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Mainely Tipping Points 40: “The Battle to Save the Polish Countryside”

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Mainely Tipping Points 40

“The Battle to Save the Polish Countryside”

 

Sir Julian Rose inherited Rose of Hardwick House in 1966, when he was 19 years old.  By 1975, at age 28, he began converting the farm to organic production.  In 1984 he moved to the farm full time and began what Wikipedia calls “an intense campaign to promote ecological food and farming in the face of the rapid rise of industrial agriculture.”  He has made numerous broadcasts on national radio and television and has written many articles, all of which call for the support of local and regional food economies rather than global ones. 

In November of 2000, Sir Julian Rose was invited by Jadwiga Lopata to come to Poland and co-direct The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC), which she had founded.  Poland was trying to join the European Union, and Rose and Lopata knew that what Rose calls “the renowned biodiversity” of the Polish countryside soon would be under attack.  Rose has chronicled what ensued in a short article, “The Battle to Save the Polish Countryside,” which is widely available online, including at the Weston A. Price Foundation web site:  http://www.westonaprice.org/farm-a-ranch/the-battle-to-save-the-polish-countryside.    

Why should we care about Poland’s agricultural situation?  The answer is simple:  what is happening in Poland is also happening in Maine now and has already happened across large parts of the United States.  If we are aware of this economic pattern, which is so heavily supported by the political arena, we can each take steps to fight it.  What is at stake is nothing less than our freedom, since our freedom to choose clean, nutrient-dense foods that support our bodies, food that is grown by farmers we know, is being replaced by dirty, poisonous, fake foods that are making us sick while they are making the 1 percent richer. 

And we are sick.  Leigh Erin Connealy, MD, who runs a cancer center in California, said in a recent interview with Kevin Gianni in the online Healing Cancer World Summit that today, cancer is the number 1 killer and will strike one in two men and one in three women.  That’s a plague, isn’t it?  Our broken food system is part of what has gone wrong.

Rose wrote that he and Lapata addressed “the Brussels-based committee responsible for negotiating Poland’s agricultural terms of entry into the EU.”  No one on the committee was from Poland, though 22 percent of the Polish population was involved in agriculture, mostly on small farms.  Rose told the committee that in Britain and other EU countries, restructuring agriculture had “involved throwing the best farmers off the land and amalgamating their farms in to large scale monocultural operations designed to supply the predatory supermarket chains.” 

The committee’s chair countered by saying that the EU’s policy objectives involved ensuring “that farmers receive the same salary parity as white collar workers in the cities” and that the only way to accomplish this goal was to restructure and modernize Polish farms so that they could “compete with other countries’ agricultural economies and the global market.”  Thus, said the chairwoman, one million farmers would need to be shifted off the land and into city and service industry jobs that would improve their economic position.

 Rose countered by pointing out that as unemployment was running at 20 percent, he didn’t see how jobs could be provided for “another million farmers dumped on the streets of Warsaw.”  After a long silence, a committee member from Portugal noted that since her country had joined the EU, 60 percent of small farmers had left their land and that the EU didn’t care about small farmers.

 Rose and Lopata began trying to educate the Polish people about what EU restructuring would actually mean for them.  Rose described the changes in Britain to the Polish parliament:  restructuring had meant “the ripping up of 35,000 miles of hedge rows; the loss of 30 percent of native farmland bird species, 98 percent of species-rich hay meadows, thousands of tons of wind-and-water-eroded top-soil, and the loss from the land of about fifteen thousand farmers ever year, accompanied by a rapid decline in the quality of food.” 

I can tell you that in my lifetime, I have witnessed, around Reynolds, Georgia, the loss of the hedge rows and the loss of the quail that once lived in them.  I have seen the topsoil blowing off of the open fields.  And, seen deep fissures in the eroded land.  Worst of all, I have seen and smelled the toxic poisons sprayed onto the fields and the food growing in them.  I have seen the skull and cross bone signs posting those fields and come home smelling of noxious chemicals because I had walked past those fields—weeks after they had been sprayed.  And they want us to eat this food, to put this food into our bodies?

Poland joined the EU in 2004. And, the restructuring began.  Farmers who took the proffered agricultural subsidies and free advice found themselves, as did Rose himself before them, “filling out endless forms, filing maps, and measuring every last inch of your fields, tracks and farmsteads.  It meant applying for `passports’ for your cattle and ear tags for your sheep and pigs, resiting the slurry pit and putting stainless steel and washable tiles on the dairy walls, becoming versed in HAASP hygiene and sanitary rules and applying them where any food processing was to take place, and living under the threat of convictions and fines should one put a finger out of place or be late in supplying some official detail.”  What is being lost is “our independence and our freedom—the slow rural way of life shared by traditional farming communities throughout the world.”

 Behind the EU agricultural policies, writes Rose, were agribusinesses and seed corporations who wanted to “get their hands on “Poland’s relatively unspoiled work force and land resources.”  The newly passed EU regulatory policies helped. 

Among the “most vicious of anti-entrepreneurial weapons,” writes Rose, are the “sanitary and hygiene regulations” which are “enforced by national governments at the behest of the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union.”  These “hidden weapons of mass farmer destruction” became the main tool for replacing small farmers with “monocultural money-making agribusiness.”

By 2005, writes Rose, or a mere one year later, “65 percent of regional milk and meat processing factories had been forced to close because they `failed’ (read:  couldn’t afford) to implement the prescribed sanitary standards.  Some 70 percent of small slaughterhouses have also suffered the same fate.  Farmers increasingly have nowhere to go to sell their cattle, sheep, pigs, and milk.”  And, with the destruction of this infrastructure, farmers are forced off the land. 

In Maine, the state government has rescinded a small farmer’s ability to raise and slaughter up to 1,000 chickens and sell them—despite the fact that no one has been made sick.  Small farmers can no longer share slaughtering equipment, a time-honored practice in rural America.   At local farmers’ markets, state government officials have attempted to stop farmers and venders from providing tastes of their foods, unless they can provide hot water for washing hands. 

And, the FDA stopped a local organic farmer from selling fresh-pressed cider at local stores or at the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association’s  (MOFGA) fall fair, even though, again, there had been no reports of illness.  (Oddly, unpasteurized cider can be taken across state lines as long as it is properly labeled, unlike raw milk.) 

Who got the MOFGA fair business?  A large grower who either pasteurizes or treats cider with ultraviolet light and who grows apples with Integrative Pest Management (IPM) practices, which means they pause before they go ahead and spray.

The sanitary and hygiene weapons, writes Rose, are now “scything their way through Romanian family farms, whose extraordinary diversity and peasant farming skills are a ready match for Poland’s.”  Rose predicted in 2008 that Turkey would soon be targeted.

This “global food economy,” writes Rose, is “the instrument of a relatively small number of very wealthy, transnational corporations.”   Rose lists Monsanto, Cargill, and their “fellow seed operatives Dupont, Pioneer, and Syngenta.”  What evolves is the patenting of seeds, so farmers have to buy new seeds each year, and the massive use of toxic agricultural chemicals that are killing the structure of the soil.   

Rose describes how the push to introduce GMO seeds into Poland has been relentless.  Under Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland tried to ban “the import and sale of GMO seeds and plants in Poland” and to ban GM animal feed by 2008.  As of 2010, this battle continues.  Industry harnessed support from agricultural professors and the media.  (Much of the Polish media is foreign owned, and industry makes huge contributions to academia).  And, the EU has stated that blanket banning of GMOs violates free-trade dictates.  

Meanwhile, Smithfield pigs are being raised on Polish soil and being fed Monsanto soy.  These pigs have flooded the market; their cheapness has undercut pigs raised by traditional pork farmers.  Further, with some of the US’s grain crops going to make biofuels, conventional feeds have become expensive.  So, GM soy and corn, once avoided in Europe, are now the “only cheap option available” in Poland.   

Poland still has one and a half million family farms.  These farmers could mount “a full blown peasants’ revolt to recapture the right to grow, eat and trade their superb farmhouse foods, thus freeing themselves from the increasing stranglehold that the bureaucratically perverse sanitary and hygiene regulations have imposed upon them.”

Rose writes, there are those “who are waking up to the stark choices that confront all of us:  capitulate to the forces of `total control’ or wrest back control of life and work to rejuvenate local communities to do the same.”   

Support your local farmers!   

Mainely Tipping Points 27: Sprouting Awareness, Growing Change

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Mainely Tipping Points 27

SPROUTING AWARENESS:  GROWING CHANGE

 Up on Howe Hill, the paths around our house are banked by shoulder high snow.  Nevertheless, spring is coming.  Daylight is growing longer day by day and will bring an end to the quiet stillness of winter.  Sprouts will soon appear and will grow into a new covering for the earth and into new food for us to eat.  Babies will be born who will replace their parents eventually.  These seasonal cycles nourish the earth and its creatures endlessly. 

Sometimes, ideas that organize society, or paradigms, recede, like green life in winter. Now, the unsustainable market economy paradigm is breaking apart even as its proponents try to intensify their grip on it.  This paradigm is extractive, and we are running out of what can be extracted.  There are limits to what the earth can provide, and we have reached them.  There are only so many mountaintops that can be removed and dumped into valleys, only so many nutrients in the soil to be used before nature-dictated replenishment must occur, only so much oil and water to be pumped.

This exploitive paradigm is harming the earth and its creatures.  For instance, Greenpeace is circulating a petition claiming that this year one American will die every minute from cancer created by the known toxic chemicals allowed in so many of the products and foods we use or eat every day  (https://secure3.convio.net/gpeace/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=787&s_src=taf&JServSessionIdr004=i4hx4u4rh1.app331a).  The President’s Cancer Panel released in April 2010 said 41 percent of people would be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, that children are especially at risk, and that our degraded environment is a key factor (http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/index.htm).  Wiki answers says 50 percent of us will get cancer in our lifetime (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_people_get_cancer_in_their_lifetime).  And, Sandra Steingraber, in LIVING DOWNSTREAM, published in 1997, or 14 years ago, explained that the incidence of cancer in the United States rose 49.3 percent between 1950 and 1991 and that cancer was the leading cause of death for Americans aged thirty-five to sixty-four (40).  Cancer striking between 40 and 50 percent of the population can only be called an epidemic. 

But, what new paradigm could emerge?  We could take part in the sprouting of something wonderfully sustainable, if we, first, sprout awareness of this moment, and, then, act positively out of that awareness.  We could, as a community, become part of growing an Associative Economy paradigm based on 21st Century agrarian values that build and sustain healthy land, healthy community, a healthy economy, and healthy people.  Cooperation, not competition, is a hallmark of this new paradigm. 

Steven McFadden’s THE CALL OF THE LAND:  An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century is a “sourcebook exploring positive pathways for food security, economic stability, environmental repair, and cultural renewal.”  McFadden lists and describes many of the individuals, organizations, and communities who are implementing models of how to live sustainably.  It’s comforting to realize that there are so many people “out there” who are working hard to make this new paradigm fully emerge.      

People are becoming Locavores, who buy food grown close to their homes; are turning their grass into vegetable gardens; are forming neighborhood cooperatives to share garden produce; are saving seeds; and are forming organizations to create change.  Communities across America are working to build regionally based, self-reliant food economies that include urban gardens, both public and private; Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) programs, including those which “share” products from multiple producers; food cooperatives, some of which are organized by farmers; school gardens and wholesome school lunch programs; land trusts that put willing young people on farms; and community commercial kitchens.  Counties across the country are creating self-reliant food systems within their borders; many of these are all organic.  In Maine, our regional coops and our small stores carrying local, often organic foods are, already, important hubs for this new paradigm as they are generating a local associative economy where farmers and consumers can meet daily on a common terrain.

McFadden, like Will Allen in THE WAR ON BUGS, addresses the justification myth created within the post World War II liaison of academia and agricultural and chemical corporations in order to foster industrial farming methods.  Termed the “green revolution,” this myth promised that it could feed the world and argued that small organic farms could not.  McFadden writes:  “But that argument has been proven wrong.  Nearly half the world’s food already comes from low-input farms of about one hectare (2.5 acres).  That scale can be worked efficiently and wisely, then progressively networked with modern technology.  Acre for acre, small, organic farms use less energy, create less pollution, offer more satisfying work, and produce more clean food from the land” (72).  McFadden notes that Iowa State University has established the nation’s first tenured organic agriculture faculty position and that some of the land grant schools are establishing sustainable agriculture programs (88).   

Paradigm change can begin with the choices we each make about what we eat.  Each choice we make is a vote.  We can vote for members of our own community, for access to clean food filled with nutrients, and for building community resilience that will support us in the, likely, difficult future we face.  Or, we can vote so that our dollars leave our community and enrich a few, already deep pockets.  We can vote for industrial food that is lacking nutrients, is grown with toxic chemicals, and that is tired and old from the polluting practice of being shipped across the country or across the world.  We are voting, then, for a splintered community where individuals have not built fully realized relationships with each other. 

Shannon Hayes, in RADICAL HOMEMAKERS, charts the historical progression that moved households from being centers of production standing alongside other such centers to being isolated units of consumption.  She discusses her family’s decision to not only question received cultural knowledge about how “to be” in the extractive economy, but to make changes that freed her family and gave it a more fully lived life—one with values strongly rooted in the health of the land.  She writes:  “What is our economy for?  Isn’t it supposed to serve everyone?  Are our families truly served by an economy where employees are overworked, where families do not have time to eat meals together, an economy that relentlessly gnaws at our dwindling ecological resources?  In David Korten’s words, a true, living economy `should be about making a living for everyone, rather than making a killing for a few lucky winners’“ (37).  (David Korten published AGENDA FOR A NEW ECONOMY in 2010 which is in my “to read” pile.) 

Shannon addresses the myth of local, organic food being unaffordable for any but the rich:  “…a farmers’ market meal made of roasted local pasture-raised chicken, baked potatoes and steamed broccoli cost less than four meals at Burger King, even when two of the meals came off the kiddie menu.  The Burger King meal had negligible nutritional value and was damaging to our health and planet.  The farmers’ market menu cost less, healed the earth, helped the local economy, was a source of bountiful nutrients for a family of four, and would leave ample leftovers for both a chicken salad and a rich chicken stock, which could then be the base for a wonderful soup.” (12).

McFadden, too, addresses this myth by quoting the legendary Vandana Shiva, physicist, environmental activist, and author:  “`The most important issue is to break the myth that safe, ecological, local, is a luxury only the rich can afford.  The planet cannot afford the additional burden of more carbon dioxide, more nitrogen oxide, more toxins in our food.  Our farmers cannot afford the economic burden of these useless toxic chemicals.  And our bodies cannot afford the bombardment of these chemicals anymore.’” (74)

Shannon makes a strong plea for restoring our lost democracy:  “When women and men choose to center their lives on their homes, creating strong family units and living in a way that honors our natural resources and local communities, they are doing more than dismantling the extractive economy and taking power away from the corporate plutocrats.  They are laying the foundation to re-democratize our society and heal our planet.  They are rebuilding the life-serving economy” (58). 

If you want to help build a sustainable, life-giving paradigm rooted in your local area, start with food.  First, insist on and buy local, organic food.  Consider joining a local CSA; shop at a local farmers’ market and at local stores carrying local food.  Second, begin asking for what you don’t find.  For me, it’s more local winter greens, please.  And, more winter farmers’ markets.  Third, buy foods in their seasons and learn to cook and to preserve some of them for the coming winter.  (Few things are as delicious in winter as tomato sauce spiked with garlic and basil, all taken from the garden on a hot August afternoon and cooked down in a bit of olive oil and frozen.)  Finally, every day, sit down and, together, eat the tasty, nourishing, clean food you have prepared.