Stay Small, and Get into It—And We’ll Be Here to Support You

A Special Message from the Executive Director of Southern SAWG

By Carol L. Williams, Executive Director of Southern SAWG

“Get big or get out.” This is a quote attributed to Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford (1971-1976). It was the catch-phrase for deliberate policies to drive corporatization and consolidation of farming, commodity emphasis in production, and fencerow-to-fencerow tillage. An impact of these shifts was low-cost food, considered a boon to most Americans. However, the policies are considered the root cause of many persistent negative consequences: the cheap inputs—fast food and high-fructose corn syrup crisis in the modern American diet, the rise of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and their associated animal welfare and human health impacts, consolidation of food processing into politically powerful agribusinesses and the loss of diverse regional processors and jobs, the 1980s Farm Crisis of record foreclosures and an epidemic of farmer despair and suicide, and environmental impacts that are seemingly at odds with the ground-breaking Clean Water Act (1972) and other policies of natural resource conservation and human health protection.

Sustainable agriculture practitioners and supporters, dietitians, and local food consumers and advocates are nearly universal in the view that Earl Butz and the policies he championed are the antithesis of regenerative agriculture. They are also in opposition to healthy human diets, true freedom to farm, intact human communities, and a world inhabited by the full and interdependent diversity of God’s creatures.

“The big get bigger and the small go out.” These are the words of current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, while recently visiting the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin. It is not only a dismay to hear the echo of Earl Butz nearly 45 years later, it’s also fairly shocking. But sadly, no surprise.

The good news is that as a sustainable agriculture community—widespread, diverse, locally-based and regionally-connected—we have the tools for keeping each other informed, encouraged, and valued. You and I are not alone. We are many and we are strong. Although we seek national policy changes to give us greater support and to ease our burdens, we understand that to do what we do we cannot wait on such support, we cannot depend on it. Meanwhile, we turn to ourselves and our allies to create the support and solutions we need.

For nearly 30 years Southern SAWG has existed to serve small farms, family farms, and those seeking more sustainable and just agriculture and food systems. No matter the tide of political rhetoric, we will relentlessly pursue our mission to serve you. Stay small, and get into it. We’ll be here to support you.

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Shari Hawley