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Fickin Chuckers Milk the Cow

May 20, 2015

Well, I hope you did your homework. You didn’t think I was joking about that, did you? Because today builds off of yesterday’s John Oliver video. Actually, this is more like school these days than you might imagine.

In the past I’ve been criticized for taking on issues of farming, since I’ve never been a farmer nor do I have any expert credential on the subject. So since this is both a farming issue and a legislative one, I brought a ringer on board to help lend some perspective to the issue.

She’s a 4th generation dairy farmer and she’s also a lawyer. And as a result, I wanted to reach out and get some more context on this latest expose of big ag and its business practices.

by Lorraine Lewandrowski (aka @NYFarmer)

Thanks to Fussy Little Blog for taking note of the John Oliver chicken farmer video I forwarded yesterday. This video takes me back to 2010. Yes, half a decade ago! In the spring of 2010, we dairy farmers were trying to recover from the greatest global milk price crash that we had known in our lifetimes. When the Obama Administration announced a series of workshops to seek farmer input on market consolidation, farmers were generally excited.

New York dairy farmers packed an auditorium in Batavia, New York. I had phoned food movement groups, asking them to come with us. None showed up. Unexpectedly, two Twitter friends appeared unannounced, driving long distances from Manhattan and the Catskills. One of them set up a live feed so that other farmers could hear our testimony around the country. We were touched that unknown friends would go out of their way for us, bringing unexpected technology skills. I was bitterly disappointed that food movement groups told me that they were only into “local food” and not so much “commodities.”

Farmers and ranchers, including the poultry farmers, piled into hearings in Alabama, Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa. Via internet, I watched as poultry farmers told of their fear in speaking about contract terms and fear of retaliation for raising issues. Similar concerns were voiced by farmers at other venues. How could it be that our agriculture had come to such a point that farmers spoke of fear, retaliation, lack of marketing choices and extreme market consolidation?

As farmers pressed for basic protections, the USDA’s Grain, Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) proposed regulations that would address some of the problems raised at hearings. What later became known as “the GIPSA rider” was a measure that would deny poultry farmer protections and funding for implementing the regulations. As in so many political wranglings, the action moved to the Appropriations Committee. John Oliver’s video nicely captures the attempt of Rep. Marcie Kaptur (D-Ohio) to block “the GIPSA rider,” thereby allowing farmer protections to go forward.

And, quietly, without much fanfare or publicity in food circles, farmers lost.

No matter what your views are on commodity farmers, farmers should entitled to the most basic protections: to be able to speak freely, to criticize our contracts, to speak of price…without fear of retaliation. Here, as in the dairy hearings, an unknown and unlikely proponent of poultry farmer justice appeared: comedian John Oliver. The video speaks for itself and I’m glad that Fussy Little Blog aired it. I still believe in the kindness of strangers and that help can arrive when you least expect it.

It should not be that commodity farmers are somehow perceived as lesser people than the farmers who sell locally or direct. I ask of the Upstate food movement, “Please don’t be a stranger. Talk to us, the commodity dairy farmers.” Thanks, Profussor, for being a friend of the farmer.

I think I may be starting to come around on commodity farmers and commodity farms. But I’m going to have to sit down with Lorraine and maybe visit a few farms to get it all sorted out. Like everything else, the deeper you get into this stuff, the more complicated it gets.

Thanks to Lorraine for sharing her experience with farmers and their ongoing struggles. It feels like there should an elegant technological solution to all of this, that puts more control back in the farmers hands.

But in the meantime, at the very least, I hope our government will take a stand to help protect farmers from retaliation about speaking out against industry shenanigans. If you don’t have time to watch the whole video from yesterday, skip ahead to 16:30 to see what you can do to help.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2015 10:13 am

    The potential NYS “fickin chuckers” are Congressmen Steve Israel (http://israel.house.gov/) and Jose E. Serrano (http://serrano.house.gov/).

  2. rory b bellows permalink
    May 20, 2015 10:48 am

    Sadly if it bleeds it leads is the formula applied to farmers, factory farms or cases of abuse are what the general public have come to understand farming to be. I have been following farmers the world over on Twitter for over a year and have come to understand the vast difference between factory farming and family farmers. Family farmers who raise animals for people to eat are realistic about the exercise but love EVERY animal under their care till the time comes for it to move onto the family table. I’m not going to debate the evils or rewards of eating meat just that family farmers by in large are kind and willing to share the experience of a life as old as time. Farmers that abuse animals are criminals or overwhelmed the same with dogs or pet owners.

  3. May 20, 2015 11:19 pm

    Near the end of the video, Nita Lowey (http://lowey.house.gov) was also listed.

    Surprise! New York State is represented by districts close to the city on this committee.

    Serrano- South Bronx
    Israel- Nassau and Suffolk counties with a bit of Queens
    Lowey- Westchester County with a bit of Yonkers and Rockland Counties

    As of 10:15 PM on May 20th, all of their Wikipedia pages are Ficken’ Chucker reference free. Not sure it is going to last though.

  4. Timothy Raab permalink
    May 20, 2015 11:21 pm

    Some of the video clips shown at the 2013 Farm Aid concert at SPAC discussed these issue. I believe they are still on YouTube or the Farm Aid site. They were an eyeopener for me.

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