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(en) Who killed the family farm from Daybreak! #3

From <daybreak@dojo.tao.ca>
Date Tue, 12 Nov 2002 04:54:30 -0500 (EST)


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> The Death of Independent Family Farms by Peligro 
The family farm has been a sustaining myth in America. It's been seen 
as proof that if someone was willing to work then they?d be able to have 
a little land to live on, at least enough to take care of themselves and 
their family. As if we needed more proof that the American Dream has 
become little more than a twisted corpse, a story politicians tell us to put 
our dreams to sleep, we need look no further then the situation of the 
family farm in the Midwest today. Vast rural areas have become 
depopulated, the flat landscape broken only by the occasional empty 
barn or shiny corporate tractor rolling through trim endless fields owned 
by some soulless corporation. Desolate dusty towns empty of children 
seem to sprout up between sad looking Dairy Queens. The cafes and 
porches are full of people who can?t find work (since Dairy Queen can 
only hire so many people), desperate angry people who, pressured 
from all sides, don?t know who to blame or what to make of their world 
disintegrating around them. 

Like many people here in the Midwest, I?m only the second generation to 
have grown up in the city. In fact, I still have relatives working farms in 
Northern Minnesota. Urbanites tend not to take farmers seriously, the 
'progressives' would much rather talk about colorful exotic groups in rain 
forests then the culture being destroyed in their backyard. It's easy to 
ignore the fact that in the last 2 generations family and community 
farming, the way that most Minnesotans made their living less then a 
century ago, has been almost completely destroyed. 

Who To Blame? 

The main antagonist is, as usual, corporations. Studies by the National 
Farmers Union show the agricultural industry has been consolidating 
into a handful of "food chain clusters." A very few corporations control all 
stages of production, from manipulating the genetics of the seed until 
the foods arrive at the supermarket. Corporations use their size and 
monopolies to out-price small farmers and drive them out of business, 
after which they raise prices to almost unbearable levels for the 
consumer. Corporations manufacture and use expensive chemicals 
and biotechnology in order to make it economically unviable for farms to 
remain small or competitive. Prices for agricultural products are at the 
lowest level in fifty years at the same time as operating costs have 
continued to rise to an unmanageable point for families who, in a good 
year, already operate in the red. 

The results of this consolidation are ominous; communities are 
completely disempowered as farmer?s children end up working for 
agribusiness on the same land their parents once owned, control of our 
basic resource, food, is put into the hands of greedy insatiable 
corporations whose only real interest is profit (no matter what the cost in 
environmental or health damages to normal people). Corporations, who 
drive farmers deep into debt, forcing them to stretch their resources in a 
futile attempt to compete with agribusiness, are ravaging the heartland. 
Many family farmers work from sunrise to sunset and still end up 
making less then they would on welfare. 

The problem has been developing since at least the early 1900?s. The 
rich and landowners began to apply economic, political, and police 
pressure in order to force small farmers out of business. With the rise of 
corporate culture in the last 30 years the trickle of losses turned into a 
flood, enough that the public had to take notice. Celebrities and 
musicians in the 80?s turned out the spectacle called Farm Aid, concerts 
and speeches to make the rich celebrities feel good about themselves 
as the destruction continued. In the 90?s attention shifted away from the 
family farm. By then it was generally considered an anachronism, and a 
lost cause. More then 10,000 farmers have been forced off their land in 
Minnesota in the last 10 years. 

The political system has contributed just as much to the death of the 
family farm as the economic system. Midwestern politicians sometimes 
mouth support for farmers by passing ineffective Band-Aid bills or trying 
to manipulate farmers into voting for them by making big promises they 
never deliver on. Often, the legislation passed has only benefit the 
parasitic multinational corporations who, as is becoming increasingly 
apparent, control the political system. The most sickening example of 
this is the recent ?Freedom to Farm Act.? It gives lower prices to 
producers and squeezes out family farmers by rewarding the quantity 
production practiced by agribusiness. The only tangible result has been 
to increase the corporate market share. That?s why, for family farmers, 
the bill has been called the "Freedom to Fail Act?. As usual the 
legislation was not designed to protect normal people or family farmers 
but to pay dues to the economic masters of the politicians, the rich. 
Thanks to government legislation, corporate consolidation has only 
continued to increase, locking family farms in a desperate struggle for 
their very existence. 

The rural communities that farms are the foundation of have also been 
drastically affected by corporate consolidation. When farms were shut 
down, people in rural areas became unemployed and in the harsh 
economic climate of the small town, unemployable. Others, formerly 
independent workers, became wage-slaves for the new corporations. 
The crappy wages they paid help to keep corporate costs low and profits 
high, thus helping to drive other farmers out of business. As 
corporations bought up more land they imposed their hierarchal and 
centralized structure (often called fascism in politics, but by the rich it's 
called just good business!) over local processing infrastructure like 
dairies and packing plants resulting in further loss of jobs and the 
transition of formerly self-sufficient communities into some of the most 
impoverished in the country. The resulting situation is reminiscent of 
medieval European relations between farmer and owner, a corporate 
feudalism. 

Hope and Resistance 

This seems like a hopeless situation. But hope, in the guise of action, 
springs eternal. Historically, Midwestern, and especially Minnesotan, 
farmers have radically defended their lives and livelihoods by any 
means necessary. In the 1860?s a movement called the National 
Grange was founded in Minnesota, eventually uniting over 800,000 
American farmers in an organization that established buying, grain 
elevators, and milling cooperatives. The National Grange fought 
middlemen and robber barons that charged exorbitant prices, and 
resisted the system of large landowners and corporations that 
threatened them, saying, ?We are opposed to excessive salaries, high 
rates of interest and exorbitant profits in trade. They greatly increase our 
burdens." 

The radical self-organization of farmers continued to gain popularity 
until, according to historian Steven J. Keillor, 1919, when Minnesota 
farmers sold 44 percent of all their production through farmer-owned 
cooperatives. 60 hard years of farmer organizing had given Minnesota 
390 cooperative grain elevators, 711 creameries, more than 400 
livestock shipping associations, 110 farmer-owned stores, 900 rural 
telephone companies, and 150 mutual fire insurance companies. 

Again, during the Great Depression farmer?s resisted foreclosures on 
land with a militancy and solidarity that far outshone traditional political 
solutions. They created new forms of popular resistance; in thousands 
of actions throughout the Midwest, they stopped cold the foreclosure of 
their neighbors' lands. Their activities were illegal, but they saw a law 
that handed family land into the hands of faceless banks or 
corporations as illogical and unfair. Radicalism was not simply a 
theoretical conclusion of midwestern farmers; they were simply fighting 
in the only ways available to them to save their land and their way of life. 

Possibilities for Progress 

To bring us to the present day, in 1999 a French dairy farmer named 
José Bové led an action against a local MacDonald?s. The farmers 
complained that MacDonald?s was not only making horrible food, but 
that the industrial and economic techniques they used to do this were 
unhealthy for consumers, animals, and small farmers. The anti-
MacDonald?s action united foreign farmers with the anti-globalization 
movement that burst out of successful actions against the World Trade 
Organization by 50,000 people in Seattle of the same year. It?s 
noticeable that their arguments, while coming from different 
perspectives and interests, have much in common. Both decry the 
corporate control of our economic life that results in less control for 
laborers and expensive, sometimes dangerous, costs for consumers. 
They see that the same corporate agribusinesses that are currently 
pillaging the Midwest are doing the same thing in France and even 
India. In New England Farmers are using directly democratic town 
councils to pass resolutions against Genetically Modified Organisms. A 
similar struggle is going on in Oklahoma where Farmers are trying to 
put legal restrictions directly on Agribusiness monopolies. Midwestern 
farmers have yet to formally ally themselves with this vibrant new 
movement, instead often clinging to the same manipulative senators 
and politics-as-usual as their way of life dies. 

However many farmers have shown signs of rising consciousness 
about the larger causes of the situation. Many have been forming and 
expanding cooperative associations, uniting with each other for support 
against corporations like they did back in the 1860?s. Others are taking a 
further step into direct marketing to consumers in the cities which 
focuses on producing and distributing food locally in specialty niches 
like organic and sustainable farming, which is becoming more popular 
in reaction to increasingly evil corporate schemes like biotechnology 
and genetically engineered crops as well as the infestation of corporate 
chain stores that have squeezed all small businesses out of cities. 

The possibility of an alliance between urban radicals and rural 
communities has exciting potential. I?m reminded of the deal set up 
between the anarchist squatter federation in Amsterdam and local 
farmers to sell food directly to the squatters rather then waste time and 
money sending it off to middlemen. That?s just one example of how we 
could support one another. Urban anarchists, experienced in 
confrontation with the state, could give support to evicted farmers. We 
could resist the corporate domination of our lives together- A Food 
Liberation Front. Increasingly, our survival issues overlap, genetic 
engineering, corporate consolidation, and a lack of any sort of power 
over our own lives or the world around us. It becomes clearer that we no 
longer reside in different worlds, in fact that we share many common 
interests. 

In this desperate but hopeful ending I?m reminded of the words of 
evicted farmer Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. 
?I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good 
rich land layin' fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a 
hundred thousand farmers starvin'. And I been wonderin' what if all our 
folks got together and yelled ...?


[Daybeak! badly needs monetary support since we give it out free locally. 
1$/issue, 10$/solidarity subscription Cash/Checks to Amy Smith/paypal 
at website 
Daybreak PO Box 14007 Minneapolis MN 55404 
daybreak@tao.ca www.freespeech.org/mn/daybreak]


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