Sunday, November 20, 2011


One of the many things I have come to admire about organic farmers is their penchant for purism. Their methods might be painstaking, but they remain true to their philosophies discovering the most ecologically sound, nutritive ways to raise animal and vegetable. Organic growing is risky, but these farmers are unwilling to compromise their standards for the sake of a dollar. For them, making ends meet is a tricky balance of work life and, well, more work life.

Try as I might, I can’t pretend to understand the intricacies of government subsidizing and off-farm income, and what this means to a farmer’s wallet. But as a consumer and part-time farm advocate I can tell you the situation for these farmers is dire. Most cannot afford federal certification for organic labeling. Not to mention they contend with large-scale, factory farms who receive a sizable portion of federal subsidies. Per Jill Etinger’s report on, the California Public Interest Research Group published “Apples to Twinkies: Comparing Federal Subsidies of Fresh Produce and Junk Food,” in which research revealed that nearly $17 billion worth of federal subsidies between 1995 and 2010 supported the GMO supergrowers of corn and soy. This kind of unbalanced distribution of funds perpetuates our junk-food culture and buries the small farmer who is growing carrots instead of corn syrup.

So what’s an organic grower to do? Most have to be creative earning off-farm income. Farmer’s markets are only the beginning. Some charge for on-farm visits during autumn festivals, conduct gardening tutorials, repair machinery or start a community supported agriculture program. All of these sound like reasonable secondary sources of income. Except for one thing: Who is minding the farm when property owners are out delivering vegetables, manning produce stands or teaching classes? Every moment spent off the farm equates to loss of vital time on the property, which has the potential for a loss of income in and of itself. It’s a horrible Catch-22.

Recently, Jimi Foltz of Peace in the Valley farm was charged with growing marijuana plants on his Hedgesville, WV property. Granted, not the smartest, most legitimate means of supplementing one’s income. But can we really dismiss this case as just another in a long line of drug felons?

If you frequent any of the farmers markets in Jefferson County, you know Jimi. Smiling Jimi. Jimi who employs students on his farm. Jimi who enthusiastically lends tips about successfully growing thyme in your garden. Jimi who has given my kids squash because they thought it felt cool and freely handed me rosemary plants because they smelled like Christmas.

Jimi embodies what I appreciate about many of the small farmers in our region. He believes in community. He isn’t consumed with consumerism. He is a true steward of our land. He appreciates beauty in nature on a level that transcends most. (Stop by his table this month at Shepherdstown market and see the wreaths he’s had made out of his leftover flowers and herbs.)

But the recent allegations will most likely mean the end of Jimi and his farm. The state wants $25,000, and if he can’t pony up the dough he can kiss his property goodbye. He won’t even bother to start anew. “My kids are in California, that’s most likely where I’m headed, too,” he admitted to me one Sunday market morning.

We need Jimi here. In fact, we need more Jimis to permeate this area and teach folks a better way to eat, to commune, to live. Think about it. Legislators stuff their pockets with money from companies churning out chemicals to produce our food, but kick the organic farmer in the face for trying to make ends meet.

I don’t condone what Jimi did. In fact, I’ve been quite conflicted by it. But to deny his case as just one more example of our busted food system is to deny the plight of small farmers everywhere.


  1. The Journal link is hinky. It has a blogspot URL appended.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Vanessa. Short term fix for Jimi is to find someone who will buy $25,000 worth of Jimi's farm and farming or someone who can donate some effective legal advice to him to help him save the land that is not only his farm but is also his home. Really...what's going to happen to a 50 year old landless farmer in California?

  3. Are there good small business consultants for agriculture? I know the WVU Extension folks do it for technical subjects but business, finance, marketing and future planning could be handled or supplemented by local consultants. Just wondering ...