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Family Farmers Rally for America

Take 6,000 lbs of Pork from the Heartland to Harlem

Lindsay Howerton and Bryce Oates
Columbia, Missouri -- New Castle, Indiana -- New York, New York

On September 28, 2001, forty-three Missouri Rural Crisis Center members took off on vans and trucks, headed for central Indiana and the 2001 Farm Aid Concert and events. The caravan came from all parts of the state: the Southwest, the North, St. Louis, and Mid-Missouri.

MRCC members also carried Patchwork Family Farms pork products with them, some to be sold at the Farm Aid Concert, 6000 pounds to be delivered to the New York Central Labor Council to aid in the relief efforts in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Although the drive ran all the way along Interstate 70, many MRCC members enjoyed the ride by seeing this part of the Midwest for the first time. While most people feel that driving through Illinois and Indiana is “flat and boring,” much of the conversation on the vans dealt with “how nice it must be to ride the combine in these long, flat rows. There’s no hills to fight and few turns to make. It looks like you could really get somewhere combining around here.”

Celebrating Unity and Democracy: A Farmer Gathering

MRCC members first traveled to St. Anne’s Church in New Castle, Indiana. There, family farmers and farm groups from all across the country joined together to celebrate America’s core values of compassion, unity and freedom, and to recognize the important role played by Farm Aid in helping us fight for a system of agriculture based on family farms and thriving rural communities. Patchwork Family Farms ham, Family Farm Defenders cheese, and smoked salmon from Washington state highlighted the meal of family farm foods.

After dinner, farm group representatives spoke about the inspiring work taking place throughout the Heartland: organizing for fair farm prices, winning the vote to end the mandatory pork checkoff, creating farmer owned and operated marketing projects like Patchwork Family Farms, and standing up against the corporate takeover of the livestock industry. Speakers reflected on our efforts to keep family farmers on the land and our nation strong, and re-dedicated ourselves to upholding democracy -- one of the bedrock principles that this country was founded on. This event was an excellent forum for touching bases with others in the family farm movement, and set a positive environment for the rest of the weekend’s activities.

Strong Farmers for a Strong America Rally

Family farmers traveled to this year’s concert venue bright and early to host a rally to demonstrate the critical role that farmers play to make America strong. To keep family farmers strong, more than 150 farmers called on their fellow Americans to support:

  1. Fair prices for the crops and livestock that farmers raise.
  2. Land stewardship and conservation programs that protect the long-term productivity and sustainability of our land and resources.
  3. Respect for democracy and the democratic institutions upon which our nation is founded.

Farmers were joined in their efforts by Neil Young and Arlo Guthrie, who challenged Congress to stand up for family farmers and rural communities. Numerous signs, banners, and chants were popular throughout the crowd. “Dump the Pork Tax.” “Stop Factory Farms.” “Family Farm, Yes. Factory Farms, No.” Rally participants sold and distributed the famous red “stop factory farms” t-shirts, popular at Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment events since 1995. Postcards were also distributed to the crowd calling on Congress to take action to abide by hog farmers’ vote and terminate the mandatory pork checkoff tax.

Farmers left the rally headed for the Farm Aid press conference chanting, “United we stand, dump the house bill!” This message rang throughout the day, as farmers urged Congress to reject the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill proposal. The House bill does nothing to address low farm prices, and is full of subsidies for corporate livestock factories.

Farm Aid Press Conference

Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, and other performers spoke about the importance of family farmers to our nation’s food security. MRCC’s Roger Allison also joined the press conference saying, “We’d all like to be in New York and Washington, D. C, pitching in with the relief efforts, but we know that the best place for us to be right now is out in the field, harvesting the crops and raising the livestock that keep America strong.”

Allison also announced the donation of 6000 pounds of sustainably-raised Patchwork Family Farms pork products to the New York Central Labor Council. This donation was made possible by Farm Aid and Patchwork Family Farms, with support from the Campaign for Family Farms -- MRCC, Land Stewardship Project from Minnesota, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

Harold Schaitberger, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters and Vice President of the AFL-CIO, was on hand to accept the donation. Schaitberger said he was proud to accept the donated food to assist the families of thousands of workers in New York who were killed or lost their jobs as a result of the September 11 tragedy.

Farm Aid Concert and Fresh Missouri Barbecue

Dump the pork tax.
Farmers at the Farm Aid concert with signs against the Pork Checkoff. Photo by Lindsay Howerton.
When the concert doors swung open and the bands began to play, Patchwork Family Farms fired up the grill to sell pork chops, bratwurst, and ham steaks to hungry concert-goers. The Patchwork booth was busy all day, with many customers returning for a second and third helping. One after another, the customers kept saying how much they appreciated our efforts. “You can really taste the difference.” Patchwork was also featured on Country Music Television as a successful family-farm alternative to corporate livestock factories, with Roger Allison doing a live spot on the importance of family farmers reaching out to aid in the relief efforts.

In between shifts at the Patchwork booth, MRCC members enjoyed the diversity of musicians at the show: Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Arlo Guthrie, Martina McBride, Susan Tedeschi, the Doobie Brothers, Acoustic Syndicate, Jimmy Ryser, and Chris Knight.

Even though it was a lot of hard work, we all left with a smile knowing that many people learned a great deal from our efforts.

Heading Home, Heading to New York

On Sunday, most MRCC members boarded the vans and trucks and headed home. Roger and Mark Allison, however, turned the Patchwork Family Farms truck in the other direction bound for New York. Farm Aid Executive Director, Carolyn Mugar, joined them. It was a rough and bumpy ride as the truck strained and squeaked under the heavy load of 6,000 pounds of pork. But with Carolyn’s backseat navigation and Mark and Roger's endless driving the 15-hour drive flew by with a lot of laughs and a complete set of new tires. As the truck tires slowed in front of the Gramercy hotel, there was a sigh of relief they had made it in good time and without incident.

Lindsay Howerton and Rhonda Perry met up with the travel-weary team at the hotel. They talked about their travels and then retired for a well-deserved sleep. Tuesday morning everyone was up bright and early, piling into the truck to go to the Central Labor Council headquarters. At Park Avenue South, people started pouring out of the building to meet the Missouri farmers. There were lots of gracious words, handshakes and hugs.

Lindsay had the opportunity to talk to a New York City police officer that happened to be walking by. Without notice he hugged her and with tear-filled eyes said that it was amazing how this country had come together. He couldn’t believe we had driven from Missouri to bring our token of appreciation to all the heroes of the city. His trailing words as he walked away were, “God bless these people and may they have a safe trip home.”

The next stop for the Patchwork truck, now filled to the brim with seven people inside the cab, was to drop off our pork at a Harlem church. In addition to MRCC and Carolyn Mugar from Farm Aid, we added Newsday reporter, Sylvia Carter, and long-time MRCC supporter from the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program, Victor Quintana. There was a crowd of people waiting to help us unload as we pulled in the drive. We all pitched and formed a chain of workers, handing the boxes from person to person. The piles of boxes eventually become chest high as the truck was nearly unloaded. To thank the volunteers we opened an extra box of deli ham, everyone grabbing a piece and enjoying it under the afternoon sun. Television cameras captured the scene as strangers became friends. As we were packing up to go, neighboring churches began lining up to tote the thousands of pounds of pork to families in need. We all had the sense that we had done something special. That a hand full of farmers from Missouri along with many others who helped make the trip possible knew that bringing this food from the Heartland would not only lift spirits but give us a sense of peace -- we knew that we had done our best to help by giving the greatest gift we had.

“What the farmers were giving us is for the soul as well as the body,” said Rev. James Booker Jr, senior pastor at St. John AME Church to Sylvia Carter from Newsday. Then he quoted from scripture, “When I was hungry, you fed me.”

These events took place September 28-October 2, 2001

Published in In Motion Magazine, October 28, 2001.

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