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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 9.16.10




Local Food Fight

Healthy farms and food are also civil rights issues

By Lauren Regan

What does a civil rights organization have in common with local organic farmers? Probably a lot more than you would think! Organic farmers have been fighting for the right to put healthy local food on your table for years. They’ve organized rallies, protests, blockades, boycotts and more. When these heroes of the dinner table need some legal help, they call the Civil Liberties Defense Center, and we are more than happy to help. 

Locally, the CLDC defends progressive social change activists when they are arrested while exercising First Amendment rights in the public interest. We provide “know your rights” trainings to would be activists before they engage in civil disobedience, we provide lawyers and legal observers to witness their events and provide on-the-scene legal advice, and we provide legal representation if activists are cited or arrested. We hope to provide the legal tool in the toolbox for folks that are advocating organic local food choices, cruelty free foods, or are opposing genetically modified or chemically treated foods. It is our goal to empower those on the front lines to fight for what is right, healthy, and sustainable for all of us.

The CLDC was involved in representing local farmer Day Owen after Homeland Security and local police attempted to arrest, charge and intimidate him and his family and neighbors. Day formed the Pitchfork Rebellion to curtail the aerial spraying of toxic herbicides and pesticides in rural Lane County. Private timber companies were/are blanketing local farms with toxic spray that drifts onto organic farms, threatening their organic certification and livelihoods, as well as their health and ours. When Day and others organized lawful rallies to redress their grievances, they were met with stiff repression by the government. CLDC supported the Pitchfork Rebellion’s work and defended Day in court. When local police and federal officials attacked a nonviolent pesticide rally in downtown Eugene, Tasering one young activist, the CLDC helped them find lawyers, represented grand jury witnesses, and assisted as those people filed complaints against the police for excessive force.

Similarly, when organic blueberry farmers called the CLDC looking for help in protecting their crops from this chemical onslaught, we assisted them for free and supported their calls for civil disobedience in order to stop the tanker trucks that deliver the poison. 

The CLDC has defended local farmers who have fought against new gravel pits, and we defended a River Road farming community who erected tripods in order to stop developers with bulldozers who wanted to clearcut forests, encroach upon rural farmland to build sprawling subdivisions, and increase erosion and water quality degradation. In this year’s Eugene Celebration parade, we saw the Hundred Hen March where backyard farmers marched for the right to have city chickens to produce their own local eggs. 

In other places in the country, the CLDC assisted activists who partnered with rural farmers who were attempting to save their farms from public condemnation and complete annihilation due to the construction of a NAFTA superhighway that was to run from Canada through rural Indiana and down to Mexico. The farmers blockaded themselves on their farms, local activists offered solidarity, and when arrests ensued, CLDC was there to help. In Haiti, and other places locally and around the world, farmers have burned seeds or organized protests against genetically modified crops that threaten to infect their crops and gravely threaten our health and that of the planet.

There are many critical issues that the large multi-national corporations such as Monsanto don’t want you to know about, regarding what happens to your food before it makes it to your table. In addition to working day and night on their farms for little compensation, our local food fighters are regularly trying to raise the alarm and educate their fellow community members about the grave threats to our soil, drinking water, and food. You can thank them for their efforts by patronizing local organic farms, and joining them during the next rally against pesticides, gravel pits, or the mislabeling of food products by corporations who are trying to dilute the significance of organic certification.

Farming communities have been under attack from many directions, and they need good civil rights attorneys to keep up the good food fight. If you would like to support local organic farming and civil liberties, consider joining us at 6 pm Saturday, Sept. 18, for a Local Harvest Feast to benefit the CLDC. Socializing, appetizers, luscious drinks and dinner all locally procured and masterfully served up by local chef and farmer C. Ashley Hawkins; music by jazz/roots band Molasses; and rabble rousing by Day Owen of the Pitchfork Rebellion. For more information or reservations, go to www.cldc.org or call 687-9180. Help us fight for your right to be part of the local food fight!

Attorney Lauren Regan is executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene and can be reached at lregan@cldc.org C. Ashley Hawkins is a farmer and chef and can be reached at cashleyhawkins@gmail.com