Tag Archives: urban/rural unity

How Rural Communities Are Fighting Farm Crisis-Fueled Xenophobia

Published at FoodPrint, October 9, 2019

There is a lot of bad news coming from farm country in 2019. Farm bankruptcies are up, due to five years of low farm prices, compounded by wet spring weather and the trade war with China. As in the rest of the US, anti-immigrant and white supremacist sentiment are also on the rise in many rural areas.

For many in rural America, 2019 feels like déjà vu. In the 1980s, a farm crisis swept through the heartland, shuttering over a quarter of a million farms. The decade saw a spike in rural anti-Semitism and other racism, as struggling farmers sought explanations for the crisis wherever they could.

There is a long history of rural white communities looking to racist ideology, especially in moments of crisis; blaming hardships on someone who doesn’t look like you can feel like an easy solution to your problems. At the same time there is also a long history of rural communities fighting back against these simplistic and hateful ideas, finding strength in unity rather than in division. Recently, Farm Aid, an organization that was founded in the heart of the 1980s farm crisis, convened meetings in Wisconsin highlighting how farmer organizers in the 1980s addressed racist extremism head on. They instead worked in broad multiracial coalitions to build power to end the farm crisis. The hopeful news is that similar work is happening around the countryside today.

Read the rest at FoodPrint….


How a Former Wall Street Worker Invested in Fresh Food for Her Community

civil_eats_logo.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scalePublished at Civil Eats, May 14, 2015

Just before this past Earth Day, dozens of volunteers worked with longtime members of the Hattie Carthan Community Garden in central Brooklyn to clean beds, spread mulch, and pour concrete. The garden has been a fixture in the area for decades, but just six years ago, the abandoned half-acre lot next to it was overgrown with trees and filled with trash. Today that lot is home to a children’s garden, two chicken coops, and the Hattie Carthan Community Market in the summer. There’s also educational programming for all ages and the Hattie Carthan Urban Agriculture Corps, a paid summer apprentice program for local teenagers.

The volunteers came together that day at the request of urban farmer and social justice advocate Yonnette Fleming, the force behind the transformation of the once vacant lot. Originally from Guyana, Fleming has worked since 2003 to address food insecurity in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant (or “Bed-Stuy”) neighborhood. While working on Wall Street years ago, she joined the community garden. As she became more deeply connected to the earth, she found it harder to juggle the two worlds. In 2008, she left her job to invest herself fully in the community.

…read the rest at Civil Eats

Support Real Milk Stories!

I wrote in my last post about hearing farmers’ stories from dairy country in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Today I’ve launched Real Milk Stories, a campaign to support me to travel to Wisconsin this summer to research some of those stories and write about them for a wide audience.

My friend Joel, president of Family Farm Defenders, recently sold his cows and took a job at a fruit processing plant. I’ll be spending time with him and neighboring farmers, investigating the pressures that have made so many thousands of farmers sell their cows after generations of farming. My writing will shed light on what farm and trade policy looks like at the human level, in the fields and around the kitchen table – and why it’s important to all of us who live far from the farm.

Like community supported agriculture, Real Milk Stories is community supported storytelling. My campaign will raise seed funding from friends, family, colleagues, readers for my  weeks in Wisconsin for research and interviews, so that I can help these farmers tell their critical and too often untold stories.

Please support me and Real Milk Stories! Contribute and spread the word!

United We Eat

I recently rediscovered this essay I wrote in 2011, and on rereading three years later, realized it’s something of a manifesto, laying out my general philosophy and background. Published at Civil Eats, March 30, 2011.

A couple of weeks ago, Washington Post political blogger Ezra Klein and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack had a debate in the Washington Post about rural subsidies; the substance of which was then analyzed and thoroughly skewered in a couple of excellent posts by Brian Depew of the Center for Rural Affairs and Tom Philpott at Grist. The whole affair got me thinking about another urban/rural discussion I read at the end of last year, this one focused on food—and about how counterproductive all of our country/city dividing lines are.

In December, the Atlantic published “The 10 Biggest Food Stories of 2010,” a list that ranged from restaurant trends to food truck and butchery trends, with a smattering of food policy in between. In response, the Daily Yonder (motto: “Keep It Rural.”) ran “The (Real) Important Food Stories of 2010,” pointing out that the Atlantic’s list included “no mention of either the people or the places that produce food,” and that it was “heavy on New York City.” (Both true.)

The Yonder’s list gave a much more substantive picture of food issues in 2010: the Department of Justice/USDA investigation of corporate consolidation in food and agriculture; the USDA’s proposed fair farm rules, seed and dairy crises, and the skyrocketing price of rural land—all issues that affect not only the Daily Yonder’s rural readers, but all of us who eat. I was all set to recommend the article to all my colleagues, and then I got to the last line. “As you can see,” the writers concluded, “not a one of these stories begins in Brooklyn.” Now, wait just a minute there.

I’ve lived in Brooklyn for seven years, working on food justice issues for most of that time, so I took the conclusion personally. But there’s a larger issue. Brooklyn has a vibrant, diverse food scene that ranges from decades-old community gardens in Bedford-Stuyvesant to, yes, a Williamsburg “butchering icon.” Small snapshots of Brooklyn food have been much hyped lately in both local and national media, but they don’t tell the whole story—and they seem mostly to alienate much of the rest of the country (as well as more than a few Brooklynites). The Daily Yonder was right: the Atlantic list was out of touch. But digging on Brooklyn just exacerbates the problem. Both publications—and all of us who are working for a better, healthier, and more just food system—need to start thinking about food as a way to come together rather than something to divide us. If we keep seeing ourselves as divided between rural and urban, we won’t change anything. Continue reading United We Eat