My Testimony to the US International Trade Commission This Week

[Comment on proposed renegotiation of NAFTA]
My name is Betsy Garrold, and I am speaking on behalf of the National Family Farm Coalition and the Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural, which are both based in Washington, DC. Thank you for the opportunity to present our comments today.
The National Family Farm Coalition represents 25 family farm and rural groups in 40 states whose members face ongoing economic recession in rural communities. The Rural Coalition is an alliance of some 50 farmers, farmworkers, indigenous and migrant organizations working together toward a new society valuing unity, hope, people and land. 

U.S. trade policy has long promoted the interests of agribusinesses and other multinational corporations over the economic and social stability of U.S. family farmers, rural small businesses and rural communities. Overproducing U.S. agricultural products for trade has resulted in a pattern of low farm-gate prices and ignored the very real problems of farmers’ ability to stay on the land, as well as the environmental unsustainability of and competition from U.S. agribusiness.

Additionally, imports of lower priced agricultural products, including many fruits and vegetables, has hurt the livelihoods of thousands of U.S. farmers. Ben Burkett, NFFC’s board president and Mississippi farmer, stated that his family had grown cucumbers and chili peppers since the 1940s, which they sold under contract. “This all changed in 1995 when NAFTA was signed. We lost the contract – the contractor started sourcing from Mexico.”  Of the 800 farmers who had benefited from this contract, only 200 were left in 2015.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has dumped grain, meat and dairy products in trading partner nations, devastating farmers who cannot compete with these items sold at prices below their cost of production. When these farmers lost their farms they took essentially all they had left – their agricultural skills – and migrated to the U.S. for farm work. Any new trade agreement must establish binding accords to address immigration and to protect farmworkers’ labor and other human rights, including transnational collective bargaining efforts. 

The current export-oriented model of production enshrined in NAFTA and other trade agreements needs to be reversed, not intensified. This point is more integral given the recently proposed reorganization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which adds an Undersecretary for Trade. With the additional deep cuts proposed in U.S. rural development and nutrition programs and the Farm Bill debate ahead, trade agreements must promote policies that ensure farmers and ranchers receive prices meeting their costs of production to restore agriculture as the economic base of the rural sector. 

We assert that the U.S. request Canada and Mexico to withdraw their Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL, complaint under the World Trade Organization and agree to withdraw any action to implement the WTO award. COOL enables consumers to know the origins of their food and producers to receive a fair price. 

We would also ask the U.S. reject any proposals from the Trans Pacific Partnership that expedite rules for approving agricultural biotechnology products in ways that bypass national efforts to assess their safety, effectiveness and impacts on workers, rural communities and ecosystems. A renegotiated NAFTA simply must not allow trade in untested and potentially dangerous food and agricultural products derived from novel, unregulated technologies. 

We support Canada’s dairy supply management program, which helps to maintain dairy prices at a level high enough to cover their cost of milk production and keep Canadian family dairy farmers in business. Undermining this program will NOT bring a large increase in U.S. dairy exports; in fact, the U.S. should emulate this dairy supply management to regulate milk production and consequently the milk price for dairy farmers. In addition, the U.S. should export high quality dairy products instead of low quality products enhanced with imported milk protein concentrate.  

Lastly, under a new tri-national trade agreement, each country, state and local government should retain their sovereignty to enact and implement policies that are designed to reach their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. NAFTA should be replaced with an agreement that encourages and ensures environmental sustainability, economic viability and longevity for the people growing and harvesting our food, as well as their communities, in all three NAFTA countries.

Here is video of me at the trade commission. You can’t see me because of the camera position but you can hear my comments.  My testimony starts at 24:30. And the commissioner’s question and my answer is at 44:35.  


Food Sovereignty is Now the Law of the Land in Maine

Heather and Bonnie, among many others, at one of our events during the long struggle to reach this day!

On June 16th at 10 am in the morning, Gov. LePage signed LD 725, an Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems, it now becomes a law in the state of Maine!

I sit at my computer with tears of joy running down my face. This has been a six year struggle against the corporate food monopolies to protect and enhance the traditional food-ways in our state. The law takes effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns this session.   

We at Food for Maine’s Future and Local Food RULES encourage towns that may have been fence-sitting to get out and pass the Local Food and Community Self Governance Ordinance. Let us know if you are working on that or thinking about doing it, give your town officials the good news!  If you know people who might be interested in other towns, encourage them.  We are prepared to help people get it done.

The vote in the Senate was unanimous. Not so much in the House. Check out the roll call results here: <;  And, if you have a mind to, drop a note to the governor and thank him for signing this, oh so important, bill.

Quoting Bonnie Preston’s email. “Thank you to the sponsor, Sen. Troy Jackson for introducing it and guiding it through the process; as Minority Leader in the Senate, it was work on top of a very busy session and he gave us more time than we had expected.  Co-sponsors Rep. Michelle Dunphy, Rep. Craig Hickman, Sen. Brian Langley, Rep. John Martin, Sen. David Miramant , and Rep. Ralph Chapman also deserve thanks.  We could not have done this without Rep. Hickman, who was a knowledgeable, inspiring and persuasive leader whose own bills over the years moved the work along; Rep. Chapman, an astute legislator who gave us tremendous support and encouragement and met with us several times to teach us strategy and process and sponsored LD 835, which we still hope to see pass; and Sen. Langley, who proved to be an excellent listener as we met with him on an issue he had not been familiar with and was especially helpful in bringing the Republican legislators into the fold.  The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund paid for the lobbyists we had the last two sessions, Hillary Lister and Betsy Garrold.  (They did not get $500.00 a day (or whatever) like the corporate lobbyists!)  There were countless people in the [20] towns who passed the ordinance, doing amazing work.  And of course there were all of you, responding to our near constant pleas to write to people.  Grassroots democracy at its best!”

Below is the bill as it will be entered into the law books.






S.P. 242 – L.D. 725
An Act To Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Maine as follows:

Sec. 1. 7-A MRSA §101, sub-§2-B is enacted to read:

2-B. Local food system. “Local food system” means a community food system within a municipality that integrates food production, processing, consumption, direct producer-to-consumer exchanges and other traditional foodways to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health and well-being of the municipality and its residents.

Sec. 2. 7-A MRSA §201-B is enacted to read: §201-B. Local authority to regulate food systems

Pursuant to the home rule authority granted to municipalities by Title 30-A, section 3001 and by the Constitution of Maine, Article VIII, Part Second, and pursuant to section 201-A, and notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a municipal government may regulate by ordinance local food systems, and the State shall recognize such ordinances.

An ordinance adopted by a municipality pursuant to this section must apply only to food or food products that are grown, produced or processed by individuals within that municipality who sell directly to consumers.

Any food or food products grown, produced or processed in the municipality intended for wholesale or retail distribution outside of the municipality must be grown, produced or processed in compliance with all applicable state and federal laws, rules and regulations.

[With thanks to Bonnie Preston whose email I freely plagiarized to write this post. Bonnie is one of our most stalwart volunteers and has put in more hours than you can count on this issue. Especially thanks to Heather Retberg, our farmer leader, who, I swear to the Goddess, does not sleep. And to her farming and life partner Phil for sparing her to us for this fight.]

Heather and Phil Retberg at their farm, Quill’s End, in Penobscot, Maine.

Betsy’s Weird Week in Washington (Part Six of a continuing series)

So the continuing saga of my stay in the swamp. And what a week it has been. It has finally gotten swampy here weather-wise. But Tighe and Medea, bless their hearts, took pity on us and installed room air conditioners. We are trying to use them frugally but all the same it is a nice respite from the humidity outside. Guess I’m not as tough as I was 25 years ago living in the Marshall Islands without it.

Monday was another quiet day. We caught up on things in the NFFC office. Outside our office building we were greeted by this moving tribute to those lost to gun violence. Later in the week it became a bit ironic. 

On Tuesday we began our big event for the week. Over 20 farmers from around the country flew into DC to lobby congress about the proposed Bayer Monsanto merger. Tuesday evening we met with everyone and strategized about our meetings on The Hill. Friends of the Earth was the lead organization but here is the list of all the groups involved: Center for Food Safety, Farm Aid, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, National Family Farm Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Farmers Association Organic Seed Alliance, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, Organization for Competitive Markets, Rural Coalition, Pesticide Action Network, SumOfUs. Honorary Cohosts: Representatives David N. Cicilline, John Conyers, Jr., Henry C. Hank Johnson, Jr., Chellie Pingree and Senator Jeff  Merkley.    

On Thursday we had a briefing in the Rayburn building that was so well attended that it was standing room only….in a big room! One of our teams met with the Department of Justice to discuss their investigation. All in all a great effort by the organizers and the farmers who, leaving their farms in the middle of the busy season, came talk to their congresspeople. Mike Weaver, the Executive Director of Organization for Competitive Markets, said this to me at the end of the second day, “I usually leave these things, and this place, and I frowning but today I am grinning. This was a well-organized, productive two days.”    Here is a picture of me and my team:

The Hill, however, was an armed camp for two days. As you have heard, unless you live in a cave, there was a shooting Wednesday morning. An unbalanced man with a lethal weapon decided to manifest the anger and resentment that many, many people are feeling in this current political climate and started shooting at the Republican Congressional Softball team as they practiced for a charity ballgame. There were several injuries including Congressman Steve Scalise and a Lobbyist for Tyson food, Matt Mika. Both were in critical condition at last report. That morning things were tense on the hill and we saw a lot of this:

By afternoon things had calmed down a bit as one of my lobbying team members pointed out. Next day, however, we were back in armed camp mode. Even the street by our office building was barricaded, which was a new one for me even though we are right across the street from the Supreme Court. We never figured out why. There were police BUSES! Lined up all around the capitol as if they were preparing for mass arrests. We saw no protesters anywhere. Not one.  And that in and of itself is a bit unusual.  When we asked one young police woman in front of the Supreme Court what was going on and she said “suspicious package”. Well, I want to know who had ESP and knew by 8 am that morning that there was going to be a suspicious package that afternoon. They should be paying that guy the big bucks!
Anyhow the shooting of the Congressman and the Lobbyist has opened the discussion, once again, about who should and shouldn’t have a gun. A friend of mine on the book of the face hoped that Congressman Scalise might have an epiphany. Maybe two, since one of the young officers who saved his butt is a married, black, gay woman. He’s against gay marriage, too.

So on it goes. We make two steps forward and one step back. I try to be cheerful and friendly to everyone I meet and am rewarded, 99% of the time, by cheerful friendliness in return. The only person who was curt and unfriendly to me all week was one of the guards outside the minority whip’s office. But I guess I’d be grumpy, too, if I was forced to carry a loaded automatic rifle and be suspicious of everyone.

And for those who know me, and know we had a HUGE victory in Maine this week, I am not forgetting it.   I will be doing a separate post about it.   Soon.   But congratulations to all the hard working food sovereignty advocates up home.   We won one!!!!

Ms. Garrold Goes to Washington Parts Four and Five

So it has been two busy, busy weeks down here in the swamp. I am going to change formats a bit and just hit the highlights. Believe me that will be enough.

Memorial Day weekend was a madhouse here at the Pink Village. At one point we had eleven people sharing one bathroom. I know, I know “such a first-world problem.” And you’re right.   
We had many Veteran’s for Peace  staying with us for three days of activities around the Memorial Day holiday. I arrived back in DC on Sunday evening to find a dozen or so VFP members singing peace hymns in the living room of the Pink House. The next day we went to the Vietnam War Memorial to place letters from all over the country written for visitors to The Wall to read. I was randomly given one from my friend Phil Worden a, now retired, great civil rights lawyer in Maine. Such a nice coincidence.   
On Tuesday the VFP group had a rally and I went back to the NFFC office. It was a quiet day except for one incident. On my way back from the bank mid-afternoon I walked through the entire staff and all the Senators who had been evacuated from the Hart and Dirksen Senate office buildings. Buildings which are, as I have previously mentioned, right across the street from my office building. Hundreds and hundreds of people standing in Stanton Park. I asked, and was told, that it was just a “drill.” I had to walk around the block to get back to my office as the roads and sidewalks around those two buildings were a no-go zone. So that was the excitement for Tuesday.

I am still keeping an eye on things going on in Maine. FairVote and the League are finally stepping up to protect Ranked Choice Voting. It’s about time. There was a “town hall meeting” call on Tuesday evening with some reassurance that these two groups have figured out that the only way to save RCV is by rallying the troops. It is probably too little too late but I am hoping for the best.
On Wednesday the elderly homeless lady was back in the park but the ducks have moved on. And the new episode of The Handmaid’s Tale dropped. 
Skipping to Thursday of that week I attended a Code Pink demonstration outside the Brazilian Embassy calling for the secession of extra judicial killings of peasant farmers and leaders of MST, the landless farmers movement in Brazil, by that country’s illegal government (hint: they took power in a soft coupe). Go to the Code Pink link for a picture of me at the demo.
But the best part of the day was my adventure being part of the live studio audience for Redacted Tonite. Go here to watch the episode. It was a good one. Be warned, however, if you are thinking about going to a taping it is a tiny studio and you have to sit on the floor. But totally worth it!
On Saturday of that week we had another cannibas edibles event at the Pink House. Not as well organized or attended at the Mamajuana event. But interesting none the less.
On Sunday I did laundry and grocery shopping.
On Monday the new intern for NFFC arrived at the office. And I totally forgot she was coming. My VERY bad. But she is a hard-working, low-key type and was not rattled by it at all.
Then I deserted her for two days to go to NYC for a Friends of the Earth-organized meeting with TIAA about their farmland grabs in the US and Brazil (yep, Brazil again). Here is something from NFFC about the farmgrabs in the US. 
It was two intense days of strategy and meetings. We are banned from saying anything about what went on in the meeting with TIAA staff but here is your challenge for the day: find the interactive map of their farmland holdings on their website….Go! Okay how long did you spend? My friend Tristan from ActionAid and I both spent 45 minutes trying to find it on their website after we were told it was there. We both failed. So much for transparency. In case you are interested here it is. ‘Cause you will never find it on your own!

Two other important things that happened during this trip. #1 was that my lovely daughter-in-law dropped her first podcast. Go and watch it. She is lovely, smart, charming and the podcast is a hoot! And #2 was that I got to visit ParkSlope Co-op. Notequally important   events by any means but both really good things.  

Thursday was Comey Day on Capitol Hill as you are all well aware. I was on The Hill doing serious grown-up business, attending a House Agriculture Sub-committee hearing on SNAP benefits.  But the media circus was in full swing. As one of the folks I was standing in line with said, it is a most interesting time to be in DC. I got back to the office in time to catch the end of the hearing on TV, our suite mates were watching it and we all gathered around. Reminiscent of watching the Watergate hearings. Probably won’t end as well as that episode in our sordid history did. 
Friday ended with a demonstration outside the Whitehouse marking the 50th anniversary of the total Israeli take over in Palestine known as the Six Day War. Can you say US supported apartheid?   I knew you could.
And now you are all caught up on my wild ride in DC.

Ms. Garrold Goes to Washington Part 3

Third week in the swamp. Actually only a partial week as I had to fly home for a board meeting on Thursday (and the weather has not been that steamy.)   The good part of that hiatus being that I got to see my wonderful Child and his wonderful Fiancé and the progress they are making on their little cabin on the farm.

Otherwise a fairly uneventful week. Monday we talked with the intern who is coming into the office the beginning of June via Skype. Technology is a wonderful thing.
Tuesday we interviewed candidates for the Policy Director position at National Family Farm Coalition. More about that as it develops. The big deal on Tuesday was that the Maine Supreme Court handed down its ruling on the Maine Senate’s request for an opinion on the constitutionality of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). The people of Maine passed a referendum question making RCV the law of the state last November but the two corporate parties are doing everything in their power to stymie that decision. You can go here to read the 40+ page decision and here to chime in and help the League of Women Voters defend the will of the Maine people. I will be doing what I can from down here.
Wednesday I was on a nationwide conference call about the impact of 45’s proposed budget. It ain’t pretty out there, let me tell you. Folks are worried. But also semi-confident that this budget is DOA in the Senate so we might be able to fix the most egregious, horrendous cuts.  Those that take an ax to the Farm Bill, the social safety net and everything else except the military industrial complex, of course.
Thursday I flew home to Maine for a board meeting I was dreading and it was every bit as awful as I thought it was going to be. Suffice it to say this is not a board that welcomes dissenting voices and I am nothing if not a dissenting voice.
Friday it rained in Maine. So I rested. But made a really nice supper for everyone who was at The Shire.

Saturday I planted the garden. How nice to dig in the soil with the help of my son and get the potatoes in so they have one less chore on their plates in this busy season.

Sunday I finished up by planting the cucurbits, peppers, basil, and tomatoes. The sauce plants I call them. That leaves only the beans and corn for the kids to get into the ground when they have the time. I arrived back at the Pink House and found the living room full of Veterans for Peace singing “We Shall Overcome.” I am so lucky to be living in this wonderful communal house!
And Monday was Memorial Day. But more about that later.

Ms. Garrold Goes to Washington Part 2

So the start of my second week in DC was a lunch meeting Monday at the Farm Credit Council’s office. A briefing about the coming farm credit crisis. Interesting stuff if you’re a total nerd about this subject, which I am.  Their mantra was “we are not a leading indicator, we are a trailing indicator, we don’t know and can’t project what is going to happen.”   There were several sour notes in the report however regarding the liquidity of the farmers in many sections of the country.  I came away knowing, first of all, that I understood everything that was said, which made me feel pretty good.   And second, I was very under-dressed for the occasion.  Lots of fancy suits and very high heels in the room.   I have to decide whether to step up my wardrobe or just continue to be the frump from Maine. Probably the latter, it’s cheaper.

That evening Marta and I did Skype pickle-making. She was about to can her first batch of dilly fiddleheads and I was able to participate from DC. Bless technology. Here’s a picture of what the final product looks like, this is last year’s batch.

On Tuesday, I walked by the small park at 1st and D and saw the elderly homeless woman who seems to camp in the same spot most nights and next to her, a pair of Mallard ducks. Male and female. They were all there the next day,too. A bit further up the hill as I stood at the crossing near the Senate office buildings a guy drove by in a little silver car and I thought “That looks like Angus King.” As he turned the corner into the Senate parking spaces I noticed the Maine vanity plate that said “No Gas” and I thought, “Yep, that was Angus.”   There’s got to be some metaphor here but I just can’t quite grasp it.  

On Wednesday I spent the morning at the House Agriculture Committee hearing on the Rural Economy. With Secretary Sonny Perdue, himself in attendance.   I won’t recap my feelings about this, you can read about them in the blog post I wrote for the NFFC site as soon as it get posted. Suffice it to say there was a lot of fawning and toadying going on in that room. And the jockeying for position outside the room pretty intense, too. One guy standing behind me in line said “I could jump the line but I don’t want to be an asshole.” He later choose to manifest his inner asshole and jumped the line. I ended up in the overflow room even though I had gotten there an hour early. Maybe I’ll channel my inner bitch next time and jump the line.  Anyhow, this guy was so clueless that when, coincidently, we happened to be leaving at the same time, before the hearing was over, he had the cajones to say to me in the hallway, “there are seats in there now.” 

That evening I went up to Politics and Prose to hear China Mieville talk about his newest book “October“. The nice surprise was that Barbara Ehrenreich was his host/co-presenter. Such a treat. I kicked myself on the way home for not buying a copy of “Nickel and Dimed” and having her autograph it for my mother who is a fan.

On Thursday I went over to Representative Chellie Pingree’s office to drop off some information I had for one of her staffers. We love Chellie at NFFC. One of the few real farmers on The Hill. We had a American University graduate in the office for the day helping with our archiving project. Lots of boxes of papers to be gone through. Lots of history in this room. And the Library of Congress is already archiving our  (NFFC’s) website. We hope they will be interested in some of this paperwork, too.  The ducks and the homeless woman were still in the park this morning.

On the way home I stopped at GLUT a cooperative grocery store in Mt Rainier MD which is a quick bus ride from where I am staying. This is a real, old-fashion cooperative. Wooden floors, over stacked shelves etc. I felt very at home.

Friday morning, just for fun, I took the bus to work instead of the Metro. It was an interesting trip but not one I will be repeating soon. At least I know how to do it now if the Redline ever goes down. I also took the bus to the USDA farmers market on Capitol Hill. There were two veggie farmers there selling their lovely food. I got salad fixings for the week. The rest of the tents were basically “food trucks in tents.” But that’s okay. At least they are trying. They (the USDA) know that they have to at least appear to being supporting local farms.

Saturday was the big event at the Pink House. Mamajuana cannibis edibles has monthly events where you can buy some merchandise (hats, bracelets, bags of candy) and then for every $10 you spend you get an edible. Mamajuana edibles are tasty; Brownies, no bake cookies, rice crispie treats; and they pack a kick! 2000 people filtered through the Pink House during the course of the day. Everything was pretty mellow.

Sunday was a quiet day. I got the tomatoes transplanted in the raised bed in back of the Pink House. It is going to rain for the next few days in DC so I am hoping they will survive. But while I was kicking back in “the swamp” the kids were busy in Maine building their house. 

And on Monday it all starts over again. Having a good time, learning a lot. I now know, however, I do not ever want to run a B&B. More later.

What Commercials Teach Us (hint: NO YOU CAN’T FEED YOURSELF)

So I’m binge watching Hulu these days. Signed up for the service to watch The Handmaid’s Tale and have been cruising through the other offerings when I have time. I am frugal (read cheap) so I signed up for the level of service where you have to watch commercials. Which would be a pain except I have noticed a couple of things. First, and the more minor of the two, all the ads in the first episode of Handmaid were for the armed forces. Air Force, Marines, etc. Now think about that for a minute. This dystopian tale about fascist military men co-opting women and their uteruses, meant to appeal to liberal-minded, tinfoil-hat-wearers like me, being sponsored by the military industrial complex. Is this what is meant by irony? I think so.

Eventually the commercials changed and then came the one that really pissed me off. It is a Hormel ad, and as much as I hate giving them more bandwidth I need to talk about it. In it a new age guru is having his retreat guests (?) share what food they have foraged from the wild. As he goes around the table each person is more and more disheveled and beaten up by this supposedly horribly difficult task of producing their own food. Watch it and see:

The message being: don’t you dare even try to think about producing your own food. It is just too hard! And the cult like “join us, you know you want to” from the actress at the end of the scene is just plain blood curdling.

So let’s talk about feeding yourself versus buying mass produced crap from CAFOs. (CAFOs are Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, what used to be stockyards and are now inhuman holding pens, for livestock while they are feed hormone laced grain in preparation for slaughter. They are producers of vast amounts of fecal waste, a noxious stew of mud and urine and shit, that contaminates not only that land but the waters and land around it.) They tried in North Carolina recently to protect the surrounding area from these nasty operations. The Governor vetoed the bill and the Senate overrode his veto saying essentially, “this is just a bunch of out of state crybabies and sleazy lawyers. Our industrial farmers have a right to be as obnoxious as they want and especially if they contribute to our campaigns.” To quote the article: “the twenty-six federal lawsuits at the heart of much of the debate were filed by a North Carolina-based law firm against a $14 billion Chinese-owned multinational corporation on behalf of mostly low-income African-American plaintiffs.” There is no protecting of the small family farm going on here. It is straight up corporate greed. The kind that the Hormel ad is promoting. Don’t you dare think you can feed yourself!

But we must remember what Fannie Lou Hamer said: “You can give a man some food, and he’ll eat it,” she liked to say, in a paraphrase of the common proverb. “Then he’ll only get hungry again. But give a man some ground of his own and a hoe, and he’ll never go hungry again.” and from the same article “If we have that land,….can’t anybody starve us out.”

I just learned this about Fannie Lou. I had always known of her as a voting rights activist but DAMN she was a food sovereignty activist before there was even a word for it. “In the late 1960s, as the civil rights movement shifted to address economic injustice, Ms. Hamer conceived agricultural solutions to the plight of her fellow Americans, including a communal farm and livestock share program in Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta. That work set the stage for the progressive agricultural policies and practices of today, with their focus on food sovereignty and their reliance on community farms.”

Go read the whole article and then (and it is the season for it) go plant some food!