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.

Monday, April 21, 2008

MFC - Do Not Miss The Planting Time

I know the time is now. It's written in big letters right on my calendar: "Do Not Miss the Planting Time."

But then I look further at the instructions I've left myself for this week -- "prepare outside soil for cultivation" – and I look outside to see ... snow.

Something is wrong with my calendar. Or with the weather. And I have a sinking suspicion that although the growing season is pushed later with this seemingly endless winter, I can't count on the difference being made up at the other end.

If I wait for the weather to comply for my spring plantings, I'll be watching green tomatoes freeze on the vines in September.

I am especially eager to start this year's garden for several reasons. I wasn't able to do one last year because my husband was injured badly in an accident, and keeping him alive became our only mission.

Most of my garden never got planted last year, and I had to abandon the plots that I did start, as multiple trips to the nearest big city hospital in Spokane took precedence over weeding, planting, watering or harvesting.

It was a hard summer. For a time, I had no functioning car, phone, computer, plumbing, or husband. I wasn't able to can any fruit or vegetables, or raise any meat birds, and my husband didn't get to hunt or fish or cut wood. That made for a hard winter.

When things fall apart that badly, you really find out what you, and your relationships, are made of. Thankfully, I've never been overly attached to modern conveniences. When my husband and I first left the city, we spent nearly a year living in a one-room, off-grid cabin, trying our hands at various self-sufficiency skills.

It was one thing for us to take on those challenges by choice, together. It was a lot less fun this time around; I felt more like a pawn of the fates than a proactive decider. And while my newborn baby and two toddlers were great company, they posed their own challenges.

To get by, I adopted my husband's Marine Corp. training with the mantra, "Adapt and overcome." I started picking up more of the jobs that traditionally fell to my husband in our division of labor, and I had to ask for and accept a lot of help from family, friends and neighbors.

My husband is not back to full strength yet, but he is well on his way. And after our long, hard year, we are approaching this growing season with an eagerness, urgency and gratefulness like never before.

That's why the snow I see on the ground isn't going to slow us down. It can't. The planting time is now, regardless of what the reality is outside.

Starting seeds indoors or in greenhouses is already a necessary way of life in these parts. I just didn't expect to have to build a fire or put a heating pad under the seedlings to keep them warm indoors at the end of April.

Each day that this unseasonable coldness keeps us indoors is another day spent researching, developing and employing growing techniques that make us less reliant on good weather.
For example, we've found an impressive collection of cold hardy fruits at One Green World nursery in Mollalla, Ore. ( Many of those fruit varieties are imported from Siberia, where farmers are known for using another cold weather trick: deep composting. The heat put out from biological decay can dramatically raise the soil temperature when compost is buried under cultivation beds.

My husband is also back to his pre-accident endeavor: setting up low cost hydroponics systems. And our children are now old enough to participate in an exciting series of growing experiments as part of their home schooling curriculum.

One way or another, my tomatoes will ripen this year. That is something I am bound and determined to see after last year's missed growing season.

Angela Black writes on freedom and farming issues from her home in Lostine, Ore. She is online at

Friday, April 18, 2008

Column archives

I'll be posting past My Free Country columns at this blogsite, back dating them as blog entries on the dates they were published. I'll build an index of titles at this entry as they are added, with publication dates, since some of the columns were published on multiple days by more than one paper. If you are looking for one column in particular and it hasn't been added yet, feel free to send an email asking for it. My contact information will remain at the bottom of the page.

My Free Country archives index:
Natural abundance or artifical scarcity? - 5/9/08
Do not miss the planting time - 4/21/08
Successful farms of the future will grow freedom - 4/11/08
Put local free trade on the fast track - 3/28/08
The memos DHS never sent, but should have - 3/13/08
Control of food, life an ominous proposition - 2/07/08
The mark on the beast: Say 'no' to mandatory animal ID - 2/01/08
Evidence mounts: It's time to end U.S. hemp ban - 11/30/07
Cheers to the milk runners - 11/11/05
Take another look at hemp - 5/13/05

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Conserving what?

I have to thank a My Free Country fan for making me the subject of his April 10th blog at Interestingly, his previous day's posting took conservatives to task for, well, not being very conservative. The reckless deficit spending of the Republican leadership has many rank and file conservatives upset as well.

Let me be clear, the liberal and conservative terms are more trouble than they are worth. Instead of trying to get your head around these slippery terms that divide us unnecessarily, we should categorize political ideologies in a way that has concrete and logical meaning: are you authoritarian or anti-authoritarian? Both camps include both types, which is why Americans are screwed no matter who's in charge.

I get more fan mail from self-described conservatives, and that's probably because they've always been the primary audience for my writing. But I get equally laudatory emails from self-described liberals. I speak to the anti-authoritarians in both camps.

Since the party of fiscal conservativism started spending money like there's no tomorrow, many self-described liberals and conservatives are confused. The relevant question to ask is: What are conservatives trying to conserve?

My conservative fans are trying to conserve resources, values and traditions, including the traditional American right to be left alone. The problem is that the people who control the conservative camp are trying to conserve only one thing: power. That's why conservatives are right wing, which describes the side of the aristocracy and monarchy in parliamentary proceedings leading up to the French Revolution.

The other problem is that the conservative leadership has misrepresented liberals when they tell their rank and file that liberals are liberal with government spending and power. In fact, liberals desire to be liberal with freedom - that's where the term comes from - liberty. Real liberals want to see people left alone to live their own lives just as much as the rank and file conservatives.

But the liberal camp suffers from the same disease that's crippled the conservatives. The liberal camp is controlled by people who want to be liberal with just one thing: the use of power. You can understand why many liberals fall for this because the supposed "free market" has generated such problems that those who love freedom often think some exercise of government power is needed for the basic defense of rights.

Of course, as my writing frequently illustrates, we have no free market in America or globally, and the conservative leadership doesn't actually want one either. Otherwise they'd be hacking away at the unfree market foundational controls of our economy: our central bank monopoly, the corporate personhood doctrine that shields corporations from accountability, and drug prohibitions, especially the prohibition on hemp, which keeps farmers from competing in untold numbers of industries.

With only two choices before them (liberal or conservative), most Americans pick a team based on stylistic preferences. Are you a freak or a square? Do arguments for social freedom resonate more with you, or arguments for economic freedom? Anyway, it's a moot question because the leadership of both camps have no intention of delivering real freedom of any kind.

There you have it folks. The left-right, liberal-conservative divide is a trap. It's the oldest trick in the book (Machiavelli's book, in fact - remember divide and conquer?)

So stop trying to rationalize your membership in one camp and stop trying to blame those in the other camp for all the problems in our country. The authoritarians in both camps are the problem. Freedom is the solution.

Friday, April 11, 2008

MFC - Successful farms of the future will grow freedom

Last week, I received a note from a Willamette Valley, Ore., family farmer with a common dilemma: "How to convert this farm from our current model to a farm of the future?"

This farmer produces grass seed and vegetables for processors, and recently set aside 25 of his 1,000 acres to convert to organic production. The family is having a hard time figuring out the economics of this transition toward organics and local sales as their next generation prepares to take over.

"I really am interested in learning more about food security. I just don't get the idea of hauling lettuce to Portland once a week or keeping high-end restaurants supplied," he wrote.

The switch to natural production and local sales shouldn't be so hard, but it is.

When our forward-looking farmer changes his mind, he disrupts the business plans of some powerful companies. And while our farmer might be newly awakened to the need for reform, the companies whose profits he now threatens have long been lobbying for laws to support their business plans.

This change is going to be an uphill battle. You can't just go organic, you've got to overcome drug-addicted soil. You can't just supply local stores, you've got to do your own retail in "alternative" markets. You've got to actually seek out a customer base among the supermarkets' other outcasts: the granola-crunching, tree-hugging, counter-culture liberals.

This really is going to be an uphill battle. Generally speaking, farmers and hippies were enemies in the 1960s, and many of them and their descendants remain so today. But if these wounds aren't healed, the farmer will go under and we'll all be eating "soylent green" before too long.

As it turns out, the counter-culture had (and still has) some legitimate complaints about how this country was (and is) being run. If you still doubt that, read William Engdahl's book "Seeds of Destruction" and watch the documentary film "The Future of Food."

Then read Michael Pollan's latest writings and you'll understand where our hapless consumer stands. People are downright scared of conventional food these days.

Pollan is informing millions of Americans that what fills supermarket shelves isn't food, it's "foodlike" stuff. And the farmer knows this to be true because he only gets paid for the few cents worth of actual food in the shiny packages. What's more, Pollan informs that this foodlike stuff is making people sick.

The hapless consumer now worries: Is that meat actually fresh or is it just red from the carbon dioxide? How often are downer cattle mistreated and used for food? Does this have genetically modified ingredients or not? And what pharmaceuticals were in the water that was used to process this stuff? Yikes!

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have one piece of advice for the farms of the future: Grow Freedom. I mean it. Start thinking of freedom as your over-arching crop, and everything else will fall into place.

This line of thinking is not hard. If you are able to pass on a successful farm to your children and grandchildren, they will enjoy some measure of freedom in this world. If you can start producing food for your local community - not just lettuce, but three squares a day - then your neighbors can enjoy independence from supermarket food.

And as farms successfully transition to diversified, "biodynamic" farms of the future, the places themselves will become well-balanced living organisms, independent in their own rights.

Instead of merely measuring a farm's carbon footprint, we should start measuring its bio-empowerment quotient. On a scale of 0 to 100, many conventional farms would measure in the negative numbers, while 0 could represent "no harm, no foul," on up to 100 points going to the farm that thrives entirely without inputs, using every organic tool in the arsenal to grow free people.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


As anyone could've predicted, a daily blog is just too ambitious for my busy life. I'll set this thing up so you can get an email letting you know when it's been updated.

Among other things, I'm keeping busy with a litter of Akbash livestock guardian pups born Feb. 16. We began our Wallowa Mountain Dogs breeding program in 2004 with Tsar and Abby. This litter is from their son Goliath, and Cybele. We chose this breed for their natural protective instincts, large size, gentle nature, intelligence and smooth white coat. All told, we've place about 30 pups in working positions throughout Oregon and Washington, and a few in Idaho and California. We're keeping two females from this litter to raise with our children, and we kept two males from a litter last summer to place as more mature dogs since many rancher prefer a dog who can handle himself with the predators he will encounter in the field. Pictured here is a six month old pup, Chavez, with our baby Liberty.

I'm also keeping busy supporting my husband Jay in his efforts to get a new business off the ground. Jay was badly injured in an accident last spring and almost died a few times over the summer. He went from a strong-as-an-ox 220 pounds down to 134 pounds at his lowest weight. He is still recovering and has some setbacks now and then, but is gaining weight and strength and is on path to a full recovery. This has been a huge shake-up in our family, coming right on the heals of another terrible setback: Jay's father's death last Christmas.

It is a very good sign that Jay is now well enough to launch his business, PanTerra (he could've called it Whole Earth but he's not a hippie). Initially he is specializing in setting up inexpensive, practical hydroponics on any scale (indoors or out in the field). Over time he'll be putting together a nursery, growing hops for breweries, and restarting his mycology business (innoculating properties to create edible and medicinal mushroom patches that filter and clean up pollutants while building soil fertility).

I continue to write My Free Country columns for Capital Press (appearing on the second and fourth Fridays of the month) and for the Wallowa County Chieftain (appearing once a month). Newspaper editors who'd like to pick up the syndicated column should email me at

The kids (Wolfgang, Anastasia and Liberty) are doing well and enjoying their HomeSchool for Heros. My heart goes out to the California homeschool families who recently were told by that state's Supreme Court that parents do not have a right to home school their children. Hogwash! California will now threaten parents with criminal charges for trying to educate their children without a teaching certificate. This decision will not be upheld over time, and I encourage homeschool families to stand their ground.

On the food security front, despite my column's headline in the April 3rd Chieftain stating that "Wallowa County is on the fast track to small-scale, local free trade," nothing could be further from the truth. I didn't give it that title; I merely launched a Food Security Initiative here. But the point of the column was that we are on a slow boat to food security across the nation in spite of multiple concerted efforts to build a local food supply structure. The primary reason is that independent small farmers can't get their products into grocery stores, where the vast majority of Americans get their food, while the government subsidies a consolidated long-distance food supply structure through ag subsidy programs and welfare support programs.

Wallowa County is a poster child for demonstrating the retail access hurdle that small farmers face. Though cows outnumber people in this county, we have no licensed USDA processing facilities (they are too expensive to pencil out for our relatively small production needs), so in order to get local meat into local stores the cows must be shipped out of state over mountain passes to the nearest facilities and then imported back to the county. The transportation costs, stress on animals, headaches for ranchers, etc., mean that only a couple ranchers exercise this option and the local meat that does make it into our stores is unncessarily expensive. We do have a state-licensed butcher who does custom processing, and it is ridiculous that we are not allowed to buy and sell this much safer and healthier alternative in our local stores. Dairy faces other regulations with the same outcome: no access to stores and therefore the local food production infrastructure that used to exist in the county isn't being rebuilt.

I've racked my brain to figure out ways to work around the laws and found a few potential options. These include using a cooperative to facilitate direct meat sales so that lower income people (who lack freezer space or funds to buy a whole side of beef at once) can access this option. Or, CSAs (community supported agriculture) could pool their efforts to create their own farmshare stores. Or, private stores could be created, just as some people have created private after hours clubs to work around alcohol regulations. But really, why should we twist ourselves into pretzels to get our meat and dairy into our stores?

I've long-advocated for a blanket regulatory exemption to allow farmers to sell their products in stores in their local areas. But don't hold your breath waiting for the "free market" enthusiasts of this country to pick up that banner. So much effort has gone into allowing "free trade" between countries, but there is no freedom to trade between family members, friends and neighbors within our own country. Thus, the economic system that America is exporting around the world should be called phree trade: freedom only for the elite players in the economy, not for regular people. "Freedom" on a foundation of countrols.

In order for this paradigm to change, America needs a Small Farmers Union, with local and regional chapters, and including all small farm supporters, from the farmers themselves to their customers and independent retailers. Obviously I'm too busy to start this union on my own, but this is something that should grow organically anyway. I'll stay active in my own local community, and I encourage you to do so in yours.

Friday, March 28, 2008

MFC - Put local free trade on the fast track

Earlier this month I launched a food security initiative in my local area, and I know many of my readers are waiting for a report.

The good news is that interest in food security is widespread and strong. Dozens of people from across the West have contacted me with interest in this project, and dozens, if not hundreds, of food security initiatives are already underway across America.

Though the term may be vague, most people seem to have a general notion of the objective. Food security involves access to nutritious food on a daily basis, and the ability to weather supply shortages and infrastructure disruptions.

Plenty of food security assessments have demonstrated the problems of our consolidated, long-distance food supply structure, and advocated for a more decentralized, locally-based system. Thus, many food security programs emphasize farmers' markets, direct sales, community-supported agriculture, farm-to-school programs, small farm policy councils, producer-consumer cooperatives and other ideas.

I value these efforts and don't want to discount them in the least, but the bad news on food security is that we are working toward this goal with both hands tied behind our backs. The vast majority of Americans get their food at grocery stores, and until small farmers break through the retail access barriers, local food production will stay on the sidelines.

Significant resources have been expended to help small farmers jump regulatory hurdles so their products can sit on store shelves alongside the big guys. We have efforts to build commercially licensed community kitchens and USDA licensed mobile slaughtering units. There's even talk of ending subsidies to large agri-businesses so that small farmers can compete on a more level playing field, and occasional talk of no longer paying farmers not to farm.

In all of these efforts, we are on the slow, expensive track to food security. To be honest, this is just what I'd expect from a movement largely funded by USDA grant dollars. Agriculture's rule-making agency has had its "Time to Choose" and its "Time to Act," but the paradigm for small farmers has only worsened.

If we want food security in our lifetimes, much less before next winter, we need to start thinking outside the box of what's allowable to see what's possible.

I love farmers' markets, but why should farmers have to create their own markets? Why can't farmers get into stores? And if farmers aren't accessing stores, then what's in there?

This is supposed to be a free market economy, so let's imagine our legislators acted with the quickness they have occassionally been known to display, and let's say they put local, small-scale free trade on the fast track. It is within our politicians' powers to pass an emergency food security act to immediately bring small farmers back into their local grocery stores.

I'd start by allowing the meat processed in state-licensed facilities to be sold by the cut in grocery stores of that state. Direct sales are great, but too many people lack the funds or freezer space to buy a whole side or quarter of beef all at once. And it's not reasonable to expect people to criss-cross the countryside in search of food. If the meat processed in state-licensed facilities is safe to eat - and it clearly is - then it should be allowed in stores.

Next, I'd extend the regulatory exemption for farmers processing less than 20,000 birds annually, to create similar exemptions for small-scale producers of beef, pork, dairy and other animal protein sources. But 20,000 is an awful lot of birds, so I'd set a lower volume of sales to target family farms.

Finally, I'd put a free-trade zone around each small farm so the farmer could sell his products without regulation within a 50-mile radius of the farm. I guarantee you'd see a sudden and dramatic increase in local commerce between neighbors, and it might be just the shot in the arm that our economy needs.

But on the off-chance that our politicians are unwilling to act quickly, it's time for America's independent farmers, retailers and consumers to discover that their hands are only tied figuratively by unreasonable laws. In reality, our hands are free and we can join them with one another to create a new small farm union dedicated to building a local food supply structure.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

MFC - The memos DHS never sent, but should have

The following My Free Country column appeared in the Wallowa County Chieftain on March 13, 2008 and another version of it ran in Capital Press on March 14.

There's a series of memos that the Department of Homeland Security never sent out to the American people - but should have.

The first DHS memo should have gone out six years ago, saying, "Dear People, it's now apparent that our country is vulnerable to a wide range of catastrophes, both natural and man-made. Since the establishment of this agency, there has been some confusion as to who's taking care of what homeland security responsibilities."

"Please note it is up to you, the people, to ensure your own survival and the continuity of freedom itself, through disasters. For too long, many of you have been expecting the government to do everything. Don't make that mistake here."

"DHS has an entirely different purpose: to ensure the continuity of government, including America's economic structure (though please note it's not our job to ensure either the government or the economy are worth a darn)."

A post script should have gone out to cityfolk, saying, "Hey, we know things are crazy these days, and frankly you should expect it to get worse. Try to keep your heads when hard times come and don't panic or turn on each other. Good luck, and we're sorry we can't be more helpful."

The rural P.S. should have said, "Folks, we know it's not been easy trying to keep your independent way of life alive through farming, ranching, logging, and so forth. But don't give up. Your country needs you. In fact, we've nominated you all to be America's real safety net. Good luck, and thanks."

A really special note should have gone out to Wallowa County and precious few other locations. It should have said, "Dear Outlaws, that's a cute name you've got. Don't worry, we don't take offense. We call you Freedom Outpost # 23. Anyway, you live as far off the map as you can get and we know it's for a reason. We're sure you don't want to rely on us for anything, including advice. But we'd like you to remember just how unprepared the rest of the country is. Please balance your instincts for self defense with compassion when people come your way. You might even think about what you can do to help other communities prepare so that you're not the only ones ready. Good luck, and bless you."

Another round of DHS memos should have gone out just after Hurricane Katrina, saying, "Dear People, didn't you get our last memo? We warned you to start preparing for disasters. Even your National Guard troops are gone, deployed overseas or in other states. You really are on your own."

Finally, a third round of DHS memos should have come out this winter, saying, "Okay People, we're still not seeing any survival preparedness on your part. Perhaps these little shake-ups in the economy and the price of oil will motivate you. Please look at your food, fuel and medical supplies, your communication networks, and so forth, and prepare for supply shortages and infrastructure failures. There's really no downside to self-sufficiency. You might even like working together. For the love of freedom, get busy."

But those important memos were never sent because individual- and community-based preparedness runs counter to the mission of DHS: ensuring the continuity of government. Survivalists are potential terrorists, remember?

So instead of issuing the above advice, DHS has told us to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting, and wait for instructions, while our many layers of government are brought under the seamless control of the federal executive branch, through terror drills and changes to the U.S. Constitution.

DHS and the Bush Administration have been busy with these tasks, indeed. They've done away with: our right to due process; our right to be secure in our persons and properties; America's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, America's ban on military deployment for domestic law enforcement; and more.

It's the people's job to preserve freedom. It's the government's job to preserve itself. Don't be confused about that all-important difference. And don't let the survivalist-terrorist witch hunt scare you into silence and inaction.

On March 11, Wallowa County residents came together to discuss implementation of a regional Food Security plan. Let this be the beginning of our efforts to preserve freedom in this valley, and beyond.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Food Security Plan intro

Last night I brought together members of my local community to discuss implementing a Food Security plan for our very isolated region. The goal is to reduce our reliance on imports, lower our costs and gain access to healthier food. The strategy involves dividing the work load across multiple teams aimed at strategically expanding our biodiversity, developing appropriate technology (small-scale and low-fuel/power), and re-establishing our local food processing infrastructure. The efforts and needs of producers, consumers and retailers are to be coordinated through a new all-valley trade cooperative, with chapters in each town. I am working on an informational brochure with more details. I'm going to rebuild my website and post it there. In the meantime you may email me for a copy at Thank you to all of you who attended last night's meeting, and to all who called or otherwise expressed interest in participating in the Food Security Plan.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

An Introduction

This blog is a long time coming and I'm a bit overwhelmed with feeling the need to catch readers up in very short order. But begin, I must, so I'll jump right in in the middle. I've gained some unique perspectives and platforms in my last ten years of freedom fighting owing to my readiness - indeed eagerness - to cross America's divides and build alliances where most people would assume only enemies exist.

Thus it was that a young dreadlocked liberal worked for four years at a libertarian / free market think tank Cascade Policy Institute - achieving the position of director of publications. During this time I attended multiple training workshops within the free market movement. I didn't set out to be a mole, but even some colleagues recognized and joked about that possibility. As I learned more about the well-intentioned libertarians and their well-funded socially conservative (non libertarian) allies, I began warning of this libertarian-conservative relationship as an "unholy marriage forged in hell."

Indeed, when 9/11 happened and Americans needed defenders of civil liberties, these libertarians, who'd come to rely on training, funding and even policy solutions from conservatives, dropped the ball. I stuck with them for another year until it was clear they wouldn't budge even after the Twin Towers' dust had long since settled - they refused to launch a civil liberties project. Meanwhile the heightened state of alert in the city, coupled with the total absence of any meaningful preparations for survival in the event of a catastrophe, made it unsafe for me to stay there any longer.

To protect my family, prepare for the future, and build more effective alliances, I had to move to rural America. Thus it was that in late 2002 a dreadlocked, tattooed and self-professed anarchist found a home in one of the most remote places in America -- the conservative Wallowa Valley surrounded by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. My husband had family ties to the area, and family property here, which helped immensely. Still, we were outsiders and strange ones at that.

We spent nearly a year living in a one-room off-grid cabin, trying our hands at self-sufficiency skills like power and fuel production, conducting independent research (like reading John Taylor Gatto's Underground History of American Education), and generally decompressing from the city. It was here that we started Freedom Solutions NW - the world's only anarchist think tank (that I know of). Now before anyone freaks out, anarchist simply means "without a ruler." Though the term has been redefined to describe those who only seek destruction, in truth it applies to the thousands of people who believe that families, churches, businesses, and other natural associations provide better social glue than the centralized power of government. Indeed, those healthy relationships atrophy when government is relied upon, while corruption is allowed to flourish under the protection of the government itself. By now, owing to decades of government schooling, specialized rights and liability protections for corporate supercitizens under the corporate personhood doctrine, and criminal monetary policy from the private Federal Reserve, our economy and political structure are crumbling. We'd like to build alternative healthy systems before the whole thing comes crashing down on us, so that we might see the bulk of society move toward mutual aid rather than devouring each other like rats in cages.

Our aim for Freedom Solutions was (and is) to develop non-political solutions to advance freedom, on the idea that the political system is too slow, corrupt and divisive to promote true freedom anymore. Among other things, we began teaching people small-scale fuel production skills; we amassed a lending library of freedom themed books, movies, and how-to manuals; and we began to develop a plan for a network of similar independently run freedom themed resource centers around the country and world.

I quickly learned the limits of nonprofit funding, however -- that nonprofits will always tend to serve the government and elite interests because they are funded as a tax offset for those with high taxable burdens. The folks who really appreciated and needed our help didn't have a great deal of money to donate, and we didn't want to ask that of them. Thus, we ultimately abandoned our pending 501(c)(3) status and continued Freedom Solutions unabated.

True freedom fighting isn't a lucrative endeavor, I'm afraid. With my parent's help in getting a bank loan, we bought a house on the main street of the tiny town of Lostine in March 2004, just after our first son Wolfgang was born (a successful out-of-hospital birth, thank you). I took a job working some shifts at the town's 100-year old general store, M. Crow and Company, where I enjoyed (and still do enjoy) Saturday morning coffee with some of the town elders as well as the chance to chat up dozens of Wallowa County locals each shift. We also tried to make ends meet through my strategically selected research and writing projects. In 2004 I conducted a series of case studies of highly effective private sector social service organizations for the American Institute for Full Employment (see That Fall I began writing a column on the small acreage page of the West's Ag weekly Capital Press. That column evolved into My Free Country, now a highly popular piece among freedom loving farm folk throughout the Western states and beyond (see I also became the general news reporter and opinion columnist for my local paper, the Wallowa County Chieftain.

In 2005, I left the Chieftain to return to work long-distance as director of publications for the think tank Cascade Policy Institute, on the hope that a leadership change there might open the possibility for a more balanced approach to advancing freedom, prioritizing civil liberties for example. Instead, I found that the Institute had grown more conservative in my absence. There was no hope for a civil liberties project and what's more, they were working toward a defense of predatory -- I mean, payday -- lenders. After a year of struggle, my contract was up and we parted ways again, with one last salvo from me - they published my report, Farm and Freedom Friendly Policies for Oregon, in which I advocated for a regulatory exemption on the local sale of farm products and an end to hemp prohibition among other things. See

Today, our son Wolfgang (4) is joined by daughters Anastasia (2) and Liberty (9 months) - all successful homebirths, thank you. I'm again writing for the Chieftain, as a stringer now. I've syndicated My Free Country to reach a broader audience. And I am developing a food security implementation plan for our region. Though the five year plan is understandably the standard, this is a one growing season plan due to the fact that we may not have the luxury of more time and it's best not to push our luck.

It's now time for me to shift my day's efforts toward homeschooling the little ones. In the coming posts I'll go into many of the above topics in more detail. Please stay tuned.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

MFC - Control of food, life an ominous proposition

The following My Free Country column appeared in the Wallowa County Chieftain on Feb. 7, 2008 and Capital Press ran an edited version (minus most of the last four paragraphs) on Feb. 22, 2008.

"Control oil and you control nations, control food and you control the people," Henry Kissinger famously said in 1970. It may be hard to fathom such such evil intentions lurking in the wealthy and political classes, but modern laws tell the story.

Let's look at the new seed laws imposed on Iraq to see what the future may hold for us all. The former Coalition Provisional Authority's American administrator L. Paul Bremer III enacted 100 laws to restructure Iraq's economy in accordance with new global standards. Order 81 of Bremer's Laws describes the new paradigm for seeds.

To put it in layman's terms, in order to sell seeds in Iraq, the seeds must be registered. In order to get registered, the seeds must be "new, distinct, uniform and stable." Traditional varieties can't meet this standard, so even if they aren't lost from years of war and upheaval, the traditional varieties are excluded from the market and unable to freely circulate.

Seed sales have thus become the exclusive domain of foreign agribusiness corporations. It is illegal for Iraqi farmers to save the seeds harvested from the "new" registered varieties, so each year, Iraqi farmers will have to buy new seeds, typically genetically modified varieties because that's what the corporations are offering.

Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization determined that the vast majority (97 percent) of Iraqi farmers used seeds harvested from previous years' crops.

Let's look even farther back. Way, way back. Does anyone recall learning in school about the "cradle of civilization" between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers? Who developed the seed stock that modern corporations modify and call their own? Shouldn't the new seed giants pay royalties to the legions of farmers who came before them?

Well, perhaps God -- or Mother Nature -- will demand their due.

As corporations develop so-called "terminator" technology (seeds that are genetically designed to be sterile) mankind is hurtling toward uncharted territory. Will the new self-styled gods have compassion when the poor people of the world can't pay for new seed stock? Or will we see the kind of control Kissinger had in mind?

Control of the world's food supplies doesn't end with plants, either. Corporations are working to genetically map and engineer animal life in order to claim ownership on that front as well. Imagine a world where plants and animals can no longer reproduce naturally and new stock must be purchased year after year. This is truely dangerous territory. After all, humans are animals, too.

The corporations in question will swear on their very "lives" that genetic engineering is safe, I have no doubt. You may read their promises in these pages after I've said my piece. But until corporations are subject to the same liability that individual people face for their actions, those promises can be taken with a grain of salt as far as I'm concerned.

The doctrine of corporate personhood -- the legal fiction that corporations are people and subject to the same protections of life and liberty that human persons enjoy under the law -- is a uniquely American contribution to humanity. When a group of people form a corporation they are no longer individually responsible for their actions. But as the saying goes, a corporation has no soul to save and no body to incarcerate.

In our lifetimes we have seen corporations perpetrate abuses that would have you or I hung for crimes against humanity. The fines that are levied as punishments hold no sway over multi-billion dollar behemoths. If it's cheaper to risk the fine, then the quest for profits continues. Not all corporations are guilty of this, to be sure. But it only takes a few "bad apples" -- with massive budgets, near-monopoly priveleges and extraordinary liability protections -- to bring us all to our knees.

Air and water pollution are no longer the limits of our concerns. How can we bill a corporation for irrevokable genetic pollution? Answer me that.

Angela Black writes on freedom and farming issues from her home in Lostine, Ore.

Friday, February 1, 2008

MFC - The Mark of the Beast: Say 'no' to NAIS

The following My Free Country column appeared in the Wallowa County Chieftain on Feb. 1, 2008. An earlier version of this column ran in Capital Press in Sept. of 2006.

Over my dead body. That's when many small farmers say the government will be able to fully implement its National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

The United States Department of Agriculuture began implementing NAIS in 2004, with the intent of making the program mandatory by 2009 after a voluntary phase-in process. But when independent farmers learned of the plan, a vocal opposition developed. In response, the USDA stopped talking about making the system mandatory, but don't be fooled: those plans remain.
According to the USDA's April 2006 "Strategies for Implementation" document, if 100 percent voluntary participation is not achieved by 2009, the USDA intends to create regulations to make NAIS mandatory. Now there's a measure of freedom today: voluntary compliance or else.

Despite widespread opposition, the USDA has claimed broad producer support for the program, describing it as a "federal-state-industry cooperative effort." The term "industry" is employed throughout NAIS documents as if it represents a monolithic entity rather than a diverse group of business people in competition with one another.

In fact, NAIS was developed by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a consortium of meat packers, large agribusiness associations and the manufacturers of electronic surveillance, and it is designed to serve their interests alone. A provision in the law even provides a loophole for large producers to use a "Group ID" to identify a given herd instead of tracking individual animals.

NAIS is geared toward containment in the event of a disease outbreak by allowing government officials to identify all animals and premises that may have had contact with a disease of concern within 48 hours after discovery. It is specifically meant to conform to international standards so that United States corporations can continue to compete in export markets.

But small-scale producers do not generally participate in export markets. Moreover, many small producers do not have a problem tracing the origins or destinations of their animals; indeed, that is one of their selling points.

Instead of questioning the anonymous factory farming system -- which many people charge is the source of these livestock and poultry diseases -- NAIS would give a final stamp of approval on anonymous food. Consumers would still have no idea where their meat came from under NAIS.

Worse, many of the small farmers that can provide farm of origin information say they'd have to depart the marketplace due to the costs associated with tracking their animals, the regulatory headache involved, and the need to protect themselves from warrantless searches, seizures and forced "depopulation" of their beloved animals - members of their family.

Many farmers plan to refuse to comply with NAIS. They worry their states have already turned their private information over to the feds, and that farms are being registered through the intense marketing of NAIS to naive young people through 4-H and similar programs.
If push comes to shove, no doubt some people will attempt to hide their animals from Big Brother. Imagine, then, how veterinary relationships would be undermined, and the resulting health consequences.

Some farmers anticipate that NAIS ultimately would require them to obtain government permission and pay a fee for the very right to farm. Such fundamental assaults on freedom should be of utmost concern not only to farmers and consumers, but to all of humanity. Indeed, many people worry that an animal tracking system is a trial run for a mandatory human tracking system.

It's no surprise that there's lots of saber-rattling and tough talk coming from our independent farmers. "Don't let it happen in America: USDA agents in protective gear could be staging dawn raids on small farms to confiscate your horse, cow, ducks, sheep, trout or chickens! Say no to NAIS," says one poster from the Small Farmer's Journal that's been popping up in feed stores around the country.

Dozens of anti-NAIS websites now exist, including,,,, and I encourage you to check them out.

Syndicated columnist Angela Black writes on freedom and farming issues from her home in Lostine, Ore.