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"Plains Truth" Conference
Projects the Big Picture

Defending independent agriculture for the future

Suzette Hatfield
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Many of us who live in states invaded by the corporate hog and poultry industries have spent much of our time fighting the daily skirmishes involving facility licenses, permits and regulation. We were aware of a large-scale war out there somewhere, but had not activated our particular AWACS to scope out the entire enemy front. All that changed at "The Plains Truth: Corporate Farming in the Heartland; how it happened, what we can do about it", a conference held in Oklahoma City on October 31 and November 1, 1997.

Joel Dyer, author of Harvest of Rage, helped to show us where WE are, the people who live in the country's bread and corn belt. Our traditions have been those of hard work, high morals and independence, a love of the land and strong ties between the generations. As agriculture companies and coops became agribusiness, they pulled the rug of crops and soil out from under Americas farmers through market price control and forced foreclosures. The soul of the heartland was torn; a spirit of fear and depression undermined the courage and determination which helped millions of individual farmers and ranchers battle the elements every day to make a living. Farmers had considered themselves to be partners with the government in agricultural education, price supports and low-interest loans. They found that their partner had deserted them for another, the transnational corporation. The farmers were not prepared to fight two enemies and found themselves in despair.

Kathleen Kelley, vice president of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, showed us where THEY are, the corporations who exercise a chokehold on agricultural markets to keep producer prices low and processor/marketer returns high. Taking us blow by blow through the beef cartels assault on Americas ranchers, she showed how IBP, ConAgra, Cargill and Continental Grain use their grip on meatpacking to control supply and price through captive supply and imports. She urged us to revisit Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and gain inspiration, knowing that Sinclair's pen wrought great changes in the packing industry in the early years of this century. And, she reminded us that we are the government and should act like it.

We learned how taxpayer-financed corporate welfare brings substandard jobs and imported labor to put autonomous farmers out of work. Health and environmental hazards caused by the unchecked distribution of raw hog manure and chicken litter were revealed.

Roger Allison, executive director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, spoke of the importance of family farms to community stability. He posed the question: "We as farmers, and consumers must decide -- who do we want to grow our food -- family farms or corporate livestock factories?'' Independent farmers create more jobs for their towns than corporate agribusiness, are more environmentally friendly, and have everything at stake with ensuring a safe food supply, Allison said. Farmers have to lead the charge against the corporate takeover of agriculture, he said. "We have to be at the table to shape the debate over the future of agriculture. We have to be visible at the state, local and national level and come together with other like-minded organizations to affect national policies that will have an impact on all of us,'' Allison said. National policy will change as independent producers work together in an interstate effort to take back agriculture from the corporations.

Jim Hightower reminded us, with his particular brand of honed downhome humor, that it is just plain "stealin'" when a company plants an animal factory next to a family farm and takes away that family's property rights of clean air, clean water and full use of their land. "Its not too late to change things," he said, encouraging us to take back our lawmakers from the influence of the monied special interest lobbies of the global corporations."Everybody does better when everybody does better," he said.

We considered right and wrong, the dignity of the individual, and the importance of community.

Grassroots efforts have been effective in the skirmishes. Its time now to put those skills in the front lines of the larger battle. On Saturday night, a veritable roll call of groups from several states came together to brainstorm on ways to deliver ourselves from the heavy hand of transnational corporate domination of our government, society, our food supply and our future. We agreed to make an immediate push in our states and on a national level for a moratorium on factory farming. An information network is being formed so that we may share expertise and initiatives in a matter of minutes. As much as possible, we will coordinate introduction of legislation and other efforts to maximize media exposure and to divide the defensive efforts of our enemies.

The same strong character that helped our forefathers develop Americas farms to become the foodbasket for the world will sustain us as we defend independent agriculture for the future.

Groups represented included: Oklahoma Family Farm Alliance; Oklahoma Chapter Sierra Club; Citizens for Natural Resource Protection (Texas); Kansas Natural Resource Council; Kansas Chapter Sierra Club; National Catholic Rural Life Conference; Common Cause Oklahoma; Red Earth Alliance for Democracy; LEAD Agency; Land, Air, Water Stewards; Family Farms First; Weatherford/Hydro Family Farm Alliance; Okeene Citizens; Cumberland Chapter Sierra Club; Missouri Rural Crisis Center; Oklahoma Toxics Campaign; Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; Ozark Chapter Sierra Club; ACCORD Agriculture, Inc. (Texas); Oklahoma Wildlife Federation; Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma; and others.

Suzette Hatfield is member of the Oklahoma Family Farm Alliance.

Published in In Motion Magazine, December 7, 1997