Posts Tagged ‘local food’

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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Black Farmers Matter

This just in from the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association

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NC FARMER EDDIE WISE

For the last 40 years American Black farmers have lived a hellish nightmare deliberately orchestrated by the USDA and its local Farmers Home Administration (FmHA – now the Farm Service Agency, FSA) offices to confiscate Black owned land and homes. A review of the now historic Pigford v. Glickman Class Action by Black farmers will help one to understand the extremely vicious attack against black farmers. (For details on the Black Farmers Class Action, See https://www.blackfarmercase.com/Background.aspx or http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/pigfordmonitor/index.htm).

The story of this 67 year old military veteran and farmer Eddie Wise and his wife, Dorothy (to whom Eddie refers lovingly as (“my Brown Sugar”), is the latest example of the outrageous action by the U.S. government against a black farmer.
On Wednesday, January 20, 2015, around 7:30 a.m., at least fourteen (14) Federal Marshals in full military gear with full scale military guns drawn, along with several county sheriff officers, descended on the 106 acre farm in Nash County, N C, and forcibly escorted Eddie Wise and his wife, who was still in bed and suffers from a debilitating medical condition, out of their home and off the land that they have owned for more than 20 years.
Not only did the Federal Marshals render Eddie and Dorothy immediately homeless and landless, but did not allow them to take any of their belongings except the clothes on their backs. They also insisted on “securing” every firearm legally owned by Mr. Wise.

A Duke University Adjunct Professor, a friend of the Wises, took pictures (shown here) and acquired some sound, but was summarily put off the property also.
For the last few weeks media coverage has consistently covered visibly armed White militants who have illegally occupied federal land in Oregon. The response by the federal government and local law enforcement officers was a kindly appeal for the White militia to peacefully end their illegal occupation and leave, but until recently to no avail.
Yet, Mr. Wise and his wife have suffered the height of indignity and racist degradation. Which leads to the question, “Don’t Black farmer’s lives and possessions matter?”
Mr. Wise is in fear of his life and the life of his wife. “I believe if I had shown one ounce of resistance, the Federal Marshals would have killed me. I actually believe that’s what they came to do. I may as well live in Russia or Syria or North Korea,” said Mr. Wise, his eyes moist with tears.
Saving their land has been a long and exhaustive process for the Wise family. The ugliness of the one dimensional unfairness, racial characterization, and mental traps set for this family and thousands of other black farmers by USDA, and a corrupt legal system, defy reason and logic.
Black farmers are a racial minority and do not represent a large political power block, and therefore are unfairly treated like terrorized slave captives in their own country, a country they were vital in building.
The farm organization, Black Farmers and Agriculturist Association (BFAA) was organized in 1997 to protect, protest, raise much needed funds, and bring national attention to the plight of Black farmers. At the time Black farmers were losing 2,000 acres of farm land per day. BFAA has come to the aid of Black farmers with such needs as groceries, to pay light bills and tax bills, travel expenses, lawyer fees, and helped buy books for college students of farmers.

How can you help? We ask you to join with us in support of Eddie and Dorothy Wise by sharing this tragic story on Face Book, Twitter, and by Email. Help us get Eddie and Dorothy out of a motel which is costing too much per week just for bed and bath; and support the fundraising to help us get their home and farm back. Please contribute at gofundme.com/jgaaq4.

S O M E B A C K G R O U N D ON THE WISE CASE

1. “In 1993 Wise and his wife applied for a loan to purchase a 106-acre hog farm. Wise said that at first the FmHA County Loan Officer didn’t let him know that the farm had been “earmarked for minority farmers.” Then officials tried to reappraise the farm to increase the value, but the value actually dropped. Lastly, a White farmer who wanted the farm paid a Black woman to apply for him. She was one of the final two applicants whose names were drawn from a hat. “We won the draw,” Wise said with a smile.

Wise continued to face resistance from the county loan office, which is now demanding that he provide a production history going back five years and a production plan for the new farm.”

2. “Eddie and Dorothy Wise raise hogs on 106 acres near Whitakers, in east-central North Carolina. Eddie is a fourth-generation hog farmer but the first to own a farm; his father and grandfather were sharecroppers. During a 20 plus career in the military, and as an ROTC instructor at Howard and Georgetown Universities, Eddie raised hogs in his spare time. It was his dream to return home to North Carolina and farm full-time. When he retired from the Army in 1991 at the age of 48, that’s what he set out to do. Dorothy Wise grew up in Washington, D.C., but she too hoped to one day live on a farm. When she and Eddie met at Howard University in the 1980s and she discovered he was a farmer, it seemed that her wish had come true.

Still, it took the Wises five years, until 1996, to secure the loans they needed to buy their farm. They were repeatedly turned down by local government loan officers who, the Wises are convinced, did not want African American farmers to succeed. It was only through determined effort and much research and legwork that the Wises were able to receive the financial help for which they qualified.
Today the Wises have 250 hogs, which they raise from birth and sell to a black-owned pork processor in the area. Eddie’s lean pork, raised without hormones or antibiotics, is sold at a premium in area supermarkets. Finding such a market niche is the only way the Wises can compete with the much-larger farms that mass-produce hogs for the large meatpacking companies.”

We are Winning

  There is a famous quote from Gandhi that goes: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Well, I am here today to tell you good people that we are winning.

When the Maine State Legislature considers and the Agriculture committee passes several bills that reinforce the rights of farmers to sell their goods face-to-face with their patrons. We are winning.

When Joel Salatin, a hero of the food sovereignty movement, flies in from Virginia for the day to testify to our Legislators in favor of a state constitutional amendment establishing the people’s inalienable right to food. We are winning.

When 13 towns, and counting, in the state have passed the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. Reinforcing the right of people to participate in traditional food-ways. We are winning.

When the average age of farmers in Maine continues to fall and farmers from around the country are moving to Maine because of the great work they see us doing to rebuild the local food infrastructure. We are winning.

When two of the largest employers in central Maine, Fedco and Johnny’s, are organic seed companies. We are winning.

When the number of food cooperatives in the state more than doubles in less than five years. We are winning.

When we succeed in shortening the food chain because of a four times increase in the number of farmers markets, the rapid growth of the Community Supported Agriculture movement, food hubs and wonderful distributors like Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative. We are winning.

When the FDA becomes so concerned about the local food rights movement in our state that they not only send Mr. Monsanto himself, Michael Taylor, to speak to farmers in Maine but they also open a third field office in a state of 1.3 million people. We are winning.

When national organizations like National Family Farm Coalition, The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Food and Water Watch and the Organic Consumers Association are so impressed with the progress we are making in Maine that they offer logistical and financial help to further our work. We are winning.

When the national headquarters for the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association is in our state. We are winning.

When John Oliver spends a whole segment of Last Week Tonite excoriating the way contract chicken farmers are used and abused by the big poultry processing companies like Tyson. And his New York City audience reacts with horror. We are winning.

When Neil Young records a whole album of pro-farmer, anti-Monsanto songs, “The Monsanto Years”. We are winning.

When the deal to buy Syngenta, a deal that would have further consolidated the ownership of the world’s seed-stock into Monsanto’s hands, falls through. We are winning.

We are blessed to be living in a state with a strong agricultural tradition supported by the 11,000 members of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and small, nimble non-profits like Food for Maine’s Future and Local Food Rules. A state that may well be one of the climate change winners as far as access to water and arable land goes. A state with a long, and recent, tradition of activism, self-governance, and self-sufficiency.

We are winning folks.   

Congratulations.

Home Again

I have such great respect for activists who do this all the time.   Leave home, sleep in strange beds, spend their days talking and talking and talking.   Networking, doing the work.  I want to do the work but I am so reluctant to leave my little homestead to do it.   I know how important it is to go and meet in person with other people trying to change the world but I just wish they would all come here.   Maybe I can figure out the Helen and Scott Nearing approach and get like-minded folks to make the pilgrimage to my little corner of the universe.   Maybe not.

But most importantly when I got home all of my baby chicks were thriving.   My non-farmer son who had been tending them for me said they had been eating like miniature vultures.   He had a hard time keeping their food troughs full.   How lucky am I to have this wonderful support system?   Very!

So home again, home again, riggety jig.   Back to the center of my universe and to a part of my life that is grounding and positive and, most importantly, here.    Oh, and my neighbor took care of the overly brazen fox who had eaten all my adult chickens and was starting in on his, in spite of his five dogs.

 

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>

Love Your Soil and Eat More Beans!

As I think more and more about local eating and folk-food patterns the radio seems to be talking to me (no I am not having auditory hallucinations).   This morning on Morning Edition the host was talking to a chef who has written a book called “Third Plate.”  I need to read it to have a good grasp of what he is saying but the bit I heard from him was encouraging.   Kind of a “Diet for a Small Planet” ethos re-imagined for the foodie culture.   Listen to it yourself and see what you think.

Then later in the morning on my local NPR station they were talking to a panel about the Maine Food Strategy  2014 Consumer Survey Report which had appeared in my inbox this week.   Now I was not thrilled with some of the layout of the graphs.   I thought bar graphs would have done a better job of conveying the message than pie charts but if you dig down there is some interesting information.    Anyhow, here is the link to the report and the link to the radio show.

And finally a New York Times piece about “What Farm-to-Table Got Wrong.”   About the need for real sustainability right down to the basics.   Right down to the soil!

Update on Baker’s Green Acres

Here is an update on the feral pig story from Michigan.   Mark Baker is running for sheriff in his county.  And he’s made a movie about it.  “Hogwash”  This is a bit of a commercial for the movie but I think it is important so here is the trailer/commercial.  I think I will buy a copy and have it shown at my local co-op.