Presbyterian Hunger Program partner Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement hosts statewide conference
by Rick Jones and Andrew Kang Bartlett | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) hosts its annual convention tomorrow and expects nearly 1,000 people from across the state to share concerns facing family farms. CCI was organized in 1975 when a handful of clergy began working on housing, crime and safety, and other urban concerns. When the 1980s Farm Crisis hit, they expanded the work throughout rural Iowa to support farmers by helping them obtain nearly $37 million in desperately needed credit. The Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) supported that work financially for a number of years.
PHP renewed its support of Iowa CCI in 2013 as the member-driven organization responded to new challenges of low wages, wage theft, dangerous working conditions and other threats to the growing, mostly Latino immigrant communities.
Farmer Brad Wilson, a Presbyterian, is among those attending the conference. He once served on the staff of Iowa CCI and has been serving on the National Family Farm Coalition, a longtime partner of the PC(USA).
“I first met Brad in the mid-2000s and learned of his long history fighting for family farming against a rising tide of “get big or get out” farm policies,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, national associate for the PHP. “Brad cares deeply about rural Americans and about his fellow farmers. He says farming losses are greater than reported and farmer suicides are approaching the rate during the 1980s Farm Crisis. Farmers commit suicide more than in any other occupation.”
“The connections Brad and others in the Family Farm Movement of the ’80s and ’90s were making between rural issues, farming and racism are just now being unearthed,” Kang Bartlett said. “They were connecting with black farmers, the Jesse Jackson campaign, and at one time had 100 percent support from the Congressional Black Caucus, because they realized the importance of these issues in rural life and politics.”
Fast forward to the current political moment. Wilson says the time to make change is now.
“We have little time before the election and before the Farm Bill, which is a comprehensive bill with nearly a trillion-dollar price tag,” he said. “I fear the Farm Bill will be kept secret,” even as it is crucial agricultural legislation that farmers should be able to read and weigh in on.
Wilson says his research shows subsidies are not the problem; the lack of a price floor for crops and no supply management are what have driven smaller family farmers out of business. The beneficiaries, he says, are often the food corporations that have aggressively shaped policies to ensure they can buy agricultural products at the lowest possible prices.
“In response to the current crisis for family farmers, and as Rural Caucus chair for the 1st congressional district Iowa, I’ll be trying to mobilize farmers to connect with political candidates as the elections approach,” Wilson said.
Wilson will be attending the “Challenging Corporate Ag in the Media” workshop led by Mother Jones food and farm reporter Tom Philpott. Participants will learn how they can use the media to change hearts and minds and advance a vision of a food system that works for farmers, workers, eaters and our environment.
The convention begins Saturday morning in plenary with Alicia Garza, a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter, and Sen. Bernie Sanders will keynote later in the day. It will be livestreamed beginning at 8 a.m. More information can be found at cciaction.org/july15.
To learn about and act on the Farm Bill, check for updates on the Presbyterian Food and Faith Blog at pcusa.org/food.
The Presbyterian Hunger Program is made possible by gifts to the One Great Hour of Sharing.
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