If ever I needed a reminder of our power as “we, the people,” I received it ten-fold this weekend when I joined our long-time partner Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) in their efforts to organize the Food & Agriculture Justice Summit.
The justice summit emerged in response to the first-ever Iowa Ag Summit, an event organized by Iowa’s agribusiness tycoon Bruce Rastetter that brought Republican presidential hopefuls including Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Chris Christie to Des Moines for a conversation about “modern agriculture.”
Family farmers and rural communities in Iowa are no stranger to Rastetter’s corporate ag agenda that puts profits before people, communities and our environment. Rastetter made his fortune founding Heartland Pork Enterprises in 1994, which was later acquired by Christensen Farms to create the 4th largest pork producer in the U.S. That trend of corporate consolidation and the expansion of pork production into mega “factory farms” has pushed over 80 percent of Iowa’s hog farms out of business since the early 1990s, draining rural health and wealth from the state as family farms left the land.
Iowa CCI rallied a broad coalition of local, state and national partners to elevate a different vision for food and agriculture. That vision, endorsed by Farm Aid’s President Willie Nelson in his recent Politico op-ed, puts family farmers front and center and endorses local control of agriculture using methods that sustain the health of soil, water, communities, and rural economies for future generations.
Here are a few highlights from the weekend’s events:
- Pre-dawn rallying: It was bright and early for this crew of 130, who showed up at the Iowa State Fairgrounds an hour before the event doors opened with a choir of voices shouting “Family Farms, Yes! Corporate Ag, No!” Attracting the attention of press and early arrivals to Rastetter’s event, we ‘early birds’ got the proverbial worm – important coverage and social media callouts showing there was a different vision worth paying attention to. One that wasn’t powered by corporate money, but instead by people.
- What conversation? Rastetter’s Iowa Ag Summit, which was supposed to be left open to the public for first-come, first-serve tickets provided online, proved to be a more private affair. Several members of Iowa CCI and allied organizations like Iowa Farmers Union who had registered for tickets in advance were told that their tickets were no longer valid, and were not allowed into the event. One person was actually forcibly removed from his seat as he flipped through the Summit program provided.
- Crashing the Party: Before making our way to the community-led Food & Ag Justice Summit, we stopped by the Iowa Republican Party’s headquarters in Des Moines to urge the support for our family farm vision of agriculture, not the one advanced by Rastetter.
- Food & Ag Justice Summit: We ended the day with an uplifting gathering that brought together local, regional and national leaders for dialogue around a vision for food and ag justice that benefits all. We discussed what that vision included and how we would get there – underscoring the need for people to come together, to continue in the long tradition of organizing to protect community welfare, the rights of family farmers and the health of our environment, and the need to bring eaters into the conversation!
For a peek at what the Food & Agriculture Justice Summit looked, check out these photos:
For more coverage of the events see:
Think Progress’s great piece capturing how real family farmers felt about Rastetter’s Ag Summit.
An interview I did with Huffington Post Live and farmer activist George Naylor about the day’s events.
- Iowa CCI’s play-by-play blog of the events.
Thanks to Iowa CCI for use of their People and Planet First vision for agriculture photo.