Thursday, July 01, 2010

"I've gotta get me one of these!" - Reflections from a cow suit

HildeLast week, Carolyn, Glenda and I headed to Madison, Wisconsin, to stand alongside struggling dairy farmers at the June 25th US Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice workshop on competition in the dairy industry. The workshop was the third in a series of five joint workshops examining antitrust abuses in agriculture as related to the consolidation and concentration that has come to typify our food system.

When Jen Nelson, from Farm Aid-funded group Wisconsin Rural Sustainability Network, asked if anyone would be willing to don the handmade (by a puppeteer!) cow suits she had in her car, my arm shot up into the air. I love costumes and I figured I’d take one for the team and go “bovine” despite the sweltering Wisconsin summer heat.

As farmers, advocates, industry reps, consumers, reporters, and government officials filed into Union Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus, I suited up. Security was all over me – and confined my “antics” to an empty deck on the lake, just outside of the building. I did a little dancing and waving of my arms to capture some attention, since hardly a soul was glancing my way. I barely got a smile out of some people. But, that wasn’t so much the point.

The point, rather, was to generate some press on the very serious issues facing America’s dairy farmers today, like this story here.

By lunchtime, when the deck where I was restricted suddenly became the place to eat and get some fresh air after a very intense morning of farmer testimony and panels, the cow suits began to work their magic. John Peck, of Farm Aid funded-group Family Farm Defenders, and Jen Nelson joined my “herd,” and together we paraded around with signs calling for justice (“Stop Milking Farmers!”). People were now smiling, students were stopping by to learn more, tourists were taking photos, but most importantly the press was eating it up!

“What are you doing here today?” and “What message are you trying to get across?” they’d ask... Music to any farm advocate’s ears!

Our message: America’s family dairy farmers are in crisis. They need a fair price for their milk and a living wage. The dairy system in this country is broken. Too few players control the market, which means the market lacks competition and in turn there are few or no options for farmers and consumers alike. The pricing system lacks transparency and is extremely prone to price manipulation and collusion. We need prompt enforcement of anti-trust regulations. And if we don’t act soon, we risk much more than just losing access to safe, local milk. It’s a matter of food security, of safeguarding productive farmland, of preserving America’s social fabric and keeping local and regional economic networks intact.

You can help! Tell Attorney General Eric Holder to move forward and take action to put a stop to abusive corporate practices and protect family farmers. With thousands more dairy farmers at risk of going out of business this year alone, there is no excuse for any more delays.


  1. Anonymous6:19 AM

    With all due respect to the enthusiastic and very sincere author, the side show she is so proud of actually detracts from her cause. While others, who may not share her views, are working assidiously to promote specific policies and actions that serve their self interest, she's outside dancing, calling for action, but failing to articulate specific policy changes that will achieve those objectives. Your opponents are quite happy to see you out there demonstrating your naivety. It's easy to don a costume and bait reporters eager to add color to their stories (which are far more entertaining to their audiences than actual analysis of complex issues and policy options). But when Tom Vilsack, Eric Holder, Herb Kohl, etc. sit down to hammer out "next steps," they will be focusing on specific options put before them, not the folks dancing around outside in costumes, and the specifics they have to choose from will be the ones put forth by those who invested the time, energy and thought to shape and articulate specific policy objectives. You opted not to participate in a meaningful way. You may feel you are winning some battle, but your absence from the real arena means you will continue to lose the war. You can wail away all you like at the evil interests that dominate the decisions, regardless of which party is in power, but until folks like you seriously get to work, others with less altruistic views will smile at you and continue to shape policy.

  2. Hilde3:16 PM

    Dear anonymous: I couldn't agree with you more, this is a serious issue that needs clear and decisive action. Knowing that farmer friends and allies were inside making statements, our goal was to make sure that those who weren't in attendance also got the message via any media attention we could garner. Farmers and policymakers alone won't solve this. There has to be broad consumer demand to create the change that dairy farmers need. We all have our parts to play, and they're all important. Also, if it makes you feel any better, all of our costuming took place during the lunch break - so rather than eating or taking a break after our full participation in the workshop itself, we used the lunch opportunity to get the word out (and, fortunately, get some great press).

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