Running for White House Farmer
By Brad Wilson at Jan 31, 2009
Post Farm Bill/Election Activism
With passage of the 2008 (five year) farm bill and the 2008 (four year) election behind us, there is, nevertheless, a certain chomping at the bit in farm and food reform movements. We’re seeing a lot of online activity. Tens of thousands of posters endorsed Michael Pollan and others for Secretary of Agriculture. Tens of thousands protested online against Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture.
The latest such action is the voting for “White House Farmer.” John Nichols wrote a recent column featuring Campaign Statements by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and Claire Strader, a “community gardener” from Wisconsin.
Brad Wilson for White House Farmer
Upon seeing Nichols name (the article is posted at Common Dreams,) I focused in for posting. On my mind was as urgency to spread the word that, in spite of having the aforementioned five year and four year events behind us, a powerful moment has arrived to mobilize for a self paying farm economic stimulus that would, at the same time, address a range of concerns related to low farm prices (ie. high fructose corn syrup, transfats, ethanol, export dumping on LDCs) and also farm price spikes, and overall volatility and speculation in these markets. I’ve been posting a lot on related issues, especially at Common Dreams. Last summer I convened a breakfast meeting with John Nichols at the Iowa CCI conference where he was keynote. A small group of long term activist farmers, a Green party candidate, Nichols and I discussed the failure of progressives to understand these issues in the lead up to the 2007-2008 farm bill.
In reviewing the Waters and Strader statements in the Nichols article, (and others at the linked White House Farmer site,) I saw nothing related to my immediate strategic concerns. I decided I could do better, so I declared a candidacy for White House Farmer, and posted a campaign statement of my own. I later expanded it. (These statements are posted at the bottom of this blog.)
My number one priority is world hunger and starvation. I follow that with other key issues largely missed (outside of National Family Farm Coalition circles and some others,) in the farm and food reform movement in the United States and elsewhere.
Since it appears that my nomination is too late, this is a write-in candidacy. I’m asking supporters of this kind of a focus to send a message to write me in at: http://whitehousefarmer.com/?page_id=3.
The Leadership We Need
Though I come, seemingly, out of nowhere, my efforts are to stimulate leadership in crucial areas at the top. I claim to have a significant record, (at least in my znet blog, in comment posts at Common Dreams and elsewhere, and in some letters to the editor,) of raising key leadership issues that no one else is raising.
First, the farm and food reform movement is seriously divided on the biggest U.S. issue, which, essentially is also the biggest long term world food and agriculture issue. The majority of the movement continues to campaign for subsidy reform (caps, green subsidies, WTO compliant or allegedly “non trade distorting” subsidies, subsidy elimination). A smaller part of the movement (except, with Via Campesina basically on board, it can possibly be considered to be larger worldwide), advocates for the policies of the National Family Farm Coalition’s Food from Family Farms Act.
This division represents an enormous problem! On the other hand, it is almost wholly unknown by the subsidy reform crowd. This is the second leadership issue I’m raising. That too is an enormous problem. My first goal in these “White House Farmer” efforts, whatever level of impact they may have, is to take the lead in raising these concerns.
Third, and related to the this enormous, largely unseen crack down the center of the farm and food reform movement, is a false paradigm about this issue. In fact, subsidies don’t cause low farm prices in any direct economic sense. Likewise subsidy reform solves none of the low price problems. U.S. farm subsidies are tremendously unfair. True. But reforming or eliminating them does virtually nothing to institute justice on farm price issues. All of this can, I believe, easily be established, and I have repeatedly made this case, with authoritative documentation. (See my other zspace farm blogs or google my name and “subsid.” Alternatively google my name and “false paradigm.”)
Fourth, these core farm bill issues tie in with a kind of economic stimulus that, in important ways, pays for itself. (See my recent zspace blog, “Farm Stimulus Paid for Itself.”) We need leadership on this, at this strategic moment.
Fifth, we have arrived at another strategic “teachable moment,” or “winnable moment” in U.S. farm politics. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee AND Iowan Tom Vilsack is Secretary of Agriculture and all lined up to be mentored by Harkin AND President Obama has just had his impressive victory and incredible symbolic victory AND there are good reasons to believe the 2008 farm bill will quickly fail, leading to new emergency legislation. Harkin, the key “person with the power to decide” to make something of this moment formerly advocated for the Harkin-Gephardt farm bill. That was in the 1980s and 1990s. Essentially, Harkin-Gephardt was, like NFFC’s Food from Family Farms Act, a renewal of the New Deal. Harkin, positioned as he is, is also the leading person in Congress on our side of the issue, in terms of his history of advocacy.
The problem with Harkin is the Bush-era “Harkin compromise.” Harkin and the Democrats abandoned Harkin-Gephardt when Harkin became Senate Agriculture Chair, surely on the belief that it wasn’t winnable back then. But, as I strongly emphasized in the preceding paragraph, “then” is not “now.” And here we are with tens or hundreds of thousands of farm and food reform activists posed to do something significant now, if someone will just lead them in the proper post-2008-farm-bill, post-2008-election task.
Sixth, we often hear a call in this and other issue movements for leadership on what, specifically to do. This is a question often asked to Noam Chomsky, for example. Here too, out of my background as a farm organizer and peace organizer, and especially in my writing and posting about it, I am demonstrating much needed leadership. (See my zspace blogs on organizing, or google "organiz" and my name to see my record here, and some supportive responses as well. Some years ago, posting on Iowa Green Party and peace networks, I was asked: "Why has no one else been providing me with this information?")
Reconciliation "from Birmingham Jail
I advocate both the "no" (social criticism) and the "yes" (energizing vision and proactive work on issues) of renewal. The "no" often creates tension. But as Martin Luther King wrote in "Letter from Birmingham Jail," "... I am not afraid of the word 'tension.' I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth." Indeed, and tension is necessary for authentic reconciliation.
I have begun by "saying no" to part of the farm and food reform movement, in order to make our burdensome division visible, in order to reconcile it.
From that reconciliation, this movement has work to do to further reconcile with U.S. and world farmers. We can advocate for reforms that do not, (as subsidy reforms do,) cause a farm depression that solves none of the intended results. We can grow, gaining support even from conservative farmers and farm groups, with price floors instead of welfare payments.
On this matter I must tell a story. Back about 1985 I called the White House to protest against the Reagan Farm Bill and for the Harkin-Gephardt approach. I pointed out that Harkin-Gephardt was more fiscally conservative and would end subsidization of Reagan's "evil empire." We'd make a profit on foreign sales instead. It was not a government welfare program, also unlike the Reagan approach.
By the time I was done I had apparently convinced the White House staff on the other end of the line. She told me I should talk to the "higher up" people in Washington. I replied that, "Now, at this very moment, I'm speaking to the office of the President of the United States. How much higher up can you get than that?"
Beyond this, we need to reconcile with the farmers and farm countries (including exporters and LDCs, which are 73% rural) of the world. All segments of the U.S. farm and food reform movement must advocate for price floors with supply management as the Africa Group at WTO has called for, to end dumping. Also, on the top side, LDCs need price ceilings and strategic reserves to moderate price spikes and reduce speculation. They all need to be brought on board on just trade issues.
2007-2008 this didn't happen. The sustainable agriculture movement did not address these world issues, for example, and even the major hunger and church groups did not advocate these Commodity Title reform measures.
These and other tasks of reconciliation are large, but possible, with the right kind of leadership. Efforts to establish a White House Farmer, with the right person representing that leadership, can contribute to that goal. This, then, is what I’m trying to accomplish.
Below find my earlier “campaign statement” posts.
I submit myself to run for White House Farmer. My family has fought for justice since the Great Depression. I’m a community organizer. I direct market and am in organic transition. My top priority is to stop world starvation without dumping on LDC farmers. I'm the very top progressive farmer in the U.S. in the past year on "farm bill" and "food crisis" [justice], just google my name and these terms. No other nominee can come close to my record. I'm the only nominee leading the fight for a farm ecomomic stimulus package that pays for itself and ends worldwide dumping. See more at the Common Dreams article by John Nichols.
My record speaks for itself, just google me, as indicated here. I ask for support from those who post comments here, who have read my efforts.
Also, on this question of getting the progressive movement on target on these issues, I convened a breakfast meeting with John Nichols at the Iowa CCI conference last summer. John, are you out there? How about a plug?
Thank you. If you can't vote for me, please submit a write-in vote at:
Ok, that was off the cuff.
For this bully pulpit:
1. Food crisis. I would work to bring Nyeleni to the White House Farm, for example, to show solidarity. Nyeleni or whoever best represents her spirit. (Google that! Or ask Family Farm Defenders, I'll bet they know.) I would promote support for Via Campesina at the White House Farm.
2. Farm Bill. I first, in campaigning, want to bring attention to this crucial opportunity, with Senate Agriculture Chair Tom Harkin as mentor to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and Obama. This is huge and needs attention. John Nichols, surely you understand this. This farm bill will very likely fail. Progressives need to be ready, beyond the problems of the past, which I've extensively worked to counteract. I understand the big billions which were hidden to most progressives, the below cost gains, (not subsidies) which are the true cause of our biggest problems, including the food crisis. I propose to grow "program crops" to illustrate these issues.
3. Nutrition. I would emphasize grassfed organic nutrition, against transfats. I'm on record on the issue of the processing complex's false attack on saturated fats, which led to widespread bad fats. On many issues, as a google search shows, I've led in rooting out issues unknown to others. How about the moveable chicken system I invented on the white house lawn, with electric netting fence to illustrate new technology. The girls can do chores and gather eggs.
4. Economic Crisis. A farm based economic stimulus package like the New Deal Farm Programs and the Steagall Amendment of 1941 (which had no commodity subsidies) would not cost money, it would pay for itself. 1933-1952, it was estimated, the key programs made $13,000,000 for the government, rather than costing money, by one estimate. The payments to the government came from interest on price floor loans. This could tie in to the victory garden concept. Farming, especially diversified humane sustainable family farming, has powerful "economic multipliers" which are needed worldwide, another issue where I'm leading. "Wealth creation" must be more than value added (and then secretly subtracted) as in the case of CAFOs. CAFOs hurt our economy and reduce the available "jobs," Sustainable systems create more wealth (more value) by reconciling many values. As Charles Hampden-Turner argued, you can't just add the value of a car's high performance to its low mileage. I can illustrate this with sustainable production at the white house.
5."Farm share" of the food dollar. Another key issue you can search and see I'm way out in the lead on. We must subtract input complex share (Monsanto and friends), and then farm share is below 8%, and much lower for corn flakes and wheat bread. Stewart Smith projected (not a prediction) farm share disappearing by 2020.
More: I can drive oxen. I would like to teach this skill to Obama. And then illustrate how grass based farming for the 21st century uses draft power: to harvest the feed, to spread fertilizer, as my chickens, turkeys, cows, hogs, and sheep have done!
I'm a writer: Hog Farming and the Human Spirit." I'm a farm poet and song writer and (folk) performer. My latest is a song on the farm bill. I'm working on a booklet for churches: "Beyond Breadcrumbs: Crossing the Red Sea for Distributive Justice in the Commodity Title of the U.S. Farm Bill." I know city slicker jokes and would like to give Obama my "City Slicker Test."
Why am I running? To draw attention to crucial progressive farm issues at this key moment, (google my name and "Harkin" regarding this moment,) in my campaign, and as far as I can take this. We must break through on the issues I've repeatedly raised, to overcome this crucifying dilemma: We must feed the hungry, but with purchases from Least Developed Country farmers at "living wage," "fair trade" prices. (Google me on that.) The moment is exactly now.
Ok, I met Obama in Cedar Rapids. I asked him about these issues. He replied with support for a farm bill sort of like the Democrats were proposing in Congress, sort of like subsidy oriented progressives were proposing. I countered with the key fact that such proposals do nothing about the much larger below cost gains, in the multibillions, for individual agribusiness processors. Obama's agreed that, "what farmers really need is a price in the marketplace," which indeed would be the biggest answer to the problem of below cost gains subsidizing corn syrup, transfats, CAFOs, ethanol, and dumping on LDCs.