Last Saturday Betsy was in Monument Square in Portland at the March Against Monsanto. The week before that Heather was on the steps of the Maine Supreme Court at the press conference just before Dan Brown’s case was heard. In between those two events two counties in Oregon passed bans on planting GMO crops.
Here is all those events:
March Against Monsanto
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 that feed us. They are also, historically, the people that 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
GMO Bans In Oregon
Comments for Press Conference on Supreme Court steps May 13, 2014.
Good morning. I’m Heather Retberg of Quill’s End Farm, a 100 acre farm in Penobscot, a farm where we raise grass—the kind that cows eat– and children, and animals of all sorts.
I am Farmer Brown.
I’m here today because my son told me to speak up even if my voice shakes. I’m here because I believe that food raised by a community, for a community, within a community should be regulated by that community. Local rules for local food. As our food production returns increasingly to decentralized production, so must the decision-making about that food.
I’m here today because five years ago, an inspector came to our farm. He said there were some changes coming. Our license for our farm store wouldn’t be all we needed anymore. We wouldn’t be able to butcher our chickens at our neighbor’s licensed and inspected facility. We would need to build our own. And he had a new word to replace farmer. The state now viewed us as “milk distributors”. Now, THAT required another license, more buildings, more state oversight. Selling milk and chicken in our own community, directly from our farm, would no longer be acceptable without a license.
Why the change?
Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett will today argue that Dan Brown is a public health threat, so long as he has no license. He wasn’t…until 2009. Now the public health is threatened when farmers continue selling food we’ve raised to our communities. There have been no food-borne illness outbreaks from raw milk in Maine. Not one. Not from Dan Brown and from any other farm selling food directly within their community. (The state does not even have the capacity with testing to distinguish between the presence of harmful or helpful bacteria in milk.)
The rule change came without a process including citizen input, without legislative oversight. It came as an “administrative procedure”. Dairy inspection services moved from one division to another within the department of agriculture as…an “administrative procedure”. There was no public health threat. We were re-defined as ‘milk distributors’ as an administrative procedure. There was no public health threat, no legislative oversight, no public input. The Administrative Procedures Act (in Maine, MAPA, Title 5, 8074) may be a root, a law, to learn much more about when you go home. You may also want to look up another law that grants our commissioner of agriculture the authority to enter into agreements—some with financial strings attached– with any corporation or federal agency (in Title 7). These agreements filter down to us…administratively, procedurally. They affect us substantially.
Administrative procedures, not public health threats, are what has brought us here today. The absence of democratic participation in our local food system.
But we didn’t know all that five years ago. We did know that, as farmers and patrons of local food, we had to do something. We came together and drafted the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. We came together to protect our traditional food exchanges, the relationships that come from those exchanges, the way of life we value in our community, access to real food, the resilience of a local economy. The ordinance was four pages. My town of Penobscot voted unanimously to adopt those four pages. And…applauded ourselves afterward. At town meeting.
Now, eleven towns have followed suit, deciding for themselves how they define farmers, patrons, food. No administrative procedure, all public input. Direct participation in democracy. Home rule in our state constitution and statute says that it IS within our authority as communities to protect our health, safety and welfare. Eleven towns have adopted a local law to do just that. Art. 1, Sect. 2 of our state constitution says we have an indefeasible right to reform or change government when our safety and happiness depend on it. Our safety. Our happiness. Our food. Our communities.
So, why are we here today? We’ve been feeding each other this way for a long time. The corporations are scared. The government is acting on those fears.
We found a tool, a dusty tool, of democracy…and used it. We threatened the power structure. So the state sued Dan Brown. They thought they’d found a tender link, but those behind me today are here to show that it is a strong chain.
This court will soon consider these questions. We’ve come today for many reasons: access to food for everyone, to support small farms, to protect rights, to strengthen democracy. We’ve walked a long road to get here.
But there is a weight that lays heavy today as we go into this court. Dan and Judy Brown have been in a 2 ½ year long court battle. For all the different reasons you’ve come today, know that it is a somber day of gravity for Dan and Judy. Be here for all the larger issues at stake, but send your support, the strength of all your hearts together, into the courtroom with Dan and Judy today.
However the court rules on this case, we’ll keep walking this road.