Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Farm Bulletin: Measure 80, An Agricultural Act

For contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, the act of farming is not simply comprised of tilling the soil, planting and then harvesting crops…it is also an intensively civic practice.

For those who love our Astiana tomatoes, flint corn and popcorn, the beans and all of those wonderful chicories, imagine how good life would be if we and other quality market farmers were allowed to lavish the same attention on Cannabis sativa. The plants would be organically grown in the field with dilute foliar sprays of salt and kelp, followed with timely and careful harvest and cleaning. Levity aside, Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, is one more proposal for relieving this nation of its crazy fixation on marijuana. The prohibition clogs the court system and destroys people's lives senselessly. More importantly, Measure 80 is an agricultural act.

Canola field.

This Friday, for the better part of three hours, seed growers and fresh vegetable farmers testified against recklessly changing Oregon Department of Agriculture's quarantine of rapeseed, aka canola, in the Willamette Valley. It is a known noxious weed which will increase disease and insect pressure, and cross pollinate with valuable seed crops. In a surrealistic procedure, we testified before a hearings officer, an impassive scribe, who had no decision-making authority and no working knowledge of the issue. Our testimony was delivered in three minute snippets, governed by horizontal traffic light. For those who recall Woody Allen's "Sleeper," it was a scene reminiscent of talking to the leader's nose. Using a hearings officer in this manner is simply agency cowardice and insouciance; dozens of farmers joined by numerous other citizens took the time to express their concerns and the agency's decision-makers hid behind the "nose" with no interest in engaging the public. We were an inconvenient step towards a decision they have already made.

Canola blossom.

It doesn't have to be this way. When Janet McClennan and Dick Roy, both of whom frequent the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, were members of the Board of Forestry, they sat through hours of public testimony regarding forest practices and other thorny issues with Jim Brown, the state forester. Chair McClennan, and her predecessor Tom Walsh, took the time to thank each person when their testimony concluded. The board members and state forester engaged people appearing before them with respectful questions when appropriate. Their discussion following the testimony took place in public, and took into account the testimony. They followed a consent agenda, so if no member of the board dissented that agenda item was approved. It was a glowing example of public process and civil engagement, in the finest spirit of democracy. Unfortunately, the Department of Agriculture chose the exactly opposite route, leaving us to speak to an impassive nose and then finalizing the decision behind closed doors. It was a shabby example of public process and civil engagement, with nary a shadow of democratic spirit.

Industrial hemp.

This bring us back to Measure 80. Currently, the domestic production of hemp is impossible because of its relationship to marijuana. Hemp is a valuable, high quality fiber and oilseed plant that is well adapted to the climate of Oregon. Disentangling ourselves from our state and national marijuana prohibition will allow the cultivation of Cannabis sativa for its fiber and oil, as a well a pharmaceutical. If it is joined by the passage of similar laws in Washington and Colorado, it will be a big step in opening the conversation about legalizing its cultivation nationally.

Is Measure 80 perfect? Probably not. As the Oregonian has taken pains to point out, no law is upon passage. But a statutory measure can be amended easily. So, as we fill in our ballots sometime in October, these two farmers will mark "yes" on Measure 80 as an agricultural act.

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