Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Mark reminds us that "it's time to raise a little less corn and a lot more hell"

This week’s Farm Aid newsletter about farmer diversity made me think about an experience I had this spring. I participated in a training/workshop sponsored by Farm Aid to help Latino farmers of southern Florida cope with the aftermath of last autumn’s hurricanes when farmers in Florida were hit hard by Katrina and Wilma. Fields in south Florida were washed out, crops were lost, and fruit orchards totally destroyed.

About 50 Latino farmers, many arriving directly from their fields, crowded into a room one night to listen and learn about farm disaster programs designed to help farmers like them recover as quickly as possible from the damage they sustained. It was hot and muggy. Many had to stand along the walls because there weren’t enough chairs. It was slow going as the presenters’ words were translated into Spanish.

After thirty minutes into the presentation about USDA disaster programs, several hands shot up in the air. “Why haven’t we ever been told about these programs before?” “How come no one told us that we were eligible for these disaster funds?” “Why hasn’t the local USDA sent us information about these programs?”

As each question got asked, the farmers nodded in agreement and chatter broke out across the room. Clearly, this was information they were hearing for the first time. Finally, one of the presenters from the Federation of Southern Cooperative, an organization of minority farmers that is very aware of the discrimination faced by their members, got up to speak. He spoke directly to the heart of the matter: “There is, and has been for a long time, discrimination in how farm programs get implemented at the local level. You’ve got to organize and demand what’s yours.”

A seed got planted that night in south Florida. The farmers agreed to reach out to more farmers and begin to organize an association that could fight for their rights. It reminded me of the famous saying heard often in farm country: “It’s time to raise a little less corn and a lot more hell.”

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