for awhile.
[00:32:10] Judith McGeary of FARFA: So FISMA is the food safety modernization act. So this was back started in 2009, sort of ran 2009 through 2011, where Congress started grappling with the fact that we kept having all of these outbreaks in produced up until now up until the two thousands produce outbreaks happened, but they weren’t making huge headlines or let’s start, I guess, 19.
And they kept gaining speed and there’s more and more of these huge produce outbreaks. You pardon? Me? And the FDA was pretty toothless in a lot of ways. They didn’t have a lot of power. Um, okay. That’s fine. As far as it goes, like I’m on board, something needs to change. This is a lousy system. Um, let’s start by looking at the fact that some of these outbreaks or many of these outbreaks are happening because of the.
And the water contamination happening from the feedlots. So if you want to stop this, why don’t we start dealing with the feedlots and regulating them? Oh no, no, we can’t do that. That, that upsets big business. We don’t do that. Um, so instead, okay. Let’s now start creating all these new rules for the produce farmers and other food producers.
Um, Okay. So let’s look at where the problems have happened. They’ve happened in these huge consolidated industries where for food, particularly, again, I’ll focus on produce is taken from hundreds of small, mid, and large farms, and then sent to centralized processing facilities where it’s all mixed together, bagged and then shipped all over the country under dozens of brand names.
So it’s impossible to track or make sense of when there is an outbreak. Right. No, no, no, no, no. We can’t just regulate those guys. We have to regulate everybody. And so they started to be this height because now th the, the read the statute that Congress was considering, the bill was fairly broadly worded.
Like most statutes are, but we knew what FDA was going to do with it. I mean, I’m sorry. We, we know we we’ve had enough experience with this agency to go. They’re going to come up with regulations that are designed to. Look for stair aisle environments, right? Because they seem to think that you can grow food in a, you know, in the lab and they’re going to be really make it very hard for diversify producers.
Insanely hard for biodynamic and organics are small scale producers. Aren’t the problem they aren’t causing the outbreaks. Just leave them out of this. So we started a fight to exempt small scale direct marketing farmers. And that was fun. Like you go to Congress with this and it becomes a fascinating question.
Um, even our amendment sponsor tester, who’s an organic farmer. Awesome Senator, amazing Senator from Montana. And he looked back at us and said, okay, I get the concept I’m on board. How are we going to define small, direct marketing in a way that fits Vermont, Texas, Fontana and Califor. Wow. So we spent
[00:35:08] Mason: a better creative solutions
[00:35:10] Judith McGeary of FARFA: come in.
That’s where you start negotiating all kinds of interesting things. And we came up with a definition, which is flawed, but it is what it is. Yeah. Um, and he fought hard and the national coalition of organizations and grassroots fought hard and we got it into the statute. Amazing.
[00:35:28] Mason: Really cool. When there,
[00:35:29] Jess: how long did that process?
[00:35:31] Judith McGeary of FARFA: That was awesome. From start to finish, it was close to two years. And when was that 2009 to 2011. Gotcha. But it’s still an, I mean, so FDA only came out with rags in 2015, the states are only now implementing them. And so for instance, we’re also in a lawsuit with Texas department of agriculture right now, because in our opinion, they’re tromping all over the.
They’re doing things that we think are inconsistent and not allowed under that exemption. So it’s, you know, maybe a decade old, but it’s still a live fight, right? Yeah. Fight
[00:36:05] Jess: it. Even after you’ve won it, just so that it stays in place. As it was supposed to be
[00:36:10] Judith McGeary of FARFA: exactly
[00:36:12] Mason: well, and I, I can’t even believe that it was that old because at United fresh, just, you know, a year ago, I guess two years ago with the, there were some romaine outbreaks and, you know, FISMA was the topic of discussion and there were.
Um, I guess lacked the language was lacking around what to do about this particular thing. And so the whole board, I mean, half the board meeting for an entire year, it was about romaine and I’m just like vegetable processor, just going, okay. Are we done with romaine? And I mean, it people’s careers ended in, changed on.
[00:36:55] Judith McGeary of FARFA: we will never be done with never. Well, I mean, so actually, so like right now also, um, the standards for what farmers produce farmers have to do for the water for their irrigation just came into effect in January. This, you know, this month and USDA or FDA, sorry, FDA put out a proposed revised revision to that.
Hm. So we’re still, literally, even now in the standard setting portion, in some areas
[00:37:27] Mason: that’s crazy.
[00:37:29] Jess: Well, even through all of this, even with the wins and the losses, it still seems like you’ve been able to maintain, maintain such, such optimism and energy from what looks like to be a pretty hard fight at times.
Um, so what keeps you excited and keep fighting this fight every day?
[00:37:47] Judith McGeary of FARFA: I think it’s the same. It’s, it’s the same thing. We said what got me into the fight. Although, you know, then it was outraged in anger, but it was outraged and anger because of protecting something. I love so much. Um, if we look, I still see the same thing that I saw. Oh, my, I will go ahead and fess it up 23 years ago when I met with Dick Richardson the first time, and he got me started reading about sustainable agriculture.
This is. This is the future. This end is a positive future. It’s not a dystopian one. You know, this is where we have healthy people. We have land, we have, we’re taking care of the next seven generations. We’re taking care of the communities. We’re taking care of the interactions between people, between people and animals.
It’s, it’s such an incredible potential gift to us as humanity. And it’s not that hard if we just stop letting politics and big business screw with it, um, I’ll go from the visionary to the blunt. I mean, it’s not, it’s really straightforward. What we can do to make everyone’s lives better in so many ways.
Um, and I guess the other thing for me, Is the lack of partisanship. Um, I see so much breakdown right now, and this is more, this is more recent. That’s what that that’s, what’s been keeping me going for a long time. What keeps one of the things I look at now is the very same thing that is discouraging me.
Like so many watching our government break down. I mean, there’s no other way to put it. I think we have to find the place. Where we can bring it back together. We have to find the places where we can talk policy, where we can talk commonality, where we can say, let’s, let’s find a bridge. Um, and there are others that this isn’t the only.
But this is, this was a big one.
[00:40:05] Jess: Well, that was beautiful and very eloquent. The way that you said that. So we’re glad that you’re here doing what you’re doing. And it seems like, you know, consumers are becoming increasingly interested in, involved in food and what they’re putting in their body. So what, how have you seen that transform over.
Decade or two.
[00:40:21] Judith McGeary of FARFA: Oh, it’s a huge difference. I mean, and even before COVID we were seeing it, I mean, the, the rise of interest in local healthy food has been traumatic, you know, again, compared to where I was, where it was when I first talked to Dick Richardson, it was kind of like, oh yeah, I try to buy organic little, you know, it’s a whole different world.
And I think COVID put that on steroids. And Pete, when people saw what some of us knew, but had had trouble communicating, which is the current system. Oh yeah. It’s cheap. It’s convenient. Isn’t this lovely. And it is fragile and it will, it will fail. In a crisis and COVID, wasn’t even that big of a stress test.
[00:41:04] Mason: wasn’t compared to home for a little while and oh, everything broke
[00:41:09] Judith McGeary of FARFA: and everything broke at mean, and it really is, you know, there are a lot worse stress tests out there, and this is our chance to fix, you know, this is our chance to go, oh, oops, we’ve been going down the wrong road. Yeah. And I think at least some chunk of consumers have really listened to that.
[00:41:28] Mason: And the fall. And so how do people support
[00:41:30] Judith McGeary of FARFA: Farfetch come to our website, which is farm and ranch, freedom.org, um, become a member. We have memberships at all levels, um, and it matters. It matters hugely to our financial viability and to our credibility. The more people we have. The more political power we have.
So sign up, join. You can sign up for free email alerts, take action on them. That helps too, even if you won’t send money to us, take action on those email alerts. And if you can, um, that membership
[00:42:02] Mason: helps. And the most recent one. You listed where we could go to find our new districts. We just went through some redistricting.
And so there’s even common stuff like that. Just you’re just helping people understand how to get engaged on a civic level and, and where to go to find that information. And so we thank you for what you do. We’ll put firefight in the show notes and thanks for being on the show.
[00:42:26] Judith McGeary of FARFA: Thank you for having me on.
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