Agriculture

Changing the Menu

My friends and I are young and hip. We buy local, ride bikes, vote for Nader, and we do not despise conspiracy theory. Corporations and Cheez Whiz, suburbs and SUVs, global warming and GMOs (that's genetically modified organisms)—all bad. When our college debts are paid, we'll buy a farm together. Meanwhile, we swap e-mails: "GMOs Taint Tacos!" "Bt Corn Kills Butterflies!" "Monsanto Bankrupts Farmers!"

Monsanto is the St. Louis-based Microsoft of the biotech world, best known for Roundup Ready soybeans, built to withstand a weed-killing dose of the company's most profitable herbicide, and Bt corn, engineered with a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis to poison caterpillars. Depending on your perspective, Monsanto's a start-small, dream-big company that will revolutionize agriculture and end hunger, or a profit-mad corporation out to crush its competitors and wreck the environment. I have friends who say "MonSatan," and it always startles me. Surely, I think, there's more to this story. And so there is—in Daniel Charles' wise and generous new book, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine March-April 2002
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Down on the Farm

Seven blocks from the Sojourners office, in a gravel lot by the Metro station, the Columbia Heights farmers market is open for business. It’s a frosty morning near the end of the season, the shoppers are wearing parkas, and all the farmers have pumpkins for sale. At one stand advertising "fresh eggs from happy chickens," a woman hands a bag of apples to the farmer. He grins. "Throw in a squash and I’ll make it five bucks." She picks out a butternut and pays him with a five dollar coupon that he’ll trade in for cash at the end of the day.

A few miles away on Capitol Hill, the farm bill’s up for vote again. As usual, environmental, agriculture, and food security groups are lobbying furiously and corporate execs are striking deals in back rooms. The farm bill, revised every few years, ties together everything from commodity subsidies to wetland conservation to food stamps to export regulation. It allocates billions of dollars annually, occasionally to fund creative initiatives like the Farmers Market Nutrition Program—which guarantees profits for local farmers and provides fresh veggies to WIC moms in neighborhoods like Columbia Heights. More often, however, farm bill dollars end up in the wrong hands.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine January-February 2002
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Let Them Eat Grapes

The United Farm Workers union has called off its 16-year boycott of California table grapes, citing recent organizing and contract victories as the reason. UFW president Arturo Rodriguez announced that "the UFW signed its first agreement in 27 years with Gallo, covering 450 vineyard workers in Sonoma County." Other recent victories include contracts with the largest winery in Washington state and the biggest mushroom producer in Florida.

Check out the UFW's "label of the month" to see a current list of products under union contracts at www.ufw.org/ulmth.htm.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine March-April 2001
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Save the Chickens

Chickens have evidently found a soft place in the hearts of McDonald's management, who recently announced they will stop buying "debeaked" chickens for use in their McNuggets and other McDelicacies. ("Debeaked" is the technical term for…well, you know.) The fast-food behemoth also insisted on fair coop standards that will give hens at least 72 square inches of space each. They also demanded an end to the practice of withholding food and water to increase egg production. Apparently, the eggs no longer justify the means.

"Big companies are increasingly being held responsible for the practices of their subcontractors—like Nike and other sneaker makers with plants they don't even run in Third World countries," says financial analyst Bruce Raabe. "This should be seen as a company trying to get out ahead of a potential problem and turning it into a potential asset."

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Core Values

When Ralph Broetje was 15, he had what he calls a "wild vision." He saw himself someday owning a large orchard and using the proceeds to help kids in India.

That vision came true. Ralph owns an orchard, 4,000 acres of mostly apples in southeastern Washington. And the orchard has helped children in India—and many others as well.

Ralph and his wife Cheryl are owners of one of the largest privately owned apple orchards in the world. Its value has been assessed at roughly $40 million. Almost 700 employees work year-round on the farm—the number nearly doubles during harvest season. Workers in the Broetje warehouse pack an average of 18,000 boxes of apples every day.

What’s unusual about this place, though, is not the size. It’s the way people are treated. Clearly the most precious commodity around here isn’t apples—it’s human beings. It’s a business, and obviously a very successful one, but this company provides for its workers not only daycare, as do many businesses, but opportunities for everything from housing to counseling services to education, from pre-school to college (see "Bearing Fruit," below). In many ways, the Broetje operation looks more like a social service agency—or a church—than an agricultural enterprise.

Irrigation from the Snake River has revitalized this region, located a few miles upstream from its merger with the Columbia River. Where the water doesn’t reach, desolate expanses of sand and sagebrush mock Washington’s motto as the "Evergreen State." Thanks to now-controversial dams, this is one of the most productive dryland agricultural areas in the world. Irrigation has brought forth verdant fields of wheat and barley, canola and mustard, dry peas and lentils, alfalfa and other small grains. Boise-Cascade grows acres of fast-growing trees to feed its paper factory in nearby Wallula.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

A New Team Takes the Field

Jose Montenegro grew up on a small farm in Durango, Mexico—a farm his father still owns and manages. Today Montenegro is director of the Rural Development Center in Salinas, California, providing training for migrant farm workers to become independent farmers. "There is this passion, this love, that Mexican people have for the land that goes way back to our ancestors," Montenegro says. "When I came [to the United States] I worked in factories, but I was looking for a commitment, not just a job."

The Rural Development Center opened its doors in the 1980s to address an unrecognized statistic. While California’s "traditional" family farms—run by the descendents of European immigrants—were on the decline, between 1992 and 1997 there was a 32 percent increase in Latino farm owners.

The same statistics are turning up around the country for "nontraditional" and "new entry" farmers. Nearly 9 percent of U.S. farms are owned and operated by women. The percentage of black-owned farms is also on the rise, due in part to the 1997 discrimination suit black farmers won against the USDA. There is a nationwide increase in small farms owned or operated by American Indians, Latinos, and Asians.

The USDA’s National Commission on Small Farms is changing the climate for small farm owners. The Ag Department’s Civil Rights Action Team recommended formation of the commission after it was recognized that, in addition to racial discrimination, government policies and practices have discriminated against small farm operators.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

You're Going to Eat That?

When the price paid to farmers for hogs crashed to Depression-era lows a year ago, it was nothing less than cataclysmic for independent hog growers. Already pressured by the rapid expansion of large-scale corporate hog farms, many independents were unable to absorb the losses and left farming for good.

Even if you have sworn off bacon and have never been within smelling distance of a hog farm, these events are worthy of your interest and concern. This year has brought stress, upheaval, and economic disaster to many rural communities at a pitch to match the farm crisis of the ‘80s. Weather extremes have forced more farmers out of business. But the combined effects of low prices, corporate aggression in the marketplace, and public policy that often undercuts the smaller-scale farmer has taken the more serious toll.

Droughts and floods have always been part of the farmers’ burden. However, despite rumors to the contrary, neither the market nor public policy are forces of nature. Through legislative agendas and what we put in our shopping carts, we help create the shape of farming in the United States.

A majority of Americans are suburbanites and city-dwellers, and the majority of them have uninterrupted access to abundant and affordable food despite market and natural disasters. So why should we have a problem with the current direction of farm production?

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Row By Row

"Just as a light from a candle can be seen more clearly in a darkened room, so can the human benefits of plants be seen more easily in communities lacking in economic and social opportunity." —Charles Lewis

Washington, D.C. neighborhoods range from those having virtually no economic structures to those having more money than they know what to do with. No matter where I am in the city, however, I almost always see green. Whether it’s a single potted geranium on a porch, a shade-giving tulip tree, or a 15-plot community garden ready for harvest, the feeling that green spaces give to a run-down neighborhood is hope.

An organization that facilitates some of that hope is Garden Resources of Washington, or GROW. Director Judy Tiger and her staff of Americorps volunteers are the movers and shakers of organic community gardening in the neighborhoods of D.C. Their mission is to help people help themselves by providing opportunities for individuals and communities to produce food, beautify neighborhoods, and to become environmental stewards through community green spaces and gardens. Together they are vision shapers, organizers, and educators for newly starting gardens, as well as friends to already existing community gardens. GROW provides services ranging from conversations about garden start-up to years of support, including such tasks as finding landowners and getting permission for land use. Their help is often even more down-to-earth—their large white truck is stocked with tools, hoses, seeds, and mulch.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Terminate This!

There is something about standing in the middle of a field after most of the crops have been taken in that invites meditation. One afternoon last fall I was out collecting seeds in the field where we grow vegetables for our community vegetable project. It was one of those bright sunny days, with the leaves in full color and the air cool and crisp. Each year my wife and I plant extra crops to use for seeds the following year, and standing there in the rows of broccoli, the full impact of the new world order came home to me, the world order that is reshaping our food supply.

The face of farming is rapidly changing. This has been happening for the past several decades, but like everything else, it is accelerating faster and faster. Many of these changes aren’t in the interest of people or communities. The imminent revolution in seed production is a prime example of what is happening in almost every aspect of farming. For thousands of years farmers have grown their own seeds. But this isn’t the way that Monsanto, the World Bank, and the giant food-distribution corporations envision the future. Instead, they see genetically engineered seeds and a particularly nasty new development people have been calling "terminator" technology.

Terminator technology is an aspect of the new world order of agriculture that—unless people stand up and take notice—will be one of the methods used to control the world’s food supply in the next few years. The U.S. government has been funding research into terminator technology, which could make it impossible for farmers to grow their own seeds. Plant species that have been manipulated this way will be sterile. The seeds produced by the crops will not grow. There is only one purpose for terminator technology: maximizing profits. And right now the U.S. government is on the verge of giving this ability to Monsanto, a corporation rapidly becoming the world’s largest seed company with frightening monopolistic powers.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Resisting a Bitter Harvest

With shouts of "Si se puede! (Yes, it can be done!)," strawberry pickers, labor activists, church members, and even some berry growers are joining the United Farm Workers (UFW) campaign to unleash justice on strawberry fields across the United States (see "Between the Lines," Sojourners, May-June 1997). Unfortunately, anti-union forces are violently fighting back.

On July 2, 1998, following a failed attempt by anti-union workers to shut down the Coastal Berry cooler (one of the largest growers in Santa Cruz County, California), a foreman at Coastal Berry Co. was arrested after he and an estimated 150 others attacked 75 strawberry pickers and several sheriff's deputies with lead pipes and scraps of wood. Three farm workers were hospitalized after being shoved to the ground and severely beaten. Pro-union Coastal Berry workers are calling for the dismissal of the Coastal employees arrested for inciting violence and for a national mobilization to hold Coastal Berry president David Gladstone accountable to the earlier neutrality agreement he signed with the UFW.

Coastal Berry is a subcontractor of Driscoll Strawberry Associates, suppliers of 25 percent of U.S. strawberries. Driscoll has hired professional union-busters, fired pro-union pickers, plowed under crops, and shut down plants rather than bargain for union contracts. The UFW recently won a class action suit against Driscoll that resulted in $575,000 in back wages for workers who were forced to work "off the clock" without pay. The UFW has also filed legal actions against 10 Driscoll growers for failing to notify workers when they were exposed to cancer-causing agents.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pages

Subscribe