This is a longer than usual post for me, but one I hope you’ll read in its entirety. (There’s a fantastic video at the end as your prize for getting through!)
I don’t normally use this blog as my soapbox, but this is an important issue to me and I wanted to report back on the rally I was able to attend over at City Hall in Manhattan this past Tuesday morning in support of family farmers taking on Monsanto.
(You can read more about how Monsanto is undermining our farmers, our food, and the agricultural system by checking out my last post, Family Farmers Take on Monsanto.)
The rally was organized in part through Occupy Big Food and Food Democracy Now (the founders of which came out from Iowa). Having gone to a couple of the Occupy Wall Street marches / rallies, where anywhere from 10,000 – 20,000 people were present, it was kind of a shock to see how few people had come out to oppose Monsanto and support the farmers. Then again, it was a weekday morning, and those people lucky enough to have jobs right now were working. I also wonder if agriculture and food policy issues fall off the radar for some people, or if these particular issues don’t seem as immediate to some.
More folks showed up as the day went on. I asked one policeman how many people he estimated were there at the peak – he guessed about 125. I would have guessed closer to 200 myself, but what do I know?
Here are of some of the signs people had made from burlap feed bags:
People had made “timeline” signs detailing Monsanto’s atrocities from 1901 through 2012. Each person held a sign and stood together, in semi-circle so that you could walk along and read them all. Here are just a few…I wish I had a panoramic shot of how many people it took to hold all those signs.
There were some really wonderful speakers, including Andrew Faust of The Center For BioRegional Living. He spoke not just passionately, but really intelligently and persuasively. He shared a particularly disturbing German study that found high concentrations of Glyphosate, a carcinogenic chemical found in herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup, in all urine samples tested.
He also talked about what power we as consumers have, and “the Fourth R,” as he calls it. To paraphrase him, recycling, reducing, and reusing are all great – but we also have the power to refuse. He reminded us of the power we have as consumers spending money and encouraged us to “Vote with your dollars.”
Andrew Faust talks to the crowd
While we waited anxiously for the farmers to come out of the courthouse, people mingled and networked and a few people did some filming for an upcoming documentary they are making about the cause. I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen since 2008, who is very into permaculture and who happened to be carrying around some seeds from a few places, including the local Hudson Valley Seed Library, who she very highly recommended.
She also had some colorful corn seeds from a friend in Arizona. “Are they popcorn seeds?” I asked. She said no, that these corn seeds were from a Native American there, and that this corn goes back many, many, many generations. Wow. She gave me a few of the seeds. I don’t have a lot of room, but I’ll try planting one or two, if only to help continue saving the seeds. (If anyone is interested in trying it, by the way, I can spare a few of these…)
Here are a few photos of the general crowd / scene that day – notice the lack of any kind of media whatsoever except the documentary crew.
a farmer introduces the attorney who is representing them...
One of the founders of Food Democracy Now (on left) and an organizer telling us (after the farmers spoke) that the police are breaking us up and we have to stop. Evidently we couldn't talk together in groups more than twenty. (Is that in the constitution?)
The farmers finally came out around 11:30am, along with the lawyer who is representing them. Evidently the judge decided she will announce a decision in early March as to whether or not she’ll grant Monsanto’s motion to dismiss the farmers’ lawsuit against them.
Farmers had come from all corners of the country – North Carolina, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, Texas, California, North Dakota and from Canada as well – Saskatchewan. I’m sure there were more. Several organic food / growing coalitions were also represented.
One by one, the farmers got up to talk to us. I want to show you their faces, but alas, WordPress refuses to let me include a slideshow AND individual photos without linking them…There are too many photos to include here, so I’ve created a separate post where you can see the farmers in attendance. See: The Faces Behind Our Organic Food.
It was a really moving day…there was a lot of fear and sadness, but also a lot of hope and inspiration. It was great to see people of all kinds, from all walks of life, from all over the world banding together in solidarity to discuss what we, as consumers, can do.
This woman, a farmer in the North East who had been in the courtroom, was heartbreaking when she said “I believe this judge is in the pocket of Monsanto.” and then stopped for a few moments as she teared up. It’s what everyone fears. She went on to say “I believe this judge is in the pocket of Monsanto, and I believe our government is in the pocket of Monsanto…I fear for our future, for the future of our food, for the future of our children, for our health…”
“Monsanto may have all the money,” she said, “but we, the 99 Percent, have the heart…and the power to use our dollars to show our voice, the ability to educate each other, and the will to see this through. ”
She encouraged all of us to educate ourselves and each other, to inform as many people as we can about what’s going on and why it’s important, to grow our own food, save our seed, and if we can’t, then buy locally and support farmers in every way we can.
I would add to that to write letters, make calls, and sign petitions to make your voice heard if this issue is important to you. You can sign petitions at these sites: Food Democracy Now, and Move On.Org.
One of the more encouraging things I’ve seen lately is this clip of 11-year old Birke Baehr giving a presentation about how even a kid can see that our food system is wrong, and dangerously so. He speaks intelligently, with humor and passion about what he’s learned, how he feels, and what he intends to do about it. Bravo, Birke! Well said.
Please take 5 minutes to watch his really inspiring video:
Here’s hoping Judge Naomi Buchwald is NOT in the pocket of Monsanto and that the farmers can proceed with their case.
I don’t know what the next steps will be if the farmers lose this one…It’s harrowing to me to think that the future direction of our food system could hang in the balance of one person’s decision.
So until March 5th, I’ll be actively trying to let as many people as I can know about what’s going on and urging them to sign as many petitions as possible in the next month, for whatever it’s worth.