Open FFD Letter to Pres. Biden and the US Congress- It is Time to Normalize Relations with Cuba and Work Together Against COVID!

Family Farm Defenders has a long tradition of fraternal relationships with the people of Cuba, and specifically, Cuban farmers. Both past FFD President, John Kinsman, and past FFD member, Randy Jasper, visited Cuba several times and witnessed the success of their agricultural practices as well as their public healthcare system.

Randall Jasper, who traveled to the island three times contrasted farming in Cuba to farming in the U.S. this way: “If we do well, we have an excellent crop, [in the U.S.] they penalize us, they pay us less. In Cuba, if you produce more food, you actually receive more money instead of less.”

John Kinsman, who visited the island twice had this to say about his experience with medical personnel on the island. “At every gathering that I was at, of 40 people [or more] there was a doctor, a nurse and an ambulance driver. There was no lack of health care.”

Today Family Farm Defenders honors this solidarity tradition by calling on the newly elected President and the Congress of the United States to lift restrictions on access to Cuban medical expertise, in order to more effectively combat the COVID-19 pandemic and to save lives.

The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world and the highest number of deaths related to COVID. Although the virus is surging nearly everywhere, our rural farm communities are experiencing some of the highest infection rates per capita in the country.

And rural farm communities are in the worst possible position to deal with this crisis. More than 120 rural hospitals have closed in the past 10 years (roughly 7%). In 2019 we saw the worst year for hospital closures, with nineteen hospitals shutting their doors during that short time.

Sixty million Americans live in rural communities (roughly 9.3% of the population), and access to healthcare in the rural regions is a daily struggle. Rural people are among the poorest in the nation, and the number one reason for farm foreclosure is an unexpected medical emergency with the family unable to pay skyrocketing medical bills.

Many of the hospitals that serve farm community are a thirty minute to two hour drive away. Rural hospitals often lack medical equipment to treat severe COVID-19 patients, as well as the personal protective equipment medical workers need to stay safe.

Now is the time for international medical cooperation to save lives. The U.S. economic blockade against Cuba has severely restricted collaboration on scientific and medical research. And for this reason, the Family Farm Defenders calls on the President and Congress to:

  1. Allow U.S.-Cuba medical, clinical and scientific collaboration, including inviting Cuban medical brigades to provide direct medical assistance and/or to provide advice and guidance in treating COVID-19.
  2. Incorporating Cuba’s Interferon Alfa 2B Recombinant in clinical trials in the U.S., Canada and the WHO, and the granting by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for Cuba’s Interferon Alfa 2B Recombinant.
  3. Ending U.S. economic and travel sanctions against Cuba, including its extraterritorial nature and the attempts to stop all other countries accepting Cuban medical brigades and assistance, and all ongoing measures that prevent Cuba accessing and importing medical equipment and medicines to confront COVID-19.

The Family Farm Defenders, asks that these measures be taken with all deliberate speed in order to save lives of the citizens of the United States, as well as in Cuba.

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Family Farm Defenders Stands in Solidarity with Striking Indian Farmers to Oppose Modi’s Neoliberal Corporate Agribusiness Agenda

On this Jan. 18th 2021 as India celebrates National Women Farmers Day and the U.S. celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Family Farm Defenders wishes to express solidarity with our sisters and brothers in India as they continue their struggle for food sovereignty and economic justice. Little did we believe that when the Modi government decided to railroad through such regressive farm legislation amidst a global pandemic that this would lead to the largest strike in human history – now over 250 million strong – and provide such an inspiration to others all around the globe.

Women have always shouldered the largest burden when it comes to feeding the world, and women of color in the global south remain the majority of the world’s farmers today. In India women have also been at the forefront of this latest grassroots protest in the world’s largest democracy. And for obvious reason. They will be the ones who will have to figure out how to sustain their family in the face of orchestrated commodity shortages and inflated food prices. They will be the ones left to defend their family’s land from contract forfeiture in the wake of so many farmer suicides and mounting rural debt.

Over half of India’s 1.3 billion people depend upon agriculture for their livelihood, and of those 85% farm under two acres and earn less than $1400 per year. Yet, the Modi government has staged a David versus Goliath fight by undermining access to basic essentials and expecting small farmers, low wage workers, and poor consumers to “negotiate” with massive corporate middlemen in a rigged market. If this sounds familiar it is because U.S. farmers, workers, and consumers have been engaged in a similar struggle to demand a parity price, living wages, and anti-trust action against elite corporate interests for well over a century now. In fact, this latest attempt to undermine the viability and autonomy of India’s smallscale producers reflects the same “get big or get out” agenda that has been used so effectively for so long to cripple U.S. family farmers and then exported elsewhere with devastating consequences.

The neoliberal “free trade” agenda of the White House – under both Democratic and Republican administrations – has long been to force India to lift restrictions on food imports and pave the way for dumping, while also weakening environmental restrictions on toxic agrochemicals and enforcing the patent claims of biotech companies. Grassroots resistance has managed to safeguard the people of India from many of these threats for quite sometime, but one can never let down one’s guard as the dangerously brittle and exploitative state of today’s U.S. food/farm system clearly demonstrates.

No one – whether in the U.S. or India – should be compelled to consume unhealthy and objectionable rBGH-induced dairy products or chicken raised on “Mad Cow” byproducts like blood/bone meal and livestock manure. No one – whether in the U.S. or India – should end up exposed to carcinogenic pesticides like Bayer/Monsanto’s glyphosate without their knowledge and full product liability. No one – whether in the U.S. or India – should be “criminalized” for saving their own seed or growing their own medicine free of corporate intellectual property right claims. No one – whether in the U.S. or India – should be forced to “choose” between Walmart/Amazon as their only retail option to obtain food or other basic needs whether in-person or on-line. These are are all gross violations of food sovereignty and basic human freedom that must be opposed no matter where one lives.

Family Farm Defenders will never give up in our effort to bring about a more peaceful, just, and equitable world in which all people – and the earth itself – are treated with dignity and respect. We hope that our statement of solidarity will offer courage and strength to our farmer friends in India as they continue their own epic protest in this historic moment. As our food sovereignty allies with La Via Campesina would proclaim: “Globalize the Struggle and Globalize Hope!”

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How Vilsack Should Use His Second Chance

The problems he struggled with during his first stint as agriculture secretary, from corporate concentration to racism, have not gone away.

by Anthony Pahnke, FFD Vice President

Published by the Progressive, December 15, 2020

It’s not often that politicians get the chance for a “do-over.”

Vilsack speaks to family farmers as part of an Obama White House Rural Forum in West Allis, WI in Aug. 2010

Yet this is happening with President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture, the same position the former Iowa governor held during the Obama administration.

Vilsack has also been criticized for inaccurately stating that the number of farmers of color increased during his first go as secretary of agriculture.

The choice of Vilsack to lead the USDA can be read as part of Biden’s effort to show continuity with the Obama years. But the problems that Vilsack struggled with during his first stint as agriculture secretary, from corporate concentration to racism, have not gone away. The incoming secretary must also confront serious food and farm problems that the Trump administration has left unaddressed.

Specifically, while it’s true that farm earnings rose in 2020, that’s largely because government subsidies constituted about 40% of farm income this year. “If not for those subsidies,” The New York Times reported, “U.S. farm income would be poised to decline in 2020.”

Farmers find themselves in this situation, in large part, due to the failure of processors to adapt to the changing consumer habits that the coronavirus pandemic created. The USDA’s response was to launch the “Farmers to Families Food Box” program, using the government as an intermediary to get food from producers to consumers. This effort received mixed reviews for favoring large-scale operations and dropping Black farmers.

While laying the blame on Trump for these challenges is not entirely fair, he did make matters worse for farmers by initiating a trade war with China; afterward, his administration had to bail out farmers to make up for China’s retaliatory tariffs.

Meanwhile, instead of making markets more competitive for farmers, the Trump administration nixed provisions – the GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration) rule — from the 2008 Farm Bill that would have helped producers hold processors accountable for unfair and discriminatory practices.

Basically, Vilsack has his work cut out for him.

He faces criticism from Black farmers for his mishandling of a 2010 dust-up involving Shirley Sherrod, the Black Georgia state director of rural development. Vilsack fired Sherrod after a video surfaced showing her apparently making discriminatory statements against white farmers. He later had to apologize when the video was proven a fake.

Vilsack has also been criticized for inaccurately stating that the number of farmers of color increased during his first go as secretary of agriculture. In fact, a change in the USDA’s method of accounting — not an attempt to confront racism — made the population of farmers appear more diverse than it really is.

Meanwhile, between the Obama and Biden administrations, Vilsack became president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. With Vilsack at the helm of this organization, corporate concentration continued apace, as Dairy Farmers of America acquired Dean Foods. Moreover, dairy farmers entered bankruptcy in record numbers as prices plummeted.

According to the Open Market Institute, fewer and fewer corporations dominate the American food system from seed to plate. This not only subjects farmers to predatory pricing, but hurts consumers at the grocery aisle.

If given a second chance to lead the USDA, Vilsack should use its powers from the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 to investigate corporate agribusiness giants and punish wrongdoing. He should throw his support behind the recently introduced “Justice for Black Farmers Act,” which would help aspiring farmers of color to acquire land and training.

Vilsack knows the USDA and the problems facing rural America. He must not lead the agency according to the past, but make amends with those who have been wronged and lay the groundwork for a more fair and equitable food and farm system.

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Family Farm Defenders 2020 Fair Trade Holiday Giftboxes Now Available! Order yours before they are gone!

Just “Say Cheese” Holiday Gift Boxes!

Family Farm Defenders is proud to once again offer many giftboxes you can send to your family and friends over the holiday season. We are excited to offer award-winning Cedar Grove Cheeses along with other delicious products – artisanal Potters crackers, Cherokee Farms bison sausage, organic French Roast Just Coffee, Red Lake native Canadian wild rice, Honey Acres hot mustard, Tietz Family heirloom popcorn, and Driftless Organic sunflower oil – all of which are “fairly traded” and guarantee their small scale producers a living wage. By choosing Family Farm Defenders Holiday Gift Boxes, you can help insure family farmers and indigenous communities receive a parity price for their hardwork. This holiday season why not just “say cheese” and support Family Farm Defenders!

FFD-1 Cream Puff Special:

Three pounds of “creamy” Cedar Grove cheeses that will melt in your mouth: Farmers, Monterey Jack and Butterkäse. We’ve also included some Tietz Family heirloom popcorn, as well as Driftless Organic sunflower oil. Yummy! $50 total – includes shipping and handling.

FFD-2 Spicy Cheese Special:

Three pounds of “spicy” Cedar Grove cheeses that will tingle your tongue: tomato basil; pepper jack; and garlic dill. We’ve also included some Honey Acres hot mustard, as well as Potters artisanal crackers. Delicious! $50 total – includes shipping and handling.

FFD-3 Something Wild Special

Three pounds of pepper jack, swiss, and smoked cheddar from Cedar Grove Cheese, along with Red Lake native Canadian wild rice, Cherokee Farms Bison Sausage and Potter’s artisanal crackers. A real crowd pleaser! $75 total – includes shipping and handling.

FFD-4 Holiday Festival Special

We’ve put all sorts of good stuff in this box to kick off your holidays! Three pounds of mild, medium, and sharp cheddar from Cedar Grove Cheese, Cherokee Farms bison sausage, Potter’s artisanal crackers, organic French Roast Just Coffee, Red Lake native Canadian wild rice, Tietz Family heirloom popcorn, as well as Driftless Organic sunflower oil. MMM super good! $100 total – includes shipping and handling.

To download a holiday giftbox order form, just click here: FFD2020HolidayGiftboxOrderForm

Make Your Very Own Box!

We are happy to customize and mail a giftbox according to your preference, including any of the above items in whatever quantity you wish. Just give us a call (#608-260-0900) or send an email:

To pay for your giftbox, please send a check to: Family Farm Defenders, P.O. Box 1772, Madison, WI 53701 You can also pay using a credit card via the Mighty Cause donation button on the right hand side of this website!

Thanks for supporting family farmers and sharing the delicious gift of food sovereignty this holiday season!

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Save the Date – Sat. Nov. 14th ! FFD Annual Meeting & 2020 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize!

5:00 pm CST Virtual FFD Annual Meeting (all members and allies welcome)Including campaign updates, board election, and more!

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7:00 pm CST Virtual 2020 John Kinsman Beginning Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony! (open to the general public!)

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Featuring this year’s winners: Catatumbo Cooperative Farm in Chicago! – as well as tribute to longtime FFD activist, Randy Jasper, who recently passed away due to COVID 19, success stories from previous prize winners and photos, plus a celebration of the legacy of FFD founder and grassroots food sovereignty champion, John Kinsman, through photos and reflections from his friends and family.

Named after a unique lightning phenomenon in Venezuela, Jazmin Martinez, Nadia Sol Ireri Unzueta Carrasco, and Viviana Moreno founded Catatumbo Cooperative Farm in 2008 after attending the Black and Latinx Farmer Immersion Program hosted by Soul Fire Farm. Being queer immigrants with strong family histories tied to agriculture and displacement, they came into vegetable CSA farming after many years of campus organizing, immigrant rights work, and environmental justice activism. Among their food sovereignty goals are building intentional relationships with other farmers of color and advocating for communal land stewardship versus individual property ownership.

To quote from their prize winning essay: “We strive to share our knowledge and resources whenever feasible because we believe by building a strong network of support we are helping to build stronger communities, working from a framework where collaboration and diversity builds abundance, resilience and understanding, reshaping our relationships to each other into ones of solidarity and care towards past and future members of our communities, human and non-human alike.”

In recognition of their success, Catatumbo Cooperative Farm received a $2000 award and joined a long list of other proud winners of the prize named in honor of John Kinsman, founder and longtime president of Family Farm Defenders who passed away at age 87 on MLKJ Day, 2014. John Kinsman was not only an early pioneer of organic grass-based dairying in the Midwest, but was also a tireless champion of civil rights, social justice, and food sovereignty both in the U.S. and around the world.

Previous John Kinsman prize winners – some of which will be joining this year’s virtual award celebration – include: in 2011: Lindsey Morris Carpenter of Grassroots Farm, near Monroe, WI, and Daniel and Hannah Miller of Easy Yoke Farm near Millville MN; in 2012: Nancy and Jeff Kirstein, Good Earth Farm, Lennox SD and Tracy and Dick Vinz, Olden Produce, Ripon, WI; in 2014: Blain Snipstal of Five Seeds Farm near Sparks, MD and Jed Schenkier and Will Pool of Loud Grade Produce Squad in Chicago, IL; in 2015: Carsten Thomas from Moorhead, MN and Emmet Fisher and Cella Langer with Oxheart Farm near Mt. Horeb, WI; in 2016: Donald (Jahi) Ellis from Vidalia, GA and Polly Dalton and Oren Jakobson with Field Notes Farm near Custer, WI, in 2017 Eduardo Rivera of Sin Fronteras Farm near Stillwater, MN; in 2018 Tommy and Samantha Enright of Black Rabbit Farm near Amherst, WI and Craig and Lauren Kreutzel of Meadowlark Farm near Wonewoc, WI; and in 2019 Curtis Whittaker of Faith Farms in Gary, IN and Joseph & Abbie Monroe and Caleb & Kelly Fiechter of Valley Spirit Farm in Campbellsburg, KY.

Both events are free, though tax deductible donations to support this year’s prize, as well as future ones, are most welcome. Sponsors will be mentioned in publicity and any donation over $50 will receive a FFD t-shirt, as well! Donations can be made by check to: FFD, P.O. Box 1772, Madison, WI 53701 or via credit card on our website:

Thanks for supporting community food sovereignty!

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