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Y2K and the Food Supply

A Message from Concerned American Farmers: "Prepare"

Our food system - from seed to table - is fragile. Potential disruptions of our food supply caused by the year 2000 computer bug (Y2K) highlight its vulnerability.
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, "Any interruption along this farm-to-fork chain can result in a direct loss to those who supply food. That can mean more expensive, less available, food supplies."

We believe that our response to Y2K should be neither panic nor procrastination, but rather, preparation. No one knows for sure if January 1, 2000 will be a 'bump in the road' or a widespread breakdown. As American farmers, we believe the responsible action is to prepare. It is important to make changes that are broadly beneficial to the community, farm, and food system, regardless of the uncertain consequences of Y2K.

Preparation for Y2K provides us an opportunity to shore up the vulnerability of our food system and make changes that will better enable farmers to keep the world fed - one community at a time ­p; and to make our communities more self-reliant in food production. As farmers, we believe that 1999 is not atime to 'run for the hills' but rather a time to head for our town halls to develop community-based strategies on how to keep our neighbors fed - both urban and rural - in event of disruption in food supplies.

We present the following ideas for consideration to prepare our farms and our communities for the year 2000:
  1. Identify the resources and skills within yourself, your family and your community to grow, process and prepare food. A variety of skills will be needed to make the food system resilient to disruption.
  2. Ask those with organizing skills to initiate community meetings to establish local contingency plans for food, security, energy and water supplies.
  3. Identify neighbors who may need extra assistance during a food crisis - the elderly, those with special diet requirements, and the poor. Include them in planning a more resilient food system.
  4. Establish individual and community gardens, provide classes in gardening and food preservation.
  5. Develop a "Y2K Cookbook for Eating Locally" with the help of chef's, older folks, and local food editors.
  6. Buy directly from local producers. Opportunities include joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm, keeping local farmers' markets open year round and supporting roadside stands.
  7. Collaborate with public institutions (hospitals, schools, prisons) and private institutions (restaurants and grocery stores) to identify local food sources and encourage them to begin now to buy locally produced and processed foods.
  8. Develop alternative water supplies, collection, storage and distribution systems.
  9. Buy a little extra seed and plant an open-pollinated seed garden. Plant more storage crops and winter gardens.
  10. Fix or replace computers and equipment not "Y2K compliant". Contact suppliers and customers about their preparations. Make alternate plans if necessary.

On Dec. 17, 1998 Janet Abrams, Executive Director of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, said that the U.S. government anticipates "a large series of mild to moderate disruptions acrossthe country...These are situations that in usual times you might be able to call on the state or the federal government to help solve, but we are stressing to our local officials that they're going to have to take care of these problems on their own."

This means it is up to all of us. We invite you to join with others in your community to build a more secure and resilient food system. A good first step is starting the conversation with your family and your neighbors. We wish you well.

Statement issued from the 19th Annual Ecological Farming Conference,
Asilomar CA, January 23, 1999
THE DRAFTERS of the 19th Annual Ecological Farming Conference Asilomar
statement [organizations listed for drafter identification purposes only]

Cho-Qosh Auh-Ho-Oh, Native American story teller and teacher, Willits, CA
Roger Blobaum, Blobaum & Associates, Washington, DC
Diane Cooner, CCOF, North Coast Chapter, Guerneville, CA
Kathleen Downey, Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), Eugene, OR
Terry & Carolyn Harrison, Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery, Healdsburg, CA
Fred Kirschenmann, Kirschenmann Family Farms, Windsor, ND
Bryce Lundberg, Lundberg Family Farms, Richvale, CA
Barbara Meister, Meister Consulting, CSA Board, Santa Cruz, CA
Jim & Harlyn Meyer, Cascadian Home Farm, Rockport, WA
Carolyn Raffensperger, Science & Environmental Health Network, Windsor, ND
Danny Rubenstein, Rubenstein & Associates, San Anselmo, CA
Larry Shook, Journalist, editor of Awakening: the Upside of Y2K, Spokane, WA

Larry Shook adds the following thoughts, addressed to another co-author:

The most obvious next step -- and it should happen soon -- is to use the statement
to facilitate a discussion among organizations that could adopt it. Use the
Internet. Raise an army of farmers. Make Thomas Jefferson proud.

That done, you could issue a press release under the aegis of the signatory
organizations. There should be farmer and sustainable ag contacts for the
media to interview. And you could couple the statement to some recommendations
for American farmers and the American public. These recommendations could

1. Every community should dramatically expand sustainable local food growing
immediately. (This can be done via CSAs, farmers' markets and market gardening
and working with local farmers via the grange, etc. Hold the public's hand;
tell folks how to do it; tell them farmers are coming to the rescue and that
everything's going to be all right; do this SOON.)

2. Every American should be encouraged to plant a Y2K Victory Garden in the
spring of 1999.

3. Non-hybrid seeds should be planted and harvested as broadly as possible.

4. Cooperative Extensions, Master Gardener groups, etc. should be enlisted to
assist the public in this regard in order to expedite the food growing
learning curve.

5. Via Co-Op Extensions, etc. simple food storage and meal prep classes
should be offered.

6. The public should be encouraged to buy America's farm surplus now at
market-clearing prices that keep the farm belt alive. There's a historic
opportunity for philanthropists here. Challenge professional athletes to buy
grain for their fans. Distribute that grain in the cities, along with small,
decentralized milling capacity.

Such a press release has the potential to mobilize an army of community
effort in this country and be picked up by the media all over the world. I've
no doubt that such an effort could begin changing human culture in ways it
must change, anyway, Y2K or no. It would trigger collaboration. It would make
us neighbors again. Community resilience would be the unavoidable by-product.
As the Hopi elders recently told our sister Cho Qosh, "it could be a good

But it's only small farmers who have the power to do this. The leverage
represented by those who gathered at Asilomar, especially those who drafted
the statement and took the stage with Fred, is, I believe, possibly beyond our
power to comprehend. There was an uprising of heroes in that hall. After being
marginalized by our confused high tech world for so long, farmers are now far
more vital to national security than soldiers.