Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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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Family Farm Groups from Three Countries Slam NAFTA Reboot Based on TPP

As the formal talks to renegotiate NAFTA begin in Washington, DC this week, family farm organizations from Canada, the United States and Mexico denounce the direction of the talks. Despite repeated demands by civil society organizations in all three countries, the governments have refused to open the talks to the public or to publish proposed negotiating texts. All signs point to negotiations designed to increase agribusiness exports and corporate control over the food system rather than to support fair and sustainable trade and farming systems.

 
The Trump administration has stated its clear intention to continue its trend of putting multinational corporations’ narrow interests first by using the same blueprint that shaped the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A review of submissions on the talks includes proposals to dismantle Canada’s successful dairy supply management program and eliminate restrictions on trade in GMOs and other agricultural biotechnology.
 
“Under NAFTA and its forerunner, the Canada-US FTA, farm input costs have gone up and inflation-adjusted commodity prices have dropped, yet the farmer’s share of the grocery dollar is smaller. We export more, but imports have increased faster, which means our share of our own domestic market is actually shrinking,” said Jan Slomp, President of Canada’s National Farmers Union. “NAFTA and the FTA have not helped farmers. Since 1988 we have seen one in every five of our farms disappear and we’ve lost over 70% of our young farmers, even though Canada’s population has increased.”
 
“The USA cannot solve its dairy crisis by taking over the Canadian dairy market and putting our farmers out of business,” said Slomp. “We need Canada to stand firm against any temptation to negotiate away supply management. Our system ensures farmers are paid the cost of production, processing plants are able to run at full capacity and consumers have a reliable, wholesome and affordable supply of dairy, poultry and eggs – all without any government subsidies.”
 
Jim Goodman, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and member of the National Family Farm Coalition, agreed. “Federal and State Governments and Land Grant Universities, at the behest of the dairy industry, have done all they can to encourage U.S. dairy farmers to produce more milk, never questioning how much milk might be too much or how the subsequent cheap prices affect farmers. We cannot expect Canada, at the expense of their dairy farmers, to bail us out. Farmers – whether U.S. or Canadian – are nothing more than parts of the machine to the industry and NAFTA. That’s the way free trade works.”
 
Ben Burkett, National Family Farm Coalition board president and Mississippi farmer, noted that simply increasing exports will not replace ​the need for ​ fair prices. “U.S. family farmers and ranchers have demanded that the administration restores Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat, which would provide more accurate information to consumers while improving our access to markets.”​
 
Mexican family farmers, who have been devastated by NAFTA’s existing provisions that flooded their markets with cheap grains, will join thousands of labor, environmental and other activists in Mexico City tomorrow to denounce the talks and demand a completely different approach based on complementarity and cooperation. On agriculture, they insist that, “Mexico must guarantee food sovereignty and security and exclude basic grains, especially corn. Transgenic crops should be excluded and the ability of national states to promote sustainable agriculture intact. Likewise, Mexico must maintain its adhesion the UPOV [International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants] Act of 1978 and to reject the commitment to accede to the UPOV Act 1991, as it was intended in the TPP.”
 
Victor Suarez, Executive Director of the Mexican National Association of Rural Producers (ANEC) added that, “This whole process should begin with a thorough, independent evaluation of NAFTA’s economic, social, environmental and governance impacts. The goal should be to restore national sovereignty over food and farm policy, and to support local farming communities.”
 
“For many years, Rural Coalition has advocated for a ‘people-to-peoples NAFTA’ linking rural communities in all three countries to collaborate to improve their local economies and food sovereignty. A renegotiation of NAFTA that further helps transnational corporations while diminishing community self-determination will only hasten rural economic collapse –exactly the wrong way to go,” said John Zippert, Rural Coalition Chairperson and longtime Federation of Southern Cooperatives staff member in Alabama.
 
“NAFTA has woven our economies together in ways that hurt family farmers, workers and our environments,” said Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Director of International Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “We need a new approach to trade that promotes local and regional food systems, including providing for mechanisms in all three countries to shelter food crops from volatile markets and dumping. Simplistic calls to expand exports won’t get us to the fair and sustainable food and farm system we need.”
 
As an ongoing tool for understanding NAFTA, IATP has released a primer paper, “NAFTA Renegotiation: What’s at stake for food, farmers and the land?” as well as collecting 25 years’ worth of research in a NAFTA portal accessible at http://www.iatp.org/collection/nafta-portal.

Contacts:

Josh Wise, 952-818-5474, jwise@iatp.org

Quinton Robinson, 703-975-4466, quintonnrobinson@nffc.net

Jan Slomp, 403-704-4364, marian.jan@gmail.com

Victor Suarez Carrera, victor.suarez@anec.org.mx

 

Why the Democrats are Losing All the Time

So much has happened since my last post that I have decided to make this one a “themed” essay. No day by day telling of my time in The Swamp. More of an overview of what I see happening.

My theme is “Why the Democrats are Losing All the Time.” By Betsy Garrold

Here are some of the reasons that the tone deaf DNC will continue to lose to the dysfunctional, horrible, racist, sexist RNC.

#1: They are tone deaf to issues they even claim to champion like LGBTQ rights. Here is my evidence. I was at a famous DC hotel a couple of weeks ago attending a dinner/training for a legislative fly-in I was participating in. Also in the hotel were the DNC. It was not a huge group and seemed to be mostly young people so I am guessing some sort of youth caucus event. Anyhow I went to use the public restrooms in the corridor we were sharing with this group and this is what I saw:

 Not a great picture but you get the idea.   Yep, it’s okay for the “girls” to share their (Gender Neutral) restrooms but don’t you dare ask the “men” to do it. Tone deaf much?

#2 My next encounter with the DNC was at the big Planned Parenthood rally on the front lawn of the Capitol building. PP had done a great job of building up to this rally against the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act. There were thousands of people there in their pink buttons and t-shirts. The speakers began……all Democrats. Which was marginally tolerable but then Nancy Pelosi introduced the head of the DNC What’s-his-name Perez and I had to walk away. I scouted the perimeters hoping to run into my own party (the Greens) but instead found this group advocating for a single party payer system:

And then, several days later, I read this interesting article which explained a lot. 

So no surprise that the PP rally turned into a DNC pep rally. Only sadness at the co-opting of an organization I used to respect. It looks like this cartoon may have some truth to it…even considering the source.


And finally #3. This meme from the book of the face.   


How terrifying is that thought? Yes, if Clinton, with her smarts and her savvy and her social graces had been elected we all could have gone back to sleep and let the oligarchs continue to run our lives. She would have been so soothing and PC as she lead us into more wars and more $$$ being funneled to the wealthiest few and more of everything that Wall Street and Big Pharma and Big Argo-business etc etc wants. As I said to many of my friends on 11/9/16 “Well, at least he will be a good organizing tool for progressives.” And he has been (tool, of course, being the operative word) his blatant racism, sexism, elitism is easy to rally against. So, yes, you could have had neo-liberal, con-artist Clinton as your President. But in many, many ways this is better.

So why has the DNC lost all the special elections since 45’s inauguration?  Because they think that being Republican-lite is the way to go. They are so far up the behinds of their moneyed masters that they cannot even see the light of day and they certainly can not see, or figure out why, the masses anger at the status quo. No justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace. Figure it out DNC. Or don’t, all the better for the truly progressive parties out there who will keep growing and fighting the good fight and winning.

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.  

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.

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.

Baker’s Green Acres and DNR Antics

Latest update from Baker’s Green Acres.

I have to say this guy is doing the right thing in fighting the bureaucrats over this right to farm issue but I have a few problems with his presentation.   I don’t know if the DNR bureaucrat is Jewish or not but his name is Harry not Hymie and the fact that Mark Baker makes that “slip of the tongue” several times in this video does nothing to help his (Mark’s) case as far as I am concerned.

Otherwise this is good news.   Typical of the bureaucrats to back off once they know they have lost.   Anyhow watch it for yourself and see what you think: