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Life Arts    H2'ed 3/21/11

Family Farm Defenders Send 53 Tractors to Madison Rally

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My guest today is John Peck, Executive Director of Family Farm Defenders. Welcome to OpEdNews, John. Many farmers in Wisconsin (and beyond) are supporting union workers in the standoff in Madison. Is that an unusual and unexpected coalition, John? 

protest outside Chicago Board of Trade, 
April, 2010, photo by Amy Mall

Not really since both depend upon collective bargaining to defend their rights against the greed of corporations.  

It is this type of worker and farmer solidarity that has created such powerful grassroots political movements across the Midwest throughout U.S. history from the Populist struggle against the robber barons of the late 19th century through the joint organizing drives across fields, forests, and factories of the 1930s, right up through present times with the emergence of strong network of farmer co-ops and labor unions.  When the state fights back - such as calling out the National Guard to bust strikes by farmers and workers (which has happened several times in WI history already) these groups also stand together in solidarity.

Thanks to this legacy, in Minnesota, it is still called the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) and here in Wisconsin, family farmer groups and labor unions have worked together to oppose free trade deals, union busting up the food chain (including the bitter strike at Tyson's pepperoni plant in Jefferson a few years back now) and now attacks on Badger Care and other forms of medical assistance being proposed by Gov. Walker (for many working poor and family farmers this is their ONLY form of health coverage if they have any at all).

So, no, they are not strange bedfellows.  An injury to one is an injury to all. 

Solidarity Cows at Madison rally

That makes sense. Tell us about Family Farm Defenders.  What is it and what do you do?

Sorry to be so slow responding to your email questions.  As you may know, we are in the midst of a grassroots uprising here and planning for our farmer labor tractorcade this coming Saturday [March 12] is taking up lots of my time.

At any rate, you can find out much more about the history of FFD on our website and archived elsewhere on the Internet.  The short version is that we were formed by Midwest dairy farmers in the mid 1990s who were fighting the USDA' s mandatory dairy checkoff program and Monsanto's introduction of rBGH.  Since then we have expanded greatly with many other types of farmer members, as well as consumer allies, farm workers, communities of faith, environmentalists, and global justice activists.  We have adopted Via Campesina's seven principles of Food Sovereignty as our broader organizing framework.  As a grassroots organization, we mostly work to educate and empower people to reclaim control over their food/farm system.

Signs: Cultivate Democracy, Grow Solidarity, WI Farmers Part of the Growing Opposition, Can We Peas Have a Voice?
The rally took place Saturday [March 12] and it was reported that tractors were there. I'd like to give our readers more of the inside story and keep it alive.
When you've had a chance to catch your breath, I'd like to resume our interview and hope that you do too.

Yes, we had 53 tractors total come for the tractorcade and they were met by a crowd of over 100,000 people.  Quite a historic event - much more about it is now posted on our webpage.

At any rate, I'm a little less "distracted" now and able to continue our interview, but you'll have to remind me just where we left off...

Pull Together: Support Working Families

I understand completely. All of us outside of Wisconsin are eager for first-hand accounts. Can you give us a sense of how the grassroots opposition to Gov. Walker's plans is going, John?  Is there near unanimity among local farmers on this subject?

Well, grassroots opposition to Gov. Walker's proposals has been steadily growing as more and more folks realize what is at stake.  First it was being portrayed as just an attack on public sector workers, but then when his budget came out people saw the true nature of his ideological agenda to downsize, privatize, and outsource all sorts of other essential services - like public schools, food stamps, low income healthcare coverage (both Badgercare and Medicare/Medicaid) - even selling off state owned power plants to the Koch Brothers without competitive bidding! 
Hey Republicans! The Kochs supply you
but LABOR feeds you (and takes care of your sewage) 
But, just like the labor movement which does not speak with one voice (there were some unions who supported Walker), farm groups are not all opposed to his agenda either.  Most notably, the Farm Bureau continues to support Gov. Walker even as he destroys the BadgerCare program they originally supported.  And other corporate agribusiness organizations, like the Dairy Business Association (DBA) have been actively opposing our efforts to mobilize farmers.  Clearly, they hope to save their taxpayer subsidies for factory farms from Walker's budget axe having already convinced him to eliminate those few state sustainable agricultural programs we helped create like Buy Local Buy Wisconsin and farmland preservation.  

We know now who our real friends are in this struggle for rural justice. 
Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?

I guess all that I would add is that in light of the current global food crisis, relocalizing agriculture is more important than ever.   Access to safe healthy food is just too important to be left up to the whimsy of commodity speculators.  And importing a third of all our fresh fruit and vegetables is not only dangerous but unsustainable.  Similarly, the land grab now underway by hedge funds, banks, and others who do not really care about farming poses a grave threat to our nation's future.  The U.S. should have a goal of preserving our best cropland and getting more young people into farming - but that is only possible by limiting the power of corporate agribusiness and ensuring that farmers get a fair price for their products.

It was a pleasure talking with you. I'm looking forward to further updates. Thanks and good luck!

All photos from March 12th Madison Rally by Gabrielle Fine
See more here!

Family Farm Defenders, P.O. Box 1772, Madison, WI 53701

It is our belief that healthy safe accessible food is a basic human right and that all communities should be able to control their own food system. To this end, FFD supports sustainable agriculture, farm worker rights, animal welfare, consumer safety, fair trade, and food sovereignty. 

Company Overview:
Family Farm Defenders is a national grassroots organization with members in all 50 states. 

local food and fair trade
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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