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Archive for May, 2011

Justified Defense

He had big feet. Big ears and a little nose. He was brown, with flashes of gray. He was quick and alert, his dark eyes darting around. He looked like he could be sweet, but I wasn’t buyin’ it.  I watched his furry tail as he hopped away…thinking about how I was going to kill him.

The rabbit in the veggie patch and I are at war. I’m not really one for violence, but this damn rabbit  ate an entire 100ft of cauliflower, plus our select Romanesco broccoli. It took Betsey and I half an afternoon forking, raking and prepping that bed, not to mention the time it took to grow the plants and transplant them from the greenhouse. And in one little swoop, Mr. Greedy rabbit ate up all that precious time and energy in just a few nibbles.

Now I know when farming organically and sustainably, there’s gonna be some sacrificial vegetables lost to the pests and animals. That’s just part of the nature game. But there has got to be some balance.

This damn rabbit crossed the line, so in my mind he’s gotta die.

The run-in with the rabbit and my new-found thirst for vengeance and justification for violence got me thinking. Thinking way bigger than the death of Mr. Greedy rabbit, and more about non-violent versus violent actions.

Yes, only I would compare the violent defense mentality of farmer vs pest with the larger defense mentality of activists vs the problem-makers, and some might find it annoying and completely ridiculous, but my thoughts are my thoughts.

Two drastically different scenarios raise one quite similar question in my mind. When is it OK to take violent action in protection of what’s important to you?

Now, I am not a PETA activist, nor a vegan, nor do I believe the killing of animals for consumption and use is wrong – as long as they have lived a healthy and free life. But I do believe killing an animal just to kill it is not right. As do many of the farmers I have come across and now work with.  (We even went so far as to build cages for our greenhouse starts to protect them from the mice instead of putting out traps like many other farms do..allowing both the veggies and the mice to live.)

For as long as they can, many sustainable farmers go to great lengths to avoid killing pests and intruding animals, even when they are wreaking havoc on their farm.  Building fences instead of hunting down deer, rabbits and groundhogs; planting pest deterrent crops and installing hoops and row cover instead of spraying pesticides and wiping out all bugs; putting up scarecrows instead of shooting the pestering birds.

We all understand there is a give and take, we are in their space and they have to eat too. But many reach the breaking point when the pests go too far. All of a sudden, something has to be done to protect the crops and the vitality of the farm, and the shotguns and traps come out.  I know farmers who make themselves insane after spending the better part of the pre-season setting up non-violent deterrent structures, then the rest of the season running around shooting at anything that moves in the field.

It’s out of pure protection of livelihood, and that is all of the justification needed to hunt down any furry intruder in sight.

So what do we do with other types of intruders in society, especially when we don’t believe in violence? If it comes down to protecting ourselves or giving up, violence may have to be justified. Legally, Americans can shoot and kill anyone who intrudes their home.  We can harm someone who tries to harm us -it’s called self-defense. But this allowance of violence only seems to extend to our personal property, our possessions – and our physical safety only when at the hands of a “criminal”.

But what if our safety, our health and our livelihood are at risk from corporations and big industry, like say fracking or toxic food systems? If Mr. Greedy oil-driller wants to set up a fracking well (drilling for natural gas via water pumping and toxic chemicals) next to our farm, consequently poisoning the water we drink (a.k.a attempted murder) and intruding on our land (a.k.a. home invasion) do we get to shoot him too?

Of course not. This would put an anti-fracking activist in jail. Just uttering the words is considered radical. People get targeted and censored for saying things like that. Just recently Florida and some other states began proposing bans on simply taking photos of big industry farms, because the ag industry doesn’t want you to know what their doing, for fear that people would get pissed off and begin taking action in defense of their food and their health. And if the Feds get wind of any planned violent action, everyone gets arrested. Like many political prisoners who are still locked up today for defending their rights in the 1960s.

But if violent action for the protection of life and livelihood is a justification for self-defense laws, and for murdering furry bunnies, shouldn’t it also be a right when protesting deadly industry or government ventures that threaten our rights, our environment and our health?

I’m just sayin’.

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Fundraising and community organizing can be the death of many an activist…I’ve seen it happen right before my eyes, organizers dropping like flies in D.C.  Stress, no sleep, downing coffee and vegan muffins for 16 hours straight, and subsequently killing immune systems. Feeling like giving up while trying to juggle the work, the outreach and the money-chasing in order to do both of the former.

Fundraising and community organizing while farming, trying to publicize your farm, make money and win the endless battle against the damn weeds…is a whole different ball game.

This is a challenge that many small farmers face on a daily basis – whether they’re involved in community work or not. There is always the juggling act of trying to increase income, by increasing production, while looking for capital to do so, and looking for help to maintain all the new work…and stay on those damn weeds.

But for a small farmer also trying to do community work – such as food justice work – where there needs to be fundraising, organizing and providing support in the community, the dichotomy of this faced with growing a profitable, productive farm can seem impossible. And most of the time for small farmers, especially Black and Brown farmers, it’s purely about survival.

Before I go on, I want to say that yes I am on a farm that is trying to juggle all of these things, and yes I have been spreading myself a bit thin with one foot in farming and the other in community organizing. But this post is not about the struggles of this farm or my work, so don’t pull out the violin just yet– I’ve only just begun this journey and so far it’s nothing compared to the long hard years of work that so many farmers and organizers in this movement have put in and continue to put in on a daily basis.

But my experience here in Wassaic, and working with so many food justice, community groups in and around NYC, has really sparked the question in my head: Is it possible to both run a profitable, production-focused farm and fight the injustices of the food system by participating in and building community-led work? Or do you have to choose one or the other?

So many small farmers want to participate in food justice movements and community building, but they spend most of their time just trying to keep their heads above water. Keep their farms from going under, keep food on their own tables.  If there were more time in the day maybe, or if there were more support for small farmers, it could be possible. Or if the uphill battle to fighting injustice in our food system wasn’t so effing steep.

Our new volunteer farmer started last week, and today she asked me what I thought the hardest part of farming has been. I honestly couldn’t think of an answer at first – couldn’t narrow down just one thing. Then it came to me: finding time. The hardest part about farming is finding the time in the day to do first everything you need to do, next everything you want to do and finally everything you should do as a provider of healthy food and a representative of food sovereignty in your community.

This lack of time and support, faced with the dichotomous decision of having to choose survival over fighting back, is going to be the death of our small farmers and of our movement unless we can figure out a way to do both.

Once again, do we have to choose one or the other? I’m going to leave the question open to you – is there a successful model out there for growing a successful farm while building successful community food-organizing? Or is it just a dream?

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