Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

MFC - Farmer - veteran groups focus on healing

War is not an easy thing to talk about in mixed company, but Memorial Day compels me to dedicate this column to our troops overseas and their return home.

Rural communities are acutely aware of the sacrifices involved in America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A November 2006 study from the Carsey Institute of the University of New Hampshire found a disproportionately high casualty rate for rural soldiers

The institute attributed this elevated casualty rate to "higher rates of rural military recruitment." Carsey Institute director Mil Duncan said, "Enlisting in the armed forces is a noble choice ... but rural youth shouldn't feel that it is their only choice." He added that "strengthening rural America's economy and job options is key in order to provide youth with a range of choices, including staying home and building strong, resilient rural communities."

Recently, several groups have formed to promote agricultural alternatives to war and to provide healing opportunities for war veterans.

The Farmer-Veteran Coalition is one such group. Starting in California, the group aims to go nationwide with its efforts to connect veterans with agricultural opportunities. The coalition "seeks to help our returning veterans find employment, training and places to heal on America's farms," according to its website, "We believe that our family farms, the sustainable farming movement and growing support for local and regional agriculture could all be well served by people already accustomed to hard work, discipline and dedication."

Another effort is under way to create an oasis of healing called Veterans Village. "Consonant with the spirit of healing, the retreat center will be constructed with ecology and energy efficiency in mind. As a self-sustaining community, the living unit will have organic vegetable gardens, solar-energy panels, farm animals and possibly its own irrigation and potable water supply," according to the website,

A third group, Farms Not Arms, has adopted a broader mission, as indicated by the group's name. It seeks not only to connect veterans with healing on-farm opportunities, but also to support farm victims of war internationally and to reduce the likelihood of new wars through sound agricultural policies.

In a statement on the website, organic dairy farmer Jim Goodman rebuffs the notion that anti-war groups don't support the troops. He writes: "There was never a lack of support for the troops from the peace movement; soldiers don't start wars, politicians do."

Instead, Goodman questions the government's support for the troops. "We know that the government denies the existence of health-related problems caused by the use of depleted-uranium munitions, just as they tried to dismiss the possibility of Gulf War Syndrome being a real illness. We know from past experience that veterans benefits have sometimes been too little and sometimes been much too hard to get."

These agricultural-oriented groups are taking it upon themselves to ensure robust support for our returning veterans. An honest look at casualty figures indicates that support will be sorely needed for many years to come.

In contrast to the official estimate of about 30,000 wounded soldiers, a January 2008 Rand Corp. study puts the figure much higher. Of the 1.6 million troops deployed in these wars, the study estimates that 300,000 are suffering from major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and 320,000 are suffering from traumatic brain injury.

The website offers a full accounting of casualties and is an excellent source of news and analysis. Other must-visit sites are Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Spouses for Change.

To these multiple efforts, I have one small gesture to add. This Memorial Day I'll begin putting a candle out in my front window each night to light a path home for our troops' speedy return. I invite you to do the same.

This My Free Country column appeared in Capital Press on May 23, 2008 and in the Wallowa County Chieftain on May 21, 2008. See the following post for more discussion on the idea of putting a light in your window at night to help bring the troops home.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Light a path for our troops' speedy return

Please join me in an effort to show support for our troops while calling them home. For Memorial Day, my upcoming My Free Country column will focus on multiple agricultural efforts to promote global peace and healing for veterans. At the end of the column I announce that I will begin putting a candle / light out in a front window at night to symbolically light a path home for our troops' speedy return. This is meant as a gesture of utmost respect, while I clearly state my position, were I given the chance to vote on these matters: I want to bring the troops home now, and I want to make sure they come home to a welcoming, grateful, supportive and understanding country. I am asking anyone who thinks this is a good idea to join me and help publicize this effort.

My intent is to let people express their desire to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to express that desire in a way that is not at all offensive or difficult (does not require them stepping far outside their comfort zone to attend a protest, for example). I want this expression to be something people do and think about on a daily basis, (as opposed to simply displaying a bumper sticker), so that there is at least some minimal day to day involvement and "sacrifice" amongst the civilian population associated with being part of a country at war, in the hopes that the citizens of America won't allow these wars to continue for years to come.

My intent also is to help focus our energies on the healing processes that will be needed. Too many soldiers return to Iraq and Afghanistan for multiple tours by choice because they have a hard time coming home. And too many veterans find that years after their return, they still haven't fully come home. I want to express to our troops that we are keeping something good alive for them to come home to.

This campaign to light a path for our troops' to find their way home is inspired by the agricultural efforts referenced above -- Farms Not Arms, the Farmer Veteran Coalition and Veterans Village -- and the idea that healing can happen when one is immersed in the fulfilling day to day work of cultivating land, growing plants, animal husbandry and feeding one's community, while surrounded by supportive and understanding people. Thus, the light is meant as a symbol of life. More broadly, as this effort is tied to food production, the light also symbolizes agricultural efforts to reduce the causes of war by promoting plentiful, locally-produced food and other vital supplies.

This campaign is also inspired by an event that occurred during Poland's Solidarity Revolution. The brave dissidents who operated the illegal Underground Radio Solidarity didn't know whether their broadcasts were being heard, and asked those who were listening and who wanted freedom for Poland to flash their lights. That night, all of Warsaw was flickering, as the story goes. It was a simple way that people living under extreme censorship could register their wishes and find that they were not alone.

I hope you will therefore join me in putting a light or candle in your window each night to call for our troops' return and to help our soldiers find their ways back home. Please help spread this message far and wide. I want our troops and our politicians to begin seeing lights in our windows by Memorial Day, Monday, May 26.

Thank you,

Angela Black

Friday, May 9, 2008

MFC - Natural abundance or artificial scarcity?

"Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground. Mother Earth will swallow you. Lay your body down."

Those Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young lyrics have been ringing in my ears for about five years now. I must not be alone in this. I recently received an e-mail on this subject, from a reader who calculated that freedom's price is independent thought and responsibility for actions.

Now that's a price we can all afford. But more often we hear of a much higher price. The CSNY song alludes to it, and legions of veterans confirm it. It is a cost measured in lives.

These days, the cost of freedom looks to be very high, indeed. Wars are fought for many reasons, but beneath ideological, religious and cultural disputes, one almost always finds economic interests at issue.

Turf wars. Water wars, oil wars, range wars and the list goes on. Control of resources is an age-old quest, and one that is predicated on a paradigm of scarcity.

News headlines from around the world now tell of food shortages. "A hungry mob is an angry mob," Third World prophet Bob Marley warned in his song "Them belly full (But we hungry)."

Is this really the nature of our world? Is there just simply not enough to go around? Are hardship and scarcity the rule of life on Earth, or should they be the exception to the rule?

Could it be that in rampant scarcity, we are witnessing some massive failures in agricultural production and policy? How many of our grandparents and great-grandparents would be bewildered at the notion of food rationing in 21st-century America? And how many predicted just such a consequence of policies promoting consolidation in food production?

The farmer's direct experience tells of two different potential paradigms: one of intractable scarcity and one of overwhelming abundance. Our national and international policy choices, coupled with our individual decisions and actions, determine which outcome we get.

On the one hand, the farmer finds challenges around every corner: rising feed costs, competing demands for irrigation water and the loss of productive farmland to development, to name just a few.

On the other hand, some farmers may find a glimmer of hope in nature's bounty. Have you ever had more production than you knew what to do with? More milk than you could sell? A bumper crop of zucchini, perhaps?

It is this very specter of overproduction that drives many of our farm policies. Subsidy programs limit production in an attempt to provide stability for the agribusiness industry.

Perhaps we've got the equation backwards. What would happen if farm policy was reversed to encourage abundance, not scarcity? To my thinking, natural abundance yields far greater stability than artificial scarcity ever could.

Like Martin Luther King Jr., I also have a dream. I dream of a shift in farm policy and practice that creates such wild abundance that farming transforms from a business dependent on consumers to a way of life sustaining all other creation and production.

After Mother Earth has swallowed so many lives laid down in pursuit of freedom, is it possible that we can pay another price instead? And if such a thing is possible, shouldn't we redouble our efforts in that quest?

Buried in the ground there is another source of freedom, I think. It is found in the organic life that wiggles and squirms through fertile soil. The way to tap that abundant life is through the sensible and ethical application of human intellect, heartfelt spirit and some day-to-day tender loving care.

For these reasons, "Grow Freedom" is now the motto I live by.

My next column, timed with Memorial Day, will focus on a developing alliance between farmers and veterans in pursuit of an agricultural path toward freedom. I welcome your thoughts on this important matter.