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By Staff | Jan 18, 2013

Whenever Congress writes a new farm bill they name it something like The Agricultural, Food, Energy, Conservation, Trade, Improvement, Deform, Reform, and Security Blanket Act.

As its title implies, this legislation cannot be comprehended by mere mortals. Only a hardened bureaucrat has any hope of unraveling the farm bill’s labyrinthine language and plumbing its unfathomable ambiguities.

Much is made of obscure subsidies that are buried in the murky depths of each farm bill. Said subsidies are usually things like a special stipend for canary ranchers in Mosquito Bite, Fla., or a little extra something to support muskrat herders in Donkey Breath, Mont.

When these and other silly-sounding programs inevitably come to light, a hue and cry reverberates across this great land of ours. Pundits fulminate about government stupidity in general and how government always makes a mess of things in particular.

Critics of the farm bill tend to overlook such ancillary economic benefits as the quantity of fodder it provides for late-night comics. But none of it’s funny for the rural residents of Spider Legs, Calif., who, without help from the government, would live under the constant threat of wild snail stampedes.

What many taxpayers don’t realize is that the vast majority of expenditures contained in the farm bill have nothing to do with farming. The lion’s share of the funds are funneled into the “food” portion of the law. This makes sense, in a fashion. On one hand, the government encourages farmers to produce food; on the other hand, it encourages folks to eat food. And as you know, we consumers need to be constantly reminded that we need to eat.

I knew absolutely nothing about the farm bill when I was a kid growing up on our dairy farm. But I knew everything there was to know about food security.

For us, food security meant having a garden that was large enough to be seen from space. Shockingly, this garden was planted, weeded and harvested with slave labor, namely, my seven siblings and me.

You know you have a big garden when your dad finds it necessary to procure a potato planter. You know you have a large garden when seed potatoes are purchased by the hundredweight.

Food security meant buying fruit in bulk and canning it. I could never understand why canning was done during the hottest part of the summer. It was warm enough in the kitchen already without all those boiling pots of water and hot jars of fruit that ticked ominously as they cooled. But I was young and my opinion had little sway.

We kids would “help” Mom by opening the wooden crates and sampling random fruits. Take it from me, as delicious and sweet as those purple plums might be, you’d best restrict your intake to less than a dozen.

Food security meant butchering critters that we had raised. We opted to hire the professionals at the Sinai Locker for this “wet work.”

With eight kids to feed, Dad would often have both a hog and a steer butchered at the same time. As we helped load the animals into the waiting truck, we knew that it was only farewell for now and that we would meet again at mealtime.

We had a chest-type freezer that was the size of a grain barge. I remember as a little kid lifting the lid of the freezer and peeking at that delectable selection of steaks and roasts and chops. It always gave me a deeply secure feeling to see the freezer full. We may have been poor, but we ate like royalty.

After exiting the dairy business a decade ago, we had to start buying all our meat. This bothered me deeply. It wasn’t just the high cost and the low quality; I also worried what we would do if every supermarket on the planet were suddenly shuttered. An unlikely event, but still.

Fortunately, my wife allowed me to re-enter the cattle business last spring with the purchase of a few Jersey steers. I successfully argued that while the steers are technically dairy cattle, there is zero possibility that they can ever be milked.

We hauled our first steer to the Sinai Locker a few weeks ago, so our freezer is now full. It’s good to again walk through the supermarket’s meat department and not be tempted.

The first thing we did upon bringing our Jersey beef home was to cook up some steaks. Maybe it’s because it was home-raised, but that beef was so good, it made my eyes water.

My wife noticed and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I replied. “It’s just that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so secure.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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