Posts Tagged ‘farming’

Food Sovereignty Slide Show

So yesterday I spoke to a class at the University of Maine at Orono, The Anthropology of Food, a class taught by a wonderful young woman I met at the College of the Atlantic when I was on a panel down there for their Farm Day, Cynthia Isenhour. During her introduction she mentioned that this blog has a thousand followers! Wow, that many people are interested in what I have to say about politics and agriculture, who knew?

That piece of information made me feel a little guilty about my sporadic writing in this medium so I think I am obliged to drop you a post today. Here is the slide show and talk I gave to that class yesterday, enjoy:

Passing the Food Sovereignty law

Photo Ben RetbergSo in 2009 the inspector from the Maine Department of Agriculture, which had suddenly and internally changed their definition of milk distributors, walked down the wrong farm driveway. Two wrong driveways actually but that is the other part of the story. The Retbergs, Heather and Phil, had just built their farm business up enough that Phil could quit his off-farm job as a carpenter and they thought, with their dairy and their meat bird production, that they could make a go of it on their farm income. Supporting themselves and their three children while feeding their friends and neighbors good wholesome food. What they were told was that they could no longer share their farmer neighbor’s poultry slaughter facility and they would be classified as a milk distributor because they had a sign at the end of their driveway saying they sold raw milk.

My small organization Food for Maine’s Future, then run by Bob St. Peter, met with the Retbergs (actually they were friends already and this speaks to the power of community which is such an integral part of the food sovereignty movement) and it was decided that grassroots action was going to be the most effective. They wrote and got passed in several surrounding towns the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. This is a rights based ordinance founded on the Maine constitution’s Home Rule provision and on the work done by the water sovereignty activists in western Maine battling with Nestle to protect their ground water.

Photo by Betsy Garrold, T-shirt by Sap Pail MediaShortly after that the department of Ag decided to make a test case out of a guy, we called him Farmer Brown, milking one cow and selling it from his farm stand and at the farmer’s market in his town. The district court ruled against him, saying “milk is not food and therefore not covered by the Ordinance.” We took it all the way to the Maine Supreme Court who ruled against Dan but carefully avoided negating the Ordinance because they did not want to mess with the home-rule constitutional issue.

Photo by Betsy GarroldSo all this time we were going to Augusta, trying to get the Ordinance applicable statewide. And failing. But attracting more and more attention for our work and more and more supporters. And we were increasing the number of towns which had passed the ordinance. Maine has a town meeting form of municipal governance and these ordinances were passing unanimously in these meetings. People get it. Neighbors feeding neighbors is not only good for the local economy but also good for healthy strong people and healthy strong communities. We kept getting our bills all the way to the governor’s desk but could not quite muster the votes to override his repeated vetoes. One victory we did have, early on, was getting the 1000 bird poultry slaughter exemption passed. More about meat later.

Banner by ARRT!So once again we shifted strategies. We decided to pass a state constitutional amendment that stated people had the right to food of their choosing. A measure not subject to a gubenatorial veto. Now when we get these grandiose ideas we know we do not have the money to go up against the grocery manufacturers lobby or the dairy lobby head to head, dollar for dollar. Although we have had some good financial support most notably from Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund who finances our full time lobbyist (me) and from local co-operatives including Fedco Seeds we need people power to win. On the day of the vote we planned a rally. We even had Joel Salatin fly up to Maine to testify. Here he is with our lead ally and I can say one of the overall leaders in this movement Craig Hickman, farmer, legislator, all around great guy. And the other “wrong” driveway the department walked down in 2009. Craig and his husband Jop run a small farm and B&B in Winthrop and when the state inspectors told him he had to stop using his extra goats milk to make yogurt to sell in his farm stand his response was to run for the legislature.

Photo by Maine Progressive WarehouseThe real power we have is what I like to call “muddy boots in the halls of power”. We can’t turn out the numbers that the NRA does when there are gun bills getting heard at the capitol but we can turn out 100-200 people to testify on our big bills. In a state of 1.3 million people that can have an impact on our legislators. Plus we have those stalwart advocates in the legislature: Craig, Ralph Chapman, Troy Jackson, Michelle Dunphy, and a handful of republicans we can count on for votes and quiet support. And we were getting some national attention.

Photo by Ben RetbergWe did not win this fight but it was only through the political manipulations of one of our chief foes in the state senate. I have to say it was a beautiful piece of political theatre that I had to admire, I could have enjoyed a lot more if I had not been on the losing side. In the house, however, we passed this on a recorded vote with the 2/3 majority we would have needed to get this on the ballot for the people of the state of Maine to decide. So we were not entirely discouraged.

Photo montage by Nikki SekeraSo we went back, This time with water allies. And this time we had a powerful ally whom we had converted from his previous skepticism about local food control. Senator Troy Jackson was back in the lege although no longer on the agriculture committee. This is a picture of the day we met with him and he offered to sponsor the bill. Niki and Heather were introduced to the folks in the revisor’s office and we wrote our own bill this time. We included local water control. Farmers can’t farm without water, after all. Unfortunately, we ended up having to remove water protection from the bill to get it out of committee but it was educational to see the number of suits that Nestles can turn out to testify against any bill that tries to stop their theft of water from the people of western Maine.

Photo by Abigail CurtisIn this year’s session of the legislature. As we were preparing to reintroduce our statewide food sovereignty ordinance. This happened. I am not saying this had a big impact on our final outcome but the fact that a fire at a warehouse in southern Maine could lead to most of our major grocery stores in the state looking like this kind of was a wake up call for those who are paying attention to the fact that the food supply chain is fragile. People need to be able to feed themselves.

But we got the bill passed, unanimously in both houses. A bill that said essentially “if a town passes an ordinance to have control of their own food system the state will not interfere.” We were gearing up for a fight to override the expected veto from the governor when this happened. This is the signatures of our right wing obstreperous governor and his tea party ally senate president on our food sovereignty law. Victories are possible. It just takes persistence and being ready to defend the gains we make.

But as a friend of mine likes to say. You get to the top of the mountain and you think you’ve made it and then the clouds part and there is the next higher peak you need to climb. We knew this was not going to be the end. We did not rest on our laurels. We have been busy organizing the 28 towns that have come to us since the passage of the law to get their own ordinance in place. We had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Auburn became the first city to pass the ordinance with no assistance from us at all. It is part of the zeitgeist now. The ground swell is happening.

Remember the national attention I told you about. Well this time it was the USDA. They are threatening to pull our state’s “permission” to state inspect meat and poultry processors and force them to have USDA inspectors unless the lege amends the law to exempt meat and poultry from local control. Based on the 1967 Wholesome Meat Act that put production of all red meat and poultry in the hands of the USDA at the behest of Big Ag. Leading to CAFOs. Maine runs its own meat and poultry processing program under a cooperative agreement with the feds. They were threatening to make us a “designated” state along with 48 other states.

The governor called the lege back into special session to deal with this. At the same time they dealt with Ranked Choice Voting and the marijuana legalization regulations. It was some interesting sausage making in that special session let me tell you.

Photo by Betsy GarroldAnd as Heather says “when a bully wants your milk money and threatens you, what do you do? You stand up and fight back. But what do you do when he wants your milk money and threatens your friends?” As usual this is a divide and conquer mentality that works so well for the oligarchs so often and we strategized and conferred with our legislative allies and planned our next moves.

Drawing by Jonah FertigWe went back to the legislature, took our muddy boots back into the halls of power and with the help of our friends in the legislature we amended the law to suit the USDA and not totally gut the ordinance’s power. Here we are in the gallery of the House once again watching the vote. It was a good day. Made partially possible by the fact that we were really small potatoes in the special session. They used the USDA “emergency” as an excuse to call the special session on order to gut RCV and the marijuana legislation. The legislators were anxious to get us out of the way and start carving up the two things they really wanted to mess with RCV and marijuana. And the beat goes on.

Photo by Betsy GarroldPhoto by Betsy Garrold

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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.

From the The Complete Patient: They Wonder Why People are Pissed?

More shenanigans in Michigan, notice the mention of Mark Baker (of Baker’s Green Acres)  seems they are going after his friends now.

MI FOOD SEIZURE AFTERMATH: THEY WONDER WHY PEOPLE ARE PISSED?
by:David GumpertSat, 07/19/2014 – 20:11posted in: http://thecompletepatient.com/article/2014/july/20/mi-food-seizure-aftermath-they-wonder-why-people-are-pissed
Regulation,Food Club,Raw Milk,Resistance,

Jenny Samuelson was all set to do the deal dictated by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development: Dispose of nearly $5,000 worth of raw milk, cream, butter, eggs, and cheese. Under MDARD supervision, she was to bring the 250 gallons of milk to a neighboring farm, where the farmer would use it for fertilizer. The 10 gallons of cream and 20 pounds of butter would go in a dumpster. And the 100 dozen beautiful unwashed and unrefrigerated pastured eggs (raised without soy feed) would be smashed and turned into compost.

She would also discontinue all deliveries of cream and butter to herdshare members, despite their serious unhappiness about losing access to these foods.

But then the MDARD agents canceled out on the Saturday morning arrangements whereby they would observe the disposal of the food. They then said they would show up Monday morning. So she waits, and ponders her options.

Samuelson is pretty upset, as you might expect. She was trying to be an obedient citizen so she could have unfettered access to her refrigerated delivery truck and resume deliveries of raw milk. She had made the hard decision to go against what she feels is right and just, because she didn’t want to risk any further interruption in deliveries for the more than 600 families around Michigan that depend on her food.

She is still smarting from last Tuesday’s raid on her delivery truck in Washington Township, which saw agents from MDARD swarm aboard the delivery truck while it was stopped in a private parking lot, with her brother as driver. She thinks they had been following her and the truck for a number of day beforehand, and picked last Tuesday morning to do the raid instead of when she was driving, because they knew her brother likely wouldn’t know to demand a search warrant, and the presence of the local sheriff or police before being allowed (or possibly not being allowed) to take people’s food.

They told her brother it would take an hour to look through the Co-Op’s inventory—instead it took six-and-a-half hours.

Later, the MDARD told her she was prohibited from giving the food to a farmer as feed for his pigs, since she didn’t have a feed license.

Perhaps most significant, she doesn’t feel they had the right to prevent the food from being delivered in the first place. “They didn’t seize my products,” she says. “They seized the consumers’ products.”

Samuelson has been doing this drill for more than six years–during which time her co-op has grown from 20 members to more than 600– and knows the rules well. She says the cream and butter the MDARD was supposedly targeting were produced separately by the farmer from milk the members obtained as herdshare members, under contract to them individually. She also faults the special policy group that agreed with the MDARD last year in its policy statement that sanctioned herdshares for raw milk, but disallowed other raw dairy products. “I wasn’t allowed to have a voice in that,” despite her requests.

She wanted to feed the condemned food to Mark Baker’s pigs, or some other pigs, but state ag reps had told her she couldn’t feed the food to farm animals because she didn’t have a feed permit, and insisted the food be destroyed with MDARD agents watching.

Baker is the Michigan farmer who continued raising pigs the state considered wild, and he got the state to agree that he could continue raising the pigs after he sued the the Department of Natural Resources. He had a planned “Constitution Hall” program on slate for Sunday, at which Richard Mack, the former Arizona sheriff, will be discussing how the U.S. has veered from upholding its Constitution. Baker will be talking about his plans to run for Missaukee County sheriff. And there will be a pig roast for the many attendees expected.

Samuelson is going to have some very unhappy members based on her decision to refrain from delivering the raw cream and butter. “They are very pissed,” she says.

She is encouraging them to sue the state much like Mark Baker did. In the meantime, she is encouraging them to flood the MDARD with calls. Here are people she urges her members and sympathizers to contact:

Kevin Besey, director of the Food and Dairy Division, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (phone 517-582-1156 or e-mail beseyk@michigan.gov)

Tim Slawinski, Compliance Manager, Food and Dairy Division (phone 517-420-5364 or e-mail slawinskit@michigan.gov)

In a letter to her members Saturday, she said: “The only way we can get cream and butter back is to WIN this war! You the people can do it!”

(This post was revised on Sunday, July 20, to update the situation.)

Marching Against Monsanto, Again.

So I spoke at the March Against Monsanto today.  Thank you to Whitley and the crew for putting this together.  I arrived without my prepared remarks and had to off-the-cuff it.  It was okay but I wanted to share my beautiful, eloquent speech that noone got to hear today.

<I have come here today to speak about the food sovereignty movement.   And I will do that in a moment but first I want to tell you a story and toward the end I’ll offer you a solution to the food situation in which we find ourselves.

Back in 2006 I was standing around with some friends at one of our Mud Season Dinners.   These are events meant to demonstrate that even in the dark days of February or March there is still enough, entirely local, food to feed a crowd. At that moment we were at the height of our resistance against the animal ID law.  This is the USDA regulations that say all farmers who have livestock have to register and tattoo or tag all of their animals with a number and then do all the paperwork that entails.   So if anyone gets sick from eating meat, when that animal goes into the churning cauldron that is our current food system, the Feds can trace that animal’s life and provenance from birth to slaughter.   Naturally the anarchists, non-anarchist, libertarians and plain old left-wing activists, I was chatting with were none too pleased with this development.  One of them asked plaintively “What are we going to do?”   A good friend of mine, a farmer who feeds thousands of people every year, happened to be standing in the group.  He looked at her and said “We’re going to keep doing what we are doing…it’s just going to be illegal.”

And that is the essence of this movement.   It is; in the tradition of Suffrage, Civil Rights and Marriage Equality; essentially a human rights movement.    We got them out of our voting booths and bedrooms now let’s get them out of our kitchens.  We are; by eating fresh local food, sourced from farmers that we know; committing an act of civil disobedience. Like the Palestinians on the West Bank standing in front of their olive trees,  we are standing in front of our apple trees, protecting them from the encroachment of a hostile government.    They, the government bureaucrats, say they are protecting us from ourselves.   They say that we don’t know enough not to eat bad food.  They say that a farmer would sell tainted milk or meat or eggs or vegetables to his neighbors and friends.   They say that we would feed bad food to our own family and loved ones.    Well, let me tell you, the only bad food we are feeding anyone is the over-processed, GMO-ladden, vacant-of-nutrient foods that the big manufacturers shovel our way every day in the chain supermarkets.  If you are eating fresh nutrient-dense foods you are going to eat less, because your body is going to crave less.   And you are going to be healthier over all.  Twinkies just can’t do that.

This is what I call a “just walk away” moment.   My favorite kind of civil disobedience.   Just as Gandhi lead the salt march  to prove to the people of India, and to the British Empire, that they could make their own salt and did not need to remain enslaved to the English salt monopoly, so too we can grow our own food.   As Ron Finley of the South Central Garden in LA said so eloquently:  “Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do.  Plus you get strawberries.”  and my favorite quote from him: “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

So we in the food sovereignty movement offer you the opportunity to take back control of what you eat three times a day.   Let the big guys know that they cannot intimidate us into eating rubbish that nourishes neither our bodies nor our souls.   Anyone interested in getting a food sovereignty ordinance passed in your own town can speak to me and we’ll get you started.

We need to protect our small farms and farmers.   They are the people who feed us.  They are also, historically,  the people who brought us the populist movement which lead to so much government reform in the late 1800’s.   And currently the farmers in Nebraska are one of the major reasons we are winning the fight against the XL pipeline.   Farmers are independent, hard-working, tough-minded folk who see the truth more clearly than most and are not afraid to stand up for what they believe.

So stand with small farmers and farmworkers everywhere and take back your power.   Stand up in front of your apples trees or tomato plants or by the side of your local farmer and just say NO.   No to GMOs, no to heavy-handed government oversight, no to caving into the intimidation bought and paid for by the folks that make the most money selling us crap to eat.   Join the next great civil rights movement.   The right to know what is in our food and  to eat whatever we damn well please.

“Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”  Wendell Berry>

The FSMA is Coming, the FSMA is coming!!!!

The deadline for commenting on the Food Safety and Modernization act is fast approaching (November 15th) and a lot of people on the interwebs telling you why you should care.    One of the best, most cogent arguments is made by Brian Snyder on his blog Write to Farm.    Here is the link.   Brian is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and the FoodRoutes Network, with my home and office in Centre County, PA. I am also current president of the Pennsylvania State Council of Farm Organizations, which represents the entire agricultural community in the state.

But the main reason for this post is to remind folks to send in their comments to the FDA about the proposed rule making.   Do it!

 

And Now Some Words of Wisdom and a Call to Action

I already (permanently) link to Civil Eats on this blog but just in case you never click that link you should click this one.   It is a piece written by my friend, mentor, partner in activism Bob St. Peter.   This Land is Our Land?   Here’s a quote:  “The American way of land has been this: conquest, enclosure, inheritance, foreclosure, and sale to the highest bidder. And that trend is likely only to get worse. For example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, at the bleeding edge of free-market thinking, has proposed that any corporation anywhere in the world be able to buy as much farm land in his state as it wants. At the moment, there are at least a few restrictions on the kinds of international investors allowed to dabble in Wisconsin farmland, with a 640-acre limit on purchases for firms designated foreign.”

Read all the way to the end.   Bob asks you to pull up a chair and enter the discussion about how we can keep land in the hands of those who will farm it.

At other places in the article it speaks about young people who do not come from a farming background who want to “get their hands dirty” and get back to the land as their parents and grandparents did, however briefly, in the 60’s.    Which brought to mind the newest edition of my own alumni magazine which was it’s “Thirty under 30” issue.  In this publicity rag from a school known for its schools of medicine, engineering and business there were TWO alums on the list who were doing work in the area of local food.   One was labeled a “Local Food Champion” and the other was someone who works for Slow Food in NYC.   Not bad odds.  Maybe, just maybe, the issues we care so much about are becoming mainstream.   As long as the interest is sincere and not just a co-opting of the “right” words then this is a good thing.

Home Grown Energy

It looked about the same when we saw it yesterday. Maybe a bit more complete.

Spent the last 36 hours in Vermont visiting with my extended family.   My god-daughter is a science professor at Vermont Technical College where they are doing all sorts of interesting things in the field of Agriculture.    The most notable of which is a very large anaerobic digester they are building to produce methane from food and animal waste.   The plan, as I understand it, is to generate electricity from the methane and use that to power the campus and sell back to the grid.   This project involves students from many different disciplines plus faculty and the manager of the on site farm.   It was all very exciting.  Real home-grown energy.

And it was nice to see the family, too.