Thursday, March 27, 2014

A tribute to Jean Slachetka

CarolynIt is with heavy hearts that we write that Jean Slachetka has died. With Jean’s passing family farmers have lost a staunch supporter and advocate. We got the news at a meeting of farm activists about how to bring more and diverse people together on issues that impact family farm agriculture, a strategy that coincides with Jean’s dedication of her life to helping others, particularly black and American Indian farmers.

Jean was a dairy farmer in Wisconsin, and used her personal experience of the farm crisis of the 1980s to inspire her work as a farm advocate. Most recently she was a program development officer for the National Tribal Development Association. She was a farm advocate on the Land Loss Prevention Project, Inc. in Durham, North Carolina, working with black farmers. She worked as a counselor for victims of domestic abuse, and she was a farm credit and business planning expert. Her related volunteer experience includes Certified OWEESTA (First Nations) Credit Councilor, board member of the National Family Farm Coalition, and the chair of the National Family Farm Coalition Credit Task Force.

Jean's many awards include Cleveland County Farmer of the Year (1989), USDA Certificate for training USDA Outreach and State Directors from an Advocate's Point of View (1998), North Carolina Fruit Award for twenty years of service promoting rural justice, NC Association of Black Lawyers' Land Loss Prevention Project (2003), and the National Tribe Development Association Employee of the Year (2005).

Jean stands tall in a long line of farm advocates. Her devotion was mammoth, and she worked really, really hard. We praise Jean, and the folks like her who give selflessly of themselves—their time, their emotions, their health—because they know what it’s like to lose their farm. We speak often of needing new farm advocates, and we worry too about the advocates we have left and the knowledge they have. There is such a huge need for this knowledge to be shared and passed down. And not just the knowledge, but the commitment, and the human connection that results in that commitment. One of our colleagues shared his story of Jean’s dedication, explaining that a few years back he had called on Jean to help Hmong refugee farmers who were facing discrimination. Jean scheduled a three day trip to help out--then she stayed for a week and a half.

Farm advocates like Jean are born from a time that was terrible but for which we are thankful because it gave us people like her. In her honor, let’s keep working to make it such that family farmers don’t need advocates, but have all the resources they need to thrive.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Two heroes of family farmers meet

JoelI’m pleased to report that two American icons got together recently in Oklahoma.

The first, Farm Aid president Willie Nelson, needs no introduction to the Farm Aid faithful. But who’s that with him in this photo

That’s Mona Lee Brock, longtime farm advocate in Oklahoma, whose crisis and suicide intervention work with Oklahoma farmers for more than two decades has saved many farmers’ lives. Willie himself has said of her, “Mona Lee Brock has been the angel at the other end of the line, the person who Farm Aid has always relied on for the most desperate farmers.” Even today, though Mona Lee is “officially” retired, I still call her for advice or assistance when I field difficult farmer calls from Oklahoma on the Farm Aid hotline. And she is as willing as ever to help out in any way she can.

So, when Mona Lee called us last month to inquire about the possibility of getting tickets to see Willie’s show in her hometown of Durant, Oklahoma, well, we were happy to oblige. We knew Willie would be glad to make time for her and her friends after the show. Later, Mona Lee let me know that it was “the thrill of my lifetime” to visit with Willie backstage.

Mona Lee Brock is one of only a handful of deeply experienced farm advocates remaining from the early days of Farm Aid. There is no way to calculate the value of her experience, as she not only saved farms, but saved farmers’ lives.

As Farm Aid’s farm advocate in charge of our 1-800-FARM-AID and farmhelp@farmaid.org farmer hotline, I invite you to contact me at joel@farmaid.org to learn more about how you can help us develop the Farm Advocate Link, our ongoing project with RAFI-USA and many other partners to recruit, train and support a new generation of farm advocates. We need about 50 Mona Lee Brocks out there, angels at the other end of the line, to let farmers know how fundamentally valuable their work is for all of us and to help them not only to survive, but to thrive.