RAFI Executive Director Scott Marlow delivered a compelling statement at Farm Aid this past weekend, and we thought we’d transcribe some of it to share with you all. It moved Neil Young so much that he gave Scott a big hug on stage.
Scott Marlow, Executive Director, RAFI:
I am kind of nervous up here, so I am going to ask that the farm advocates, the folks who work with farmers every day, stand with me so that I can lean on you like I do every day, and family farmers do every day. That’s Joe and Benny and Shirley and Cornelius and Rhonda and Ben, and a bunch of other people and I will depend on you like I do every day.**
I want to welcome Farm Aid to North Carolina and we’re very excited that you are here. Farm Aid started 29 years ago to address the pain of farmers and farm families losing their farms. Some of our folks here were at that concert and have been at most of them since.
I work for an organization called the Rural Advancement Foundation International, and we are a part of all of those people who just stood up. All of us, when a farmer in crisis calls the Farm Aid hotline what they get is our phone numbers. If they are from North Carolina what they get is my phone number and we send out Joe or Benny, Benny Bunting who has been doing this since 1983 and has single handedly saved thousands and thousands of farms, and they sit at the kitchen table and they figure out how to save the farm.
Over time Farm Aid has come to not just talk about the crisis but also the great creativity and resilience of farmers who face a deck stacked against them as they said in the video. And the deck is very much stacked against them. One of those stories is about the history of discrimination and we are very glad to share this work with the Land Loss Prevention Project here in North Carolina and other organizations like the Farmers Legal Action Group. Those are the two nonprofit law firms who took on the discrimination lawsuit against the USDA when no one said it could be done, and some of those folks are here in the room as well.
And while that stacked deck is certainly about discrimination, it is increasingly about corporate concentration and corporate domination. One of the problems that we have is that these days the organizations and agencies and politicians that talk about serving and protecting farmers what they are really doing is serving and protecting the corporations that exploit farmers.
They want to set farmers against farmers and communities against communities but this is not about farmers versus farmers, or organic vs conventional, it is about the farmers’ right to exist. We are going to talk a lot about organic up here, and we like it because we want to feed our kids healthy food and want a healthy planet, but it is first of all because we have because we have heard the stories from conventional farmers about broken sprayer hoses putting their family member in the hospital, chemicals that if one drop falls on their boot, the top of their foot burns all night their sweat smelling of chemicals. The first folks who face that poison and that pollution are the farm family and their children and the farm workers and their children, and so when we move to organic it is to protect them as much as ourselves.
And we are going to talk about local, and we talk about it because we like buying local and the experience of connecting to farmers, but we also do it because what we see is multi-national corporations running farmers into the ground. And so when we move to a local system what it does is to allow farmers to get out from underneath that system and to stand up on their own two feet and connect with the markets without them.
If you want to understand the plan that corporate agriculture has for your farms and your food then look no further than the contract poultry system. About 97% of poultry in the United States are grown under production contracts; a contract where the farmer never owns a chicken, and the company is extremely adept at importing profit and exporting risk, cost and pollution. Many of those farm families and many of those kitchen tables that we have sat at over the last few years have been people in abusive poultry contracts.
I was asked to talk about John Vollmer, an organic vegetable farmer whom we lost this year and whose son Russ is here. John was a dear friend and a great leader. He chose to make a transition from tobacco to connecting directly to his neighbors with organic fruit and vegetables at a time when tobacco was the most dependable income for any of the farmers in his area. John helped create an alternative vision for agriculture with his mix of wholesale and retail and connection into the community.
What North Carolina’s food, rural communities and land will look like in the future is very much in question right now. So we also welcome Farm Aid to North Carolina because North Carolina is at the forefront of that choice. What will answer the question is three things; how people eat, how they vote, and what they are willing to raise hell over. We are overjoyed to welcome to North Carolina Willie Nelson and all of the people at Farm Aid who for almost 30 years have been willing to raise hell for the family farm.
And I am going to finish by saying this. I have the privilege of sharing this stage with people that I have a deep respect for, people that I am very grateful to share this work and this planet with. And with all due respect and thanks to Farm Aid, they are the farmers sitting on the outside of the stage.
I cannot tell you the courage that it takes for a person who stands to lose everything, whether it is because of discrimination or an abusive contract, to stand up and speak out. We have seen first hand the toll that it takes on the body and the soul when every day you face the loss of your farm. And with that I am going to turn it over so we can hear from them.
** Referring to the following individuals:
Joe Schroeder, Farm Sustainability Program Director, RAFI
Benny Bunting, Lead Farm Advocate, RAFI
Shirley Sherrod, Resora
Cornelius Blanding, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund
Rhonda Perry, Missouri Rural Crisis Center
Ben Burkett, National Family Farm Coalition
Farm Aid 2014 | Press Conference | Photo Credit: Peter Eversoll
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