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Family Farmers Are the 99 Percent: How Occupy Wall Street Is Bridging the Rural/Urban Divide

Even though it took economic collapse to wake the American people up to the vast harms caused by unchecked corporate power, farmers have known this for decades.

For most Americans, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been largely an urban phenomenon, but on December 4, farmers and rural activists flocked to New York City to join the Occupy Wall Street Farmers’ March in a show of solidarity with their urban allies.

While the mainstream media has tried to paint Occupy Wall Street as a bunch of wild eyed-hippies, for many of us who live in small towns in rural America and fight to reform food and agriculture, we know better. Which is why many of us traveled from as far as Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maine to join with OWS to occupy food, farms and the land.

Family Farmers are the 99%!

It’s not for nothing that one Hudson Valley farmer carried a sign (one of my favorites) that said: “Civilization was built on Agriculture, not a Trading Floor!”

Unfortunately, due the rampant collusion between Republicans, Democrats and Wall Street, civilization may end on the trading floor if things continue as business as usual in our economic and political capitals.

Even though it took the massive mortgage crisis and economic collapse to wake the American people up to the vast harms caused by unchecked corporate power, farmers have been acutely aware of these issues for decades, if not centuries; one only has to remember that our nation was founded by an alliance between urban rebels in Boston and Virginia farmers.

In the tradition of uniting urban and rural, the Farmers March was planned as “a celebration of community power to regain control over the most basic element to human well-being: food. The food system has been taken over by multinational corporations to the detriment of communities, ecosystems, local economies, and soil all over the world,” said Paula Winograd and Seth Wulsin, members of the Occupy Wall Street Food Justice group.  

Taking on Economic Injustice in The City

According to AlterNet, more than “500 rural farmers, urban farmers, food laborers, community activists and former occupiers” showed up for the beginning of the day at an East Village community garden, which began with Bronx urban farmer Karen Washington telling an energetic crowd of her journey over the past two decades to create a healthy food environment for her neighborhood.

Washington, who helped found the City Farms Markets, a series of community-run farmers markets, was stunned to hear that “food was a privilege and not a right.” So she set out to change that, mainly by putting her hands in the dirt, planting seeds and feeding her community. Through her work in the Bronx, Washington is helping combat the major issues of obesity, diabetes and lack of access to healthy food faced by underserved communities.

Washington announced proudly, “I’m an urban farmer. I grow food. I feed people’s body and mind.”

Confronting Corporate Concentration from the Prairie to the Plains

Over the past three decades, the U.S. has adopted economic policies promoted by Wall Street investment banks and agribusiness monopolies that have led to massive concentration in food and agriculture. Today market concentration is so great that only four firms control 84 percent of beef packing and 66 percent of pork production, which has resulted in forcing more than 1.1 million independent livestock producers out of business since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980.

No one knows that better than Colorado and Kansas rancher Mike Callicrate, who has been at the forefront of the battle against giant meat cartels in cattle country since the 1990s when he became a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against IBP, now owned by Tyson Foods.  

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