Ressa Charter, a third-generation Montana farmer from the Roundup Bull Mountains, spoke Thursday, Aug. 1, to the League of Women Voters of Billings on agricultural policies. Charter is the chairman of the Northern Plains Resource Council agricultural task force.
He began his presentation by talking about genetically modified grains. This year, GM wheat appeared in Oregon, even though none was planted in that area as Monsanto, which holds the patent on GM wheat, ended field testing in 2004. Foreign markets, such as Japan and Italy, threatened to close off any U.S. grain imports.
Charter is confident pressure can be put on the State Department to assure no GM grains threaten the export market from experimental test plots. There are wheat test plots in North Dakota. If the export market was closed to wheat from Montana, it would have a devastating economic effect on the economy of Montana.
Charter continued to say he did not believe we could have a vibrant democracy if the food industry is controlled by corporate agriculture. This belief was developed after being a member of the Peace Corps in both Russia and China where he saw the similarities of centralized control in communism and capitalism.
“Everything we produce,” he said, “goes to the Midwest, where it is processed and brought back to us. A free market? Not really.”
Family farmers cannot protect themselves. The popular response to the threats to family farmers is negligible because there is little personal knowledge of farmers and farming and the connection to nutrition.
We need to change the current “dominant narrative,” Charter said, such as the need for farmers to produce more to feed the rest of the world. “The question is do we need or want to be feeding the world?”
Another dominant narrative is that nutrition and farming have no connection. By producing GM commodities like corn in huge quantities with chemical fertilizers, we are depleting the soils and causing other environmental problems. Producing corn with a higher glucose content and feeding it to animals is simply passing on this glucose to people.
Charter questioned whether the use of supplemental water soluble vitamins and minerals can be effective in replacing trace minerals that we no longer get in sufficient quantities in our food.
Asked about the national Farm Bill, Charter said, “the best it does is prevent chaos.” We should be looking at a 50-year plan rather than five-year plans that create cheap commodities resulting in diabetes. A sustainable Farm Bill would include food and wellness programs.
Subsidizing corporate competitors pushes out small niche farmers.
A step we can take is to buy locally grown food, he pointed out. One such program is www.communityfoodclub.org sponsored by Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council. The Northern Plains Resource Council is working on alternative “dominant narratives” in the next few months.
The League of Women Voters of Billings has a monthly study group learning about agricultural concerns in order to modify the 40-year-old national League of Women Voters United States position on agriculture at the summer 2014 convention. You can read the position paper on www.lwv.org and contact the Billings LWV at www.lwvbillings.org.