Welfare Reform and Sustainable Agriculture

My dream is to fix the issues of unemployment, welfare, sustainability, and the health of the nation because they are all intertwined.  We can fix them all by addressing them all as one big issue.  I began contemplating the relationship between these issues after reading about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s WPA program and learning about Israel’s current unemployment program.

As efforts to reduce unemployment rates continue along side discussions about sustainability, health and obesity, perhaps it is time that the US government takes a page out of their own history book or looks to the East for some guidance. Perhaps its time that we educate our unemployed in the most basic of human functions, feeding themselves and others in a healthy and sustainable way.

It is time to pass legislation requiring welfare and unemployment recepients to participate in sustainable agriculture in exchange for this assistance.  It is time that we teach them how to sustain themselves without assistance.


In an effort to educate the unemployed through hands on experience at historical sites, boost tourism to the country, receive some value for the funds spent on unemployment and provide a helping hand to archaeologists, the Israeli government puts their unemployed to work. In return for the receipt of unemployment assistance, Israeli citizens receiving this assistance must aid the excavation efforts at archaeological sites. Reminiscent of FDR’s strategy to improve the national park system in the United States, is it not?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Israel Central Bureau of Statics, unemployment rates in January 2013 compared as follows.

- Australia – 5.4% 
- Canada - 6% 
- Israel - 6.5% 
- United Kingdom – 7.8% 
- United States – 7.9% 
- Eurozone – 11.9%

Israel’s unemployment rate has been among the lowest in the world for some time. Although they are only 1.4% better than the United States in this category at present, 1.4% of the US represents 4.4 million jobs, the approximate population of the entire Bay Area of California.

Now, I am not proposing that a policy change is going to decrease unemployment in the US by 1.4%. I am, however, proposing that we can give our unemployed and welfare recipients experience in a life skill that will help them get jobs, eat healthier, live healthier and lead more sustainable lives.

To give them this experience, I am proposing that those receiving unemployment or welfare support be required to dedicate a portion of their week to food production in sustainable agriculture. By working on farms, urban or rural, or in community gardens they will learn how to produce healthy and sustainable food for themselves and their communities while enabling us to cut down our dependence on commercial chemicals in food production.

It would be a huge step forward in American nutrition to improve the quality and quantity of local food. We can do this without increasing our federal or state budgets too! We only need to speak out and let legislators know that we want value out of the money that is spent on welfare and unemployment.

To clarify, no one will be forced to request unemployment or welfare, thus no one will be forced to work. The requirement is simple, those who wish to receive unemployment assistance or welfare must work for it by adding value to society.

Why should they work in sustainable agriculture? The answer to that question requires a brief history lesson and notes from the EPA's website that less than 1% of the US farms for a living today while the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 40% of farmers are 55 years old or older.

I'll begin with a quick history lesson in food production.  Prosperity in the ancient world relied heavily on food. The civilizations that were able to master food production thrived the most. By minimizing the number of people producing food and maximizing the amount of food produced, other members of society had time to build, write, teach and add value to their society because they did not have to spend time looking for, or producing, food.

The United States has become the master of efficient food production. As I stated previously, according to the EPA’s website less than 1% of the nation farms for a living today. Unfortunately that efficiency has come at a cost to the health of humans and the planet, something that is new to the modern world.

The advancements in machinery and chemicals that minimize the manpower needed to produce food while maximizing the amount of food produced and the shelf life of food enables 1% of the US population to feed us all. Unfortunately, those chemicals, machines and genetic modification processes that we are using are slowly killing people, and the planet.

We are putting chemicals into our bodies that cause cancer, diabetes and heart disease. We are washing other chemicals into the rivers and streams that are killing and deforming our fish supplies. We are pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate so fast that the forests of the planet cannot recycle it and, in turn, have burned a hole in the ozone layer. We are depleting our natural resources at a rate so fast that our children and grandchildren will have to deal with the consequences of our actions. We do all of this to enable 1% of the population to feed us all.

But, that 1% feeds us all so that the rest of us are free to add value to society in other ways.

Wait a minute, let’s back up and talk again about unemployment. In the United States 7.9% of the population has nothing to do and is looking for employment....

We are destroying our health and our planet to give people free time that they do not want!?!?

No one wants to be unhealthy or unsustainable. People do however want, and often times need, to eat cheap. This necessity is especially true for those on welfare and unemployment. Unfortunately cheap food typically equates to unhealthy, unsustainable food in today’s society. It is well documented that low-income households tend to have higher rates of obesity and shorter life expectancies. This is a problem that can and needs to be fixed.

Planting and growing produce is cheap and therapeutic. This is the reason behind the prevalence of gardens in hospitals, psychiatric wards and jails.

On top of that, gardening and food production is as basic and necessary a function to human life as breathing but few people participate in the act. As I stated before, only 1% of the US farms for a living.

Finally, in cities, where the unemployed are most densely concentrated, access to fresh produce and healthy food is most alarming.


A 2012 study on urban farming by the Urban Design Lab at Columbia University discovered approximately 5000 acres of land suitable for farming in the 5 boroughs of New York City. To put this into perspective, Central Park is only 843 acres.

The land is available and the urban garden organizations, farming organizations and community gardening organizations exist. The issue is that not enough people are willing to commit their time to producing local, sustainable produce.

Take control of your diet. Plant your own food and encourage others to do the same. Get involved with welfare and unemployment reform.

At no additional cost to tax payers and no additional burden on the federal or state budgets, we can give our unemployed jobs, provide them with an education in a practical, honest and necessary job function. We can provide a, necessary, helping hand to organic farmers and urban gardening projects around the country. We can increase the sustainability of the country and improve the health of the citizens of the United States of America.

That, my friend, is the duty of a government so get involved......



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published this page in American Dream 2013-04-02 10:07:31 -0400