A call for equity and sustainable systems

Equity, the fairness with with which we treat one another, has finally become a hot topic. Sustainability, the pursuit of an environment healthy enough to ensure a livable planet for ourselves and for our children has, thankfully, become another. Together they pack a pretty explosive punch! Ignore them and we may find ourselves flat on our backs; the soul of our humanity bruised and battered by tooth and claw competition on a shriveling planet.

Around the world, including here in Wisconsin, small family farmers are being forced off their land by grocery store-scale industrial agriculture. In the last fifteen years nearly half of Wisconsin’s family farms have gone bust. Barns once bustling and alive now stand hollow and graying reminders of our yeoman farmer past. Environmentally sustainable family farmers cannot survive unprotected in a free market that favors expansion and costly scaled up mechanization. The complete loss of top soil on one third of the land in our nation’s corn belt is only one consequence of this trend.

In the world’s poorest countries, that same competitive bulldozer pushes small farmers off their land too. Broke and defeated, they stream into cities for work to feed themselves and their families, inevitably landing in the ghetto. Ghettos breed gangs, and poor new arrivals are easy prey. To be impoverished in the big cities of the world is brutal, and ghetto prey with nowhere else to go often hit the road, hopeful eyes set on Europe or the U.S. We know how unwelcome they are here; Trump’s wall says it with steely clarity.

Christopher Thompson, author of Going Over Home: A Search for Rural Justice in an Unsettled Land, tells an eye opening tale of small farm demise here in America with personal and heartbreaking detail as it was played out in his family. Years later, struggling to make it on his small orchard and berry farm, he hired some young men, recent arrivals from Mexico, to help pick an overabundance of berries. They too were farmers, he found out, and they too were broken by the rise of industrial free market ag in Mexico. Why were they here working in a slaughter house by day and picking his berries in the evening? To save their small family farms back home. Rapists? Murderers? Hardly. Just more victims in the corporate farm market game; the latest inductees in a growing brotherhood of the dispossessed.

Today in India small family farmers make international news protesting the very same competitive corporate take over. With a roof over their head and a place of respect in their village, they were happy and secure in an economy that guaranteed them a fair price for their land friendly produce. Recently Prime Minister Modi removed those guarantees and opened farm commodity prices up to free-wheeling competition. India’s farmers, who had cared for and improved their small plots from generation to generation, knowing a death sentence for their farms when they saw it, rebelled. Good for them. I wish them success. The brotherhood of the dispossessed is big enough.

We could use that same kind of protest here. The careful stewardship of the family farmer in the face of the unsustainable practices of the industrial farm is worth protecting. Greenhouse gases from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), chemical fertilizers and pesticides, heavy use of fossil fuels in fieldwork, heavy use of irrigated water that saps old aquifers, and topsoil eroding off huge, carelessly plowed fields with few, if any, windbreaks are just some of the heavy prices we all pay for the cheap food in our shopping carts. How long can that harvest last? Fair price guarantees that support family farms would go a long way towards a more sustainable future. Our legislators need to hear from us about this.

What is happening in Mexico, here, and in India is happening around the world from Africa to Honduras. Circling back to the beginning, let’s talk inequity, climate change and Honduras. As more and more family farmers there are pushed to the edge by the overpowering force of industrial agriculture, extreme weather, one of the hallmarks of climate change, is pushing them over the edge.

This year, back-to-back major hurricanes in Central America hammered the final nail in the coffin for many small Honduran farmers. Thousands strong, a caravan of climate refugees turned desperately north heading our way, finding out along the way how unwelcome they were. Disbelieving eyes peered into the reporter’s camera, while a man’s mouth, our brother’s mouth, cried out to the microphone “we have nowhere.. nowhere to go!” We ignore his plea at the cost of our soul.

It is time to speak for our brothers and sisters around the world. To speak for universal human equity and opportunity that is long overdue. We must, with a unified voice, sing for the Earth, our nurturing mother. With 7.8 billion pairs of hands, we must protect and care for her. We must open our eyes to the damage our throw-away lifestyle heap on the one living planet we all depend on for our very lives. We must live with a conscience, and the goal of sustainability, as our guide.

In the end it’s all about our priorities isn’t it? To preserve our family farms, to pass a livable planet on to our children. Both people and the Earth must be at the top of our list instead of money.

Stand up for gardening and buying local. Stand up and demand renewable energy and clean, electric transportation. Stand up for economic equity for all, and for universal education around the world. Stand up for environmental stewardship. Demand of our legislators informed action on climate change. Demand fair incomes for family farmers everywhere. Let us move the preservation and care of life and land to the top of our bucket list. To do less leads to a deep, dark place where none of us wants to go.