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Interview With Will Allen of Cedar Circle Farm in Vermont

DK: How has farming impacted your life?

WA: I grew up on a small farm in Los Angeles County, when LA was the largest farm county in the US, so I already had a farm mentality. My folks sold most of their acreage in the early 1950s. I went in to the Marine Corps shortly after in 1956 and when I got out I went to college at Valley College, University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Illinois. After that I taught at UCSB and was fired in 1970. After a stint in jail I worked on farms, and on highway crews to get enough money to rent and run my own farm. When my sons were diagnosed with muscular dystrophy I began to be more needed in their day-to-day care. Farming enabled me to do that better than any other endeavor and I loved to garden and farm, so it was no great sacrifice to have to farm full time and be able to care for my treasured kids.

I think being an organic farmer has given me some good insights into how small changes in farming, or industrial techniques can have enormous positive impacts. We have not invented all the wheels we need to invent as organic farmers or as green industrialists, but we have invented a lot of them. There is an urgency to put these wheels on the wagon and replace the toxic wheels that are now driving us to the brink of ecological collapse.

DK: Growing up in LA, what are your early memories of agriculture there?

WA: When I was a kid in the 30s, 40s and 50s LA was almost all agriculture. Walnuts, oranges, peaches, apricots, onion fields, lettuce, grapes, beans, and every food you could imagine surrounded our little farm of 6 acres. Behind our house ran a tributary of the LA River. In the 50s they began to pave that river into a canal. You can imagine how gross that was to a kid who saw the LA River's seasonal creek as his playground. When the farms were paved and developed into bedroom communities for the burgeoning population it was an awful transition for this farm boy to witness.

The urbanites that came there wanted to be where it was bucolic and beautiful, and farm-like, but when they got there they didn't like the noise, or the smells or the chickens crowing or the pigs. So all the laws were changed about farming and you could not farm that well, so by the time I was in my teens, my folks had pretty much stopped farming. They still had pigs, chickens and a huge garden. They let 6 acres go that they rented and they sold off 2 acres of their own land. They had a 12-acre piece and went down to the size of a postage stamp. And I could see the handwriting on the wall. First I went in the Marine Corps and when I came out I went to college.  There wasn't going to be farming there anymore. When I grew up it was all rural. The closest house was a mile away.  

DK: How has your work as an anthropologist and enthnographer help you in your work as a farm policy activist and farmer?

WA: The good thing about anthropology is that it gives you a perspective on and an appreciation for all cultures, and it empowers one to think about religion, industry, tool making and using, political action, and food production with a much broader framework and draw insights from those experiences in other cultures and countries.

DK: Do you sense a new agrarian movement among some young people today?

WA: When we first began to have ecological farming conferences around the country, most of the folks were middle age and older. Today, 60% of the attendees are younger people who want to get into sustainable-organic agriculture. There is an awakening among young people that something is seriously wrong with our food an farming system and that they want to be part of the movement that changes it.

DK: What do you think are the roots of bugs being evil doers in our mythology?

WA: People simply don't understand the interactions of insects, spiders, worms, and bugs. They don't know their life cycles, their metamorphoses, or which ones are dangerous or helpful. To most folks, the only good bug is a dead bug-except ladybugs, monarch butterflies, and sometimes bees. The other ones they want to nuke out of fear and ignorance. Most spiders are great beneficials and are voracious in their appetite for aphids, ants, mites, and flies. Only about 2000 insects and worms are "bad bugs", yet there are more than 200,000,000 insects, worms, etc. And the only reason the bad bugs are bad is because they eat the same things we do. Chemical corporations, who do know more about bugs than the general population, play on the fears of the population in all their advertisements. "If you don't buy our chemical to control aphids, you will lose the farm!" "If you don't use Temic, you will have to sit at the kiddies table at Christmas!"

DK: What was Rudolph Steiner's role in the organic farming movement? Do you practice biodynamic techniques on your farm?

WA: Steiner was asked in the early 1920s to help some Polish farmers figure out what was wrong with their farms, which had experienced sharp yield drops after they began to use chemical fertilizers especially synthetic nitrogen and triple phosphate. He developed a recovery system that he largely borrowed from sub continent Indian farmers. The basis of that recovery system was a compost tea that had been described in the Hindu Vedas 2000 years ago. To fit the northern European mindset of the time, which was agriculturally animal based he added the cattle horn biodynamic preparations and a spiritual system called anthroposophy, which was a blend of Northern European and Indian belief systems. Like William Albrecht and Sir Albert Howard, he is one of the fathers of modern organic and biodynamic agriculture.

At Cedar Circle Farm, we have made a compost tea which is very similar to Steiner's, which we learned about on our visits to farms in India. It is more applicable to grains, sunflowers, fruit trees and nuts than to vegetables and small fruits because of the National Organic Practice restrictions of using compost teas. If it is water run, you can harvest crops that have had compost tea applied in 30 days. If you spray it on the plants and that is the most effective application method you must wait 90 days to harvest. Most of our crops are 40 to 75 days, so Steiner's or the Indian's compost tea is of little use to us.

DK: Do you have any faith in the regulatory and food safety system in the US to protect us from tainted foods?

WA: Not yet! They are about as effective as our regulatory programs for banks, Wall Street, the Insurance Corporations and sewage sludge. Only our collective voices, votes, purchases, and demands for fundamental reform and regulation can change the nation's dangerous system of food production and distribution. We need to demand that our presently out-of-control food and farming system be regulated. Like the mortgage, bank, insurance industries, and Wall Street, agriculture has not been properly regulated for decades, if ever.  EPA, FDA, and the USDA regulatory practices have been severely weakened by pro-agribusiness, deregulatory administrations since Reagan

As long as no one is regulating how many different toxic substances are applied to conventionally grown food, a staggering amount of chemical cocktails and synthetic fertilizer will continue to be used. The scary bottom line is that America's corporate food handlers and processors do not care about your safety. They care about their profits.

All the "conventional" horrors of industrial agriculture are banned on organic and biodynamic farms. Why? Because organic consumers and farmers decided to create third party certification organizations in the 1980s that enforced strict regulations on how organic food could be grown. So, instead of asking: Why does organic food cost more than "conventional" food? We should be asking:  How cheap would poisoned "conventional" food have to be to be a good deal?

DK: Is farm safety an oxymoron? How did the concept of farm safety measures come to mean placing more poisons on our food?

WA: Our current farm and food safety systems make more than 76 million people in the US sick every year. 325,000 people every year end up in the hospital from food borne illness, more than 6000 die each year according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention data that is 10 years old. More than 10 thousand die from exposure to pesticides each year.

Food safety morphed with hunger issues early on in the 1800s. If you had food, you were rescued from hunger and thereby safer. And, chemical corporations. Argued in ads and advertorials that poisons helped keep food from diseases that could spoil your food and make you very sick.

DK: How sustainable have you been able to become on your farm and what hurdles remain?

WA: Here on Cedar Circle Farm we use very little bought fertilizer. We cover crop almost every acre every year. Our only pesticides are bts and clay that we use on very few crops. We still use tractors powered by diesel and gas, although we are transitioning away from that with electric tractors and rigs that run on used vegetable oil. We still disc and cultivate too much, but we are experimenting with roller crimping and direct seeding in to cover crops.

DK: What is the biggest myth in American agriculture today?

WA: That the US farmers are feeding the world and are responsible for ending hunger in the world and that they are doing this with chemicals and GMOs.

DK: As a farmer, who have been your role models?

WA: Dick Harter, Jack and Ann Lazer from Butterworks Farm, Masanobu Fukuoka, Vandana Shiva, and tropical forest farmers I lived with in Peru.

DK: Has nature been your biggest teacher?

WA: Yes. Because if you try and go against nature, you realize since you are out in nature every day that nature always has the last word. You can have the most beautiful lettuce and spinach but if it hails you are fucked and your crops are chicken feed.

DK: With the recent defeats of big tobacco as a precedent and the ongoing safe food movement, do you think the time is right for challenging the lies from the chemical corporations and demand compensation for their poisoning the public?

WA:  I believe the farm and chemical industry may now be as vulnerable as the tobacco industry was in the 1990s. People in the U.S. have finally become suspicious of the safety of the non-organic food supply. Millions are wary of home pesticides, weed killers, and synthetic garden and lawn fertilizers. Big agricultural chemical companies are under increasing criticism from consumers, including relatives of those hospitalized and killed by farm chemicals and factory farm contaminated food.

Giant tobacco corporations have been telling lies to the public for decades, claiming that cigarettes were safe. Similarly chemical corporations and agri-business have conducted a hundred year campaign to hide the dangers of their farm chemicals. They hired scientists in the 1920s and 1930s to lie to the public about the dangers of arsenic and lead, the most widely used pesticides of the era. They hired scientists in the 1950s and 1960s to counteract the criticism of DDT and the other World War II pesticides and fertilizers. In the mid 1960s and the 1970s corporate agribusiness and chemical giants like Monsanto put enormous resources into debunking the criticisms of toxic chemicals in Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and those of other public health and environmental activists.

Chemical companies hired fake laboratories to give their most toxic chemicals a guarantee of safety in the 1980s and 90s. The EPA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the USDA accepted these bogus reports as valid until independent scientists and safe-food activists exposed the truth. The chemical industry has routinely stalled or neutered any chemical regulations passed in the U.S. Much of the public still believes it is protected because Congress passed several landmark pesticide and chemical control laws in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Unfortunately, the chemical corporations and corporate agribusiness have lobbied successfully against these laws, weakening or repealing them. As a result, only a handful of the 80,000 industrial chemicals or pesticides used in farming or found in consumer products have lost their federal or state registration in the last 40 years.

DK: What needs to be done to change this?

WA: It is time to conduct a full-scale offensive against factory farming and industrial agriculture. It is time for consumers to stop buying chemical food and using poisonous chemicals on their lawns, gardens, and in their houses. It is time for executives and workers on factory farms to become whistle blowers. It is time for chemically assaulted farmworkers and farmers to sue these killers. It is time for chemical and food industry employees and feedlot cowboys to expose factory farming's dirty secrets, just as high-level tobacco executives and tobacco workers did in the 1990s. It is time for courageous magazines or Internet sites to refuse farm and home chemical advertisements.  

In 1905, Colliers magazine refused to publish any more patent medicine ads. Almost immediately, the Saturday Evening Post, and the Ladies Home Journal joined the boycott. This didn't solve the problem of useless patent medicines, but it provoked a public dialogue and the rejection of thousands of dangerous potions. The public exposure of these "snake oil" remedies saved countless lives.

Similar bold moves need to be taken to protect us all from the ravages of Food Inc. Time magazine's recent expose in August of 2009 of our dangerous and costly food system may be a signal that at least some reporters in the media are willing to expose the hazards of factory farms and chemical agriculture. Sadly, other media outlets continue to serve as cheerleaders for GMOs and industrial food. The New Yorker magazine and National Public Radio continue to carry Monsanto's ads claiming that GMO crops use less pesticides and can feed the world's population, when in fact recent research has shown that GMO crops actually increase pesticide use. Other studies have demonstrated that yields of both GMO corn and soy are actually lower than non-GMO varieties.

In the European Union (EU), pesticides and farm chemicals have come under increased scrutiny since the EU instituted a rigorous chemical evaluation and registration process, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals). Many of the most toxic and profitable chemicals used in farming and consumer products could lose their registration in the EU within the next few years. U.S. agricultural chemical lobbyists are worried that more aggressive regulations such as REACH are going to limit their sales in Europe and that more rigorous chemical enforcements are headed to the US, following the European example. It is time for the federal government to stop promoting and subsidizing factory farms and junk food.

DK: What is the central thesis of what truly concerns you today regarding the state of agriculture in the U.S?

The nation's chemical and energy-intensive food and farming system, Food Inc., is out-of-control, posing a mortal threat to public health, the environment, and climate stability..Economically stressed and distracted consumers have become dependent on a factory farm system designed to provide cheap processed food that may be cosmetically perfect and easily shipped, but which is seriously degraded in terms of purity and nutritional value.

USDA studies reveal that the food currently grown on America's chemical-intensive farms contains drastically less vitamins and essential trace minerals than the food produced 50 years ago when far less pesticides and chemical fertilizers were used. As even Time magazine has admitted recently, given the hidden costs of damage to public health, climate stability, and the environment, conventional (factory farm) food is extremely expensive.  Much of Food Inc.'s common fare is not only nutritionally deficient, but also routinely contaminated--laced with pesticide residues, antibiotics, hormones, harmful bacteria and viruses, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and toxic chemicals. 1 Like tobacco, factory farm food is dangerous to your health. No wonder organic food is by far the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA), and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have shown that many of the nation's favorite foods are contaminated with a lethal cocktail of the most toxic chemicals, putting consumers, and especially children and infants (who are up to 100 times more sensitive to toxic chemicals) at risk. For those living in factory farming communities and working on farms, the constant exposure to the most toxic pesticides poses an even greater risk than the general population for cancer, birth defects, asthma, Parkinson's, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Alzheimer's, liver, kidney, heart disease, and many other ailments. Forty-eight percent of U.S. women now get cancer, as well as 38% of men.

There is now conclusive evidence that exposure to farm and household chemicals, including body care and cleaning products, greatly increase your chances of getting cancer or other serious diseases. This is why there are large and growing clusters of cancers and birth defects in farm and urban communities all over the U.S. These clusters are a direct result of the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers on our farms, ranches, gardens, and lawns.

Several recent French court decisions have determined that farmers are suffering from leukemia, Parkinson's, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and myeloma cancers as a direct result of chemicals they've used on their farms. The chemicals causing these cancers and leukemia are the same chemicals used to grow food in the U.S.

Besides the damage to human health from pesticide use, chemical agriculture's use of synthetic fertilizers and sewage sludge have polluted the nation's streams, creeks, rivers, oceans, drinking water, and millions of acres of farmland. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Environmental Working Group, two-thirds of the U.S. population is drinking water contaminated with high levels of nitrates and nitrites, caused by nitrate fertilizer runoff from factory farms. Large areas along our coastlines, bays, and gulfs have become "dead zones" as a result of excess nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge flowing into them. Serious illness and death are directly attributable to high levels of nitrates and pesticides in drinking water.

Factory farming's carbon footprint is also huge. Government officials have consistently failed to regulate agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions or even admit that they are a serious problem. Most official estimates of greenhouse gas pollution of U.S. agriculture range from a ridiculously low 7% to 12% of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Recent analysis has demonstrated that U.S. factory farms and industrial agriculture are responsible for at least 35%, and possibly up to 50%, of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, agriculture is currently exempted from even weak U.S. efforts to control greenhouse gases, including the recent cap and trade legislation passed by the House of Representatives. Hopefully the most recent U.S. EPA directives in December 2009 on curbing greenhouse gasses will apply to agriculture, our most polluting industry. However, "just say no" Republican and Democratic congressmen are doing the bidding of their pesticide, fertilizer, and petroleum clients (instead of their constituents) and have vowed to block any efforts by the EPA to regulate emissions.

DK: Why did your students at UC Santa Barbara burn down the Bank America building and what were the consequences to you personally?

WA: They, the campus members of Students for a Democratic Society, Black Student's Union, MECHA, and the American Indian Movement dramatized the fact that the B of A was one of the major banks behind the US Bank of Saigon, and that the B of A was systematically cheating students with fees and regulations that were draconian. They saw their enemy the bank as part of an increasingly unpopular war. The bank had been attacked for weeks by street activists who broke out the windows every time the bank replaced them, which was almost every day. Finally, the bank replaced windows over the doors with plywood. That night there was a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Concert in the campus stadium. Some of the speakers that we had invited to speak at the concert were William Kuntsler, the activist lawyer, Jennifer Dorn, Bernadine Dorn's sister-Bernadine by that time was underground with the Weather underground, and Jerry Rubin's wife. The cops, who were pissed that we had inserted all these radicals into the program, decided to stop the concert before it was supposed to be stopped. People went nuts. They poured out of the stadium to get some revenge. They started trash can fires, broke windows out of the cop shop and the gas stations and pushed a burning dumpster into the front of the bank. The plywood to replace the windows caught fire and then the bank caught fire. People broke down the doors and looted the bank of chairs, tables, pens, whatever could be found. All that was left the next morning was the vault. Fortunately I was getting a pastrami sandwich when all this vandalism began. Whew!

They accused me and 19 other conspirators of starting the fire and looting the bank. That was the day my career as professor on tenure track ended. We decided to try the case first before the American Association of University Professors. Kunstler got me great lawyers and we beat it and forced them to drop all charges against the 19 plus 1 defendant to misdemeanors.

DK: Is it difficult to drum up compassion for bugs, considering many of them (mosquitoes, black flies, green flies, roaches, no see'ums, chiggers, fire ants, etc.) can be nuisances to humans? Also, since some bugs are vectors for serious infectious diseases, isn't there an increasing bias within humans towards them?

WA: It is all about education. Our education levels about bugs is at the preschool level. Any education we get is from the chemical and pharmaceutical corporations and their sluts in government, the media, and the universities. We need thousands of ecological advocates to educate people about the real dangers, because there are some, and about the real benefits of bugs, insects, worms, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

DK: What dangers do pesticides pose to humans?

WA: 90% of the pesticides are chlorinated, chlorines, halons, and bromines are halogenated chemicals and are  among the most dangerous chemicals on the planet. Another 5% are bromated. The most common poisons in agriculture are nerve poisons, organophosphates and carbamates. Many of the newer chemicals are synthetic tobacconoids and it is these chemicals that are causing so much damage right now to our bees. Since most of our pesticides are nerve poisons or cancer causing chemicals it is no surprise that birth defect and cancer rates are soaring. All of these chemicals impact consumers because there is so much poisonous residue on foods, but the worst victims are the farmers, farm workers and rural residents, who literally live in a toxic pesticide and fertilizer soup.

DK: Are there viable ways to combat bug infestation in a way that does not pollute the environment or cause health problems?

WA: Yes. Rotate crops to break the disease and pest cycles, because pests like insects, bugs, disease and worms are crop specific. We use beneficial insects to combat most of our pests. We use BT, clay, and rock dust to combat the pests that the beneficial insects and other predators can't control.

DK: Can you tell me about the relationship between pesticide use on crops and the armament industry?

Will Allen: A lot of times we blame the military for the chemicals we have and have had for a long time.  For example organophosphates were synthesized in 1882. Carbonates were synthesized in 1864 and DDT was synthesized in 1874. These are old chemicals in the chemist toolbox.  These chemicals were not used for warfare first they were used for pest control. Then during the first World War the Germans decided that they would try to use some of these pesticides as anti-personnel weapons. The company I.G. Farbin, the dominant chemical cartel at the time was formed during the First World War created through EASF, a study group that was led by Fritz Haber, who was one of the inventors of synthetic nitrogen.  They had him investigate every single known synthesized chemical for its anti-personnel effect and for its military use. The first thing he came up with was chloralpicrin  and phosgene gas, that we should use chloropicrin, which was used as fumigant even as early as that time and we should use it as an anti-personnel teargas and we should use phosgene gas as a killer gas, and so phosgene was used during the First World War and chloralpicrin was used during the first war.

Between the First World War and the Second World War the United States Department of Agriculture set up a program similar to what the Germans had done which was to study all these chemicals for their anti-personnel and war potential.  They created the same kind of study group and that study group all during the break between the First World War and the Second World War studied what chemicals we could use. So the US government had all of this information some of which they had pilfered from the Germans who had started this study earlier, as they pilfered it through all of these cartels that were related to the IG Farbin cartel.  Standard Oil had a 25-year contract with IG Farbin and that contract was to supply aviation fuel to the German Air Force.  

During the Second World War Standard Oil supplied air plane fuel to the German Air Force.  And they got secrets as a result of this because they were part of the creation of cartels that were going on. At one point there was a quadrapartied cartel between Switzerland, Germany, France, and England.  The United States was a little bit frozen out.  But they had real close contact with both French and English cartel members and so they were able to get into the cartel through their relative in the cartels so all these chemical companies in the world were effectively in communication with each other and knew a lot of the basic secrets of chemistry because you can only patent something for certain period of time, and you can only get extensions on those patents for  a certain period of time.  Since most of these chemicals were old chemicals in the chemist and alchemist toolbox, they were well known to everybody and they couldn't protect them.  The reason why DDT was so widely used is because every company produced it; every single company: Shell, Standard Oil, BASF, Bayer, everybody.  The company that figured out that it was a great pesticide was JR Geige, but they were part of the Swiss cartel so everybody in that cartel got it, and the patent was way up on DDT so everybody made after the Second World War.

DK: And nobody was concerned with the health implications?

WA: Nobody was looking at the health implications.  Everybody knew it was a terrible chemical because the reason that it was synthesized in 1874 but not used until 1939 was that people were scared shitless of it.  Then they started using it and they started using a bunch of relatives.  It wasn't just DDT, it was 24T, 245D, symozene, deldrin, endrin, all of these chemicals are close relatives of DDT, and did allow the same kinds of damaged to bird populations and amphibians. We are seeing it today.

DK: What the real origins of putting poisons on fruit and vegetables?

WA: Going back, it is way before military. In the 1860s the Colorado potato beetle was out of control and no one knew how to take care of it. It was devastating all the potato fields in every direction the canals ran and as far as the rails ran. By 1869 it ran all the way to the West Coast. People were scared shitless that at the Colorado potato beetle was going to get to the West Coast, where a lot of clean potatoes were coming from. So these guys started playing around with arsenic on the Colorado potato beetle and the thing that worked the best was Paris Green which was this green paint pigment, and they started spraying arsenic on the potato beetle and it worked really well, and it didn't start showing resistance until the late 1930s, so they were able to use it for close to 60 years.  By the 1930s it was resistant on a lot of crops, it was not this panacea hero chemical anymore, it was like a pain in the ass in a lot of cases because it was injuring people and it wasn't effective, so you had to use a lot of it. So when arsenic started showing resistance the 1930s they brought in fluorine to replace it and there were no regulations on fluorine.  There were already regulatory limits on arsenic that were established in 1903 by the Royal Society of London. They set the limits and the US refused to agree to those limits until 1940 and by then it was too late because the war started in 1941 and we relaxed all the pesticide limits during the war for the war effort.

DK: Was the role of advertising and marketing in the pesticide industry?

WA: It was huge.  Back when all the early magazines except for Country Gentleman were populist and they were run actually by the populists. All of the magazines prior to the 1870s, except for Country Gentleman, which used to be called the Cultivator but got into this total debacle over soil testing in the 1850s. Leibig had pushed this whole idea of soil testing but he hadn't figured it all out yet and he didn't want to look at humus and didn't want to look at organic matter or at all this other stuff.  The Cultivar was this magazine that was pushing all these chemical agriculture solutions, because the Cultivar was a magazine that represented the ruling class, the aristocrats, and the aristocrats owned the industries. They were the industrialists, as well as the founding fathers.  As industrialist they wanted to get rid of their waste materials. And the waste materials became agricultural chemicals.

Most of the arsenic that they used on agriculture wasn't Paris Green, it was waste pigments out of the garment industry and waste chemicals out of industry, and the same thing was that happening with potash. Potash was mostly a waste product, they found it when they were looking for salt. So the whole deal with having all these pesticides and not having any real standards for them was just this laissez-faire attitude that the FDA imposed after it was created in 1906. It was put in the Department of Agriculture until 1940, so between 1906 and 1940, it couldn't really regulate chemicals because the USDA was in favor of chemicals.  The USDA wanted people to use arsenic and lead and sulfuric acid and sodium bisulfite and fluorine and methyl bromide.  They were promoters and they are still promoters. The USDA controls genetic engineering patents. The Terminator technology is partly a USDA patent.  The USDA is not opposed to toxics in food production and they're not opposed to using stuff without testing it.  They say that there's a big testing program but there is no testing program for GMO's.

DK: Isn't it is a joke?

WA: There is no testing program for these chemicals, they have the chemical companies test them and then they decide if they are going to accept their tests.  In the history of doing that testing the chemical companies have been about as slimy as you can imagine. They created labs that were designed to test these chemicals but they were really designed to give them a pass. For years we were getting analyses from these chemical labs at the USDA or the FDA were not critical of, and they were bogus tests. Now there's this whole period where were finally going to have to test some of these chemicals. Europe again is leading the way with the ?? program and the US is way, way behind. We don't seem to want to figure it out and catch up.

DK:  You're not looking to United States for the leadership in this area?

WA: Not without us putting a lot of pressure on them. We need to be demonstrating out in front of that place if something doesn't happen.  We are going to need to shut down that half side of the Mall. Something really needs to be done at the USDA and some people think the best thing to do is get rid of it. The thing is an enormous institution, 15,000 employees with something like half of The Mall is taken up with the USDA. I don't think it's likely that it's going to go any place, we need to change the course of the USDA, and it has to be doing the bidding of the farmer and the consumer not the chemical companies. For 100 years it's done the bidding of the chemical companies and more. The USDA came out in 1894 publication 127 that advocated the use of arsenic, lead, and sulfuric acid, all these chemicals that had not been tested and even back then there was this giant food safety movement opposing them, but the USDA came out gave them their green light saying these are things that you farmers want to use.

DK:  Has the USDA really been more of a cheerleader for the chemical corporations?

WA: Absolutely and you can read about it in this book Insect, Experts and the Insecticide Crisis.  It looks at the difference between how the EPA would look at pesticide use and pest-control and how the USDA would look at it and the EPA had a project called the  Hofacre project in the 1980s and the USDA scuttled it.  It looked at eight crops and taught farmers how to do biological control and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) that was developed by Robert Van Den Bosch and Stern at UC Berkeley for use on cotton.  IPM was first used on cotton but people knew that it could also be used effectively on trees because they done some beneficial insect releases.

In the 1880s they did a search for beneficial insects and they went to Australia and found the Vedalia Beetle and later released it in California's citrus groves to kill cottony cushion scale. It was very successful. They brought back 129 Beatles and they greatly controlled cottony cushion scale until DDT was introduced and that killed all of the Vedalia Beetles. Rachel Carson writes about this in her book.  Here's this elegant solution that is totally ruined by one season of spraying with DDT. Then you have to go back to Australia find the Vedalia beetle, and bring it back here.

At the same time they were using all these pesticides, the first search for beneficial insects occurred in the same year that we started using arsenic and lead, 1867. How ironic that the same year they started using these toxic poisons we could have been so far ahead now with our agriculture if we depended on beneficial insects and biological control systems. Here we are 150 years later and we still have to deal with these issues.

DK: Back then it was a just a few individuals who made a difference?

WA:  Yes and it was just a few individuals who own the land, because the people who started using these chemicals were not backyard guys, they were big commercial guys who were growing potatoes for the market, but it affected everybody. We see it today. A lot of farmers don't want to use these chemicals but they have to go along to get along, because the other guys have reduced the price so much by using these chemicals, cutting out labor, using a very toxic approach, but also it's cheaper.  They are all subsidized but it's not really cheaper it just looks that way.

DK: Can you speak to the role of advertising?

WA: The advertising is really an important factor because when all the early magazines, except for Country Gentleman were populist, and they were run actually by the Populists. There would be Patrons of Husbandry, which was probably one of the most significant populist movements and there would be patrons of husbandry reports in all of the Pacific Rural Press and the California Cultivator, they were the precursors to California Farmer, these papers. Same thing as in the Dallas Mercury, because the Grange Movement, which was the patron of husbandry was popular all over the West and to some degree in the Northeast. There was another populist movement that started in New York and Iowa about the same time and spread all over the South, all over Texas, and those Populist Movements controlled the rural papers. But in the 1880s, a lot of those Populists from the 1870s and 1860s had died out and the papers' publishers were getting old and they needed to sell their papers so as soon as they sold their papers the switch was turned and a lot of the Publishers who bought papers, especially Curtis bought a lot of ag papers, and he also owned the Saturday Evening Post, his shtick was advertising. He followed Ben Franklin's model that was dedicate at least 60% of your magazine to advertising. Immediately that switch was turned and the public found out that they could make a lot more money of off advertising then they ever could make off of subscriptions. But they needed subscriptions to get the ads. So they started giving the magazines away.

They still give them away, and a classic example, Spud Magazine called us up and said to my wife Kate, you have not renewed your free subscription. She said we don't want the magazine, it doesn't appeal to us, it is always chemical and it is about large-scale potato production. They argued and argued with her, and Kate said don't send it. A couple of weeks later we got two copies of the same issue. They had talked with both of us, and simply upped their subscriptions. That is how they get new subscriptions. We are still getting Spud Magazine. It is 70% chemical ads.

It was in the 1880s that the whole publishing thing in agriculture changed. It went from being a populist promoter to being a chemical promoter. But they still kept the populist rhetoric. Even today if you read these farm magazines you will think they are totally supporting the farmer, they are all there for the Farmer, when the politics come down for the Farmer they will be there, but the truth is they are there simply to pimp chemicals. That is what they have been doing ever since. When that happened, the advertising dramatically shifted and the farm magazines were opposed to chemicals before the 1880s and after the1880s they were in favor of chemicals and they rationalized their opposition by saying that the reason farmers were getting sick from arsenic is they were handling it poorly. They put the blame onto the farmers, and the farmers took it. They said, OK, we have to handle these chemicals better.

A lot of farmers that are using chemicals today will say to you, well if people handle them properly and so one gets hurt, but that totally misses the point that you are putting this shit into Mother Earth every single day, and it totally misses the point as to what is happening to the rural population as a result of using all these chemicals. What is happening is cancer and birth defect clusters all over Rural America. Advertising had a dramatic impact. Before the First World War, the advertisers were P.T. Barnum types. They bought big sections of magazines and newspapers that they controlled the space on, and then they would sell the space, and a lot of times tat is all they were doing, they were not copy writing or any artwork for people, they were just a space seller.

During the First World War the advertisers were starting to form into companies were hired by the government to promote the war. The war was very unpopular, we were an isolationist, conservationist country more into consumer products. We were a can-do, subsistence-oriented country, 48% of the people in the U.S. still farmed at that point. There were close to 7 million farmers at that time, the rural population was huge. The government was able during World War One to get people to sign up for the war and buy war bonds and they did it through advertising. They realized what kind of power they had. Once they realized they had that power, after the First World War, they went nuts. They changed this country from being a conservationist country to a keeping up with the Jones consuming country. In literally 30 years. By the Second World War people were wanting to consume things. The Second World War stymied that consumption. After that people wanted everything they had sacrificed not having during the war and during the depression. There was this long period from the end 1920s to the end of the 1940s where it was a depressed sucker. Not only had you gone through the depression, now you were going through the war. The privation was enormous, not only was there no sugar, but there wasn't gas, there wasn't salt, there weren't a lot of commodities. You had to really produce on your land or you were going to be hungry. Because you couldn't get rations a lot of the time, you had to raise it yourself. After people had gone through all that you had the advertisers telling people, especially after the Second world war well now it is your turn, buy buy buy buy buy buy buy.  And agriculture products were a big part of that. Up to that point most people didn't have tractors, they were still farming with horses. After the Second World War, tractors were the huge commodity and pesticides. They had developed all of these war toys. That is how they sold them. These were war hero chemicals. They had killed malaria, typhus, and bedbugs.

DK: Can you expand on the role of advertising at that time?

WA:  There were newsreels that would celebrate the glory of the chemicals. These were all advertising tricks, right? We had to read the California Cultivator and the Pacific World Press at school. You are reading shit in there about chemicals and how wonderful they were. A lot of California schools used the Pacific World Press and so forth because they were like agricultural schools. California was an agricultural state before WWII. All the population came after WWII. California was not the biggest state in the union at that point. LA was barely as big as San Francisco. And the chemical use went nuts because the people thought again that these were heroic chemicals that helped get us out of the war. That is how they sold them. "Now released for civilian use!"  That is on some of the ads. When DDT first came out it was called "genocide" and Tullen II was called "666, the mark of the devil." Then it turned out DTT was genocidal and 666 is the mark of the devil as we speak. It is the most used in the world, but methansodium is going to pass it soon, but that is because it has not been used as much. The German chemical companies figured the mark of the devil out.

DK: And didn't they even enlisted Dr. Seuss in their propaganda campaign?

WA: There was so much fervor over this whole issue of arsenic and lead on the food, so many people were getting sick in the teens, 20's, 30's and 40's. It was an international scandal, not just here, because we were shipping food everywhere. A lot of our food was rejected just like it is today because it has hormones or antibiotics on it. And it was rejected for having high residues of arsenic and lead on it. The whole issue of food safety is probably something we don't think is very old. We think it all started with Rachel Carson.  We are not very good at remembering a lot of this history. Even the Consumers Union and Consumer's Reports are very important today. How many people know about 100 million Guinea Pigs? How many people know about "Eat, Drink and be Wary?"  And yet, that is our food culture history. How many people have really read "The Jungle?" How many people have read, "Silent Spring?"

We have this old, old, food safety movement that we don't realize was so powerful, so when Standard Oil saw these two cartoons from this cartoonist, who was writing for "The Judge," at the time, the most popular cartoon magazine in the country, came out of these cartoon magazines that were on all of the college campuses. One of them was Harvard Lampoon, which still exists today. But every one of the Ivy League schools had similar magazines. Dr. Seuss wrote at Dartmouth, and then worked at The Judge after flunking out of Oxford. He told his dad he got a PhD. He was a screwball cartoonist so it was difficult to know if he called himself a doctor to cover his ass for his dad or whether he called himself a doctor because it was a screwball time. His real name was Theodore Seuss Geisel. These two cartoons that Dr. Seuss had drawn were seen by the wife of the president of Standard Oil. So the president of Standard Oil calls Dr. Seuss and said, "Would you do some cartoon advertisements for us?" He drew advertisements for Standard Oil for 15 years. It was a major stroke of luck or genius. He was an incredible artist. They appeared in a thousand different magazines every week for 15 years. After that, he went to work for the army as Capt. Theodore Geisel. He was an information officer and he volunteered for the army selling pesticides, as he had this long career and success selling pesticides and he was willing to do that.  He promoted DTT through a series of cartoons.

DK: Do you think he was the most important pesticide salesman?

WA: Yes, his contribution to pesticide history was very big. One of the things I was looking at when I was writing the book was how did people get comfortable using these poisons on themselves, on their kids, in their pools, in the yards, on their churches, on the lakes, on the rivers, on the land. Stuff has drifted all the way to the Arctic and they have never used DTT in the Arctic, yet Arctic ice is full of DTT and all these toxic chemicals and you find polar bears with high amounts of DDT in them since they have so much fat.  Long lasting chemicals such as arsenic and lead; these heavy metals have long term effects and they just don't go away and they lodge in the fat of animals. I think Dr. Seuss had an enormous impact but I don't think he was a malicious guy. I think he believed in the scientific veracity and the scientific breakthroughs that these chemicals enabled us to control pests. I think he really believed in it. He realized that it was a major fuck up and he wrote "The Lorax," which was an attempt to rescue his psyche more than his reputation.  I give him a lot of credit in making that enormous change because he was the single most powerful advocate for pesticides. He was much more powerful than the chemical companies because he was so popular, well known, and so loved. This deal with Standard Oil started in 1928 and ending in 1943. It enabled him to be wealthy. He was making $12K with Standard Oil when he first started. Well that went way up after he was really successful. $12K was a lot of money in 1928. It enabled him to be comfortable and able to travel and gestate all of his later masterpieces. Within 7 years, he created "Cat in the Hat," in 1935 and he was internationally famous. After that, it was difficult to criticize his pesticide ads, even though there was this enormous anti-pesticide movement that was going on that was created mostly by consumers' papers and magazines such as Consumer Reports.

DK: How do you think we are going to get greater farming regulations?

WA: First, the public does not know that we need it. The public is not totally convinced or they wouldn't be filling their baskets with the other. The public thinks that conventional food is conventional food, but they don't think that conventional food is poisonous food.  We need to inform the public that they are eating toxic food. There are good agricultural strategies out there right now to replace every one of these pesticides and there are good agricultural strategies out there to replace all the fertilizers. This is not rocket science. It is critical because the fertilizers are trashing the ocean and the water and trashing the air because when making the fertilizers, nitrous oxide and methane is just enormous. Nitrous oxide and methane are 310 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas than C02 and methane 21 more times dangerous than C02.

Agriculture is the big producer of both nitrous oxide and methane. When you talk about methyl bromide and chloral fluorocarbons, it is enormous quantity of greenhouse gases that agriculture is responsible for and environmental damage, not just the greenhouse gas damage but the environmental damage on the surface of the earth and in the oceans from this kind of agriculture is an international scandal that we refuse to even think about.

We have a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is bigger than the state of New Jersey. It comes from agricultural runoff going into the ocean and then this huge alga that is developing on the fertilizer because the freshwater stays up on top of the salt water because salt water is heavier. The fresh water stays on top with all the algae bloom and all this fertilizer pollution and when the algae dies the bacteria that decomposes takes up the oxygen and creates a dead zone. There are dead zones off of the coast of Oregon, one in the Chesapeake Bay, and off of California and more than 400 dead zones around the world that the public does not know much about.

The public is really ignorant about their agriculture. It has been sold to them as this cheap food in the world is causing all this damage and I don't think the public realizes that 67 million people get food-born illnesses every year. And those figures are from 1999, so it is a lot worse than that. Over 325K people end up in the hospital from food-borne illness and over 5K die every year.

We never see any indication of what kinds of toxins are on your food as point-of-purchase information.  You never see the real labeling for produce that is for fresh produce; vegetables and melons and foods with warnings that should be on that point-of-purchase label. We cannot have the luxury of having a label of what is in it because it is not processed goods.  All of that should be on point-of-purchase and people would say, 'there are 180 chemicals on this?!' And these are the top 5. (WILL WHO IS WE??) We are creating the surgeon general's list for 25 different products from California on my website and it tells you what the residue levels for strawberries or peaches or whatever you are looking at, how many pounds of pesticides were used on how many acres and what are the top 10 pesticides that are used and how many pesticides are used and how much fertilizer is used so that you then can come to this product with real information and know what is on it. Now we don't have a clue. We don't know how our stuff is grown and even on the labels, they just tell you the ingredients as it is processed and they don't tell you what was put on it when it was grown.

The public needs to know how its food is grown. Once we start doing that education there will be enough groundswell of opposition that there is going to have to be change. It is going to take a lot of education. We really have an ignorant population about their food. They really have been sold a "bill of goods" all along, that this is the cheapest, the safest food. This is the best food. Look how much we have versus how much they have in Haiti.

DK: How is your rapport with the USDA?

WA: Well I think the big thing we have to do is appoint Kathleen Merigan as the assistant Sec. of Ag, which is great. Kathleen has been with USDA before and she wrote the organic law but she needs 20 people behind her who are advocates for changing agriculture. Right now there are 15K people working at USDA and I'd say that probably 12,500 are pro chemicals. They have been working with chemicals all their professional lives. So the culture of the USDA has to change. We have to convince the USDA that the decisions by the EPA who just decided greenhouse gases were a problem and need to be regulated, the USDA has to accept those evaluations by the EPA. The USDA has not done that in the past. If the EPA suggests that something is wrong, the USDA fights to find a way to ignore it or oppose it.  I think that we really have to change the culture. I am hopeful that Milsack and Merigan can do that. We are going to have to be forcing USDA to do our bidding. USDA has always been a political agency.  Whoever is calling the shots from the president's office determines how effective USDA is in protecting the public. And how effective USDA is in helping farmers transition to better farming methods? Right now that is not happening.

DK: Do you think there needs to be a new Homestead Law?

WA: It may be pie in the sky, but a new Homestead law could create an agriculture extension service that would be looking at organic and how they can help farmers transition to organic. Right now the agriculture extension service does not have enough trained personnel to do that.   But they have trained personnel to do genetic modification and to do chemical based agriculture advising. There needs to be enormous retraining program within agriculture extension or the creation of a parallel agriculture extension program and then a gradual phase out of the other agriculture extension program, which uses most of our subsidy money to promote genetic modification and chemical agriculture. It does not use our tax money to promote sustainable agriculture.  Why the USDA does not promote sustainable agriculture is probably the question of the year.  Here we are promoting non-sustainable agriculture, and not promoting sustainable agriculture.  We have to force them to promote sustainable agriculture.

A homestead law wherein there is an agricultural extension service that is up to date and deals with the challenges of sustainability. There is an enormous amount of land through receivership that is owned by the government, that is owned by banks. The federal government is now in a position to say all this land that is farmland, that is in receivership and it is not leased for a pittance to large-scale farmers to do bad farming practices and it needs to be redirected to sustainable agriculture.  Either given away or sold to aspiring farmers.  Every farm meeting I go to, now whether it is in  Italy or US or Mexico or Canada or India, 60% in those rooms are young people who want to farm, who are looking for farmland or are renting farmland but want to buy.  We have an enormous farm revitalization movement happening, not just in this country but all over the world, and these farmers need land. In 1862 they gave away 160 acres. After the Civil War they gave 40 acres to Blacks. In 1890 they extended the agriculture extension service in the South to Blacks, and they opened up the OK territory to homesteading of 160 acres again.  Then in the 1930s they gave land away during the depression to dampen down the feelings of not having anything.  We are in that place right now. We need to dampen down people's concerns and one ways of doing it is to give this land away.  

We have thousands of tractors sitting in moth balls because we have closed so many military bases and on those military bases are all these tractors that are the same as farm tractors and they should be made available for young farmers. Program with a computer, a farm plan and 160 acres. Or even 50 acres. You can do a lot on 50 acres. We are grossing over 400K on this 50 acres we have here.  You can grow some money and make a living off of small scale farming because a lot of the work you do is on your broken back and you work really hard and you are able to produce the stuff. But people like this hard work.  You are doing a complete job from planting the seed and growing and harvesting going through that whole cycle of productivity and success. People like that. I think we could come out of this whole thing with the new Homestead Act. The last one in 1890, which was called the Organic Homestead Act. It would be interesting if we called this the Organic Homestead Act II.  Really be organic.  

We have enough people in this country that could be teachers. For example, say 3 or 4 agriculture extension agents can advise 100 farms, 30 farms a piece.  An enormous jump. You go from 3 agriculture extension agents on your farm for a couple of years and then they are going out giving advice and they are coming back to you and you are doing workshops. The farm here was designed to do just that, to train young farmers as well as being a production farm.  Not a lab situation but a field situation and we can train agriculture extension agents the same way We feel like we need farms in every community because every community's farmland is different. What we say we can do here, you can do within 100 miles of here because it is the same environment, the same microclimate. The soil might be different but the microclimate would be the same.

DK: What has been the role of land grant colleges in the U.S. in regard to the use of and being advocates for pesticide use?

WA:  There are only a couple of land grant institutions that had parallel programs where they had pesticide and chemical division that promoted chemicals. Agriculture and now genetic modified agriculture.  University of California was really the most significant University in the world that started really looking at biological control of pests. They created the division of Biological control. They were very effective at promoting biological controls, but the University was more effective at promoting chemical control. Every single university in a farm state promoted chemicals. Every single one was a chemical slut, pimping and tested chemicals as their main job.  They were more concerned with nozzle size and flow rates than dangers to farm workers or consumers, more concerned about how to get the material on the crop in an effective way than they were about how much damage it was doing to us, or the farm, the farm worker, or the land. And that approach has been a totally technical one about how to deliver pesticides better and how to better manage pesticide resistance and how to manage fertilizer toxicity. That has been their "shtick." They have not been very creative about it except nozzle size and flow rates.

DK: Y must feel positive about the increase in numbers of sustainable agriculture studies and doctorates at the UC of late?

WA: I think it is really great positive trend, but it is such a small piece of it. I don't want to diminish it but in the overall scheme of things, it is trivial compared to how much they are spending on chemicals.  We, the sustainable agriculture community, get just a little tiny piece of money. Most of the money is going to: How do you get these chemicals out, how do you do genetic modification. The whole world does not want genetic modification. The people who want genetic modification are Monsanto, and the federal govt. We have to turn that ship around. Towards investigating it's toxicity. Why isn't it germane on them that they have to look and see how much damage this is doing? Not just how many pests it will control. Their whole deal is set up on risk assessment and that RA is more concerned with economic loss than it is with loss of life. They would rather lose some lives than have these chemical companies and these large-scale farmers suffer from economic damage.

DK: Why are dangerous technologies so often used as first resort rather than last?

WA:  They are cheap. Now they aren't so cheap and people are starting to think they should be last resort. We are stuck in an old paradigm. One of the things that struck me early on when farmers started to make their transition away from chemical to organic and sustainable agriculture, was they would come to these meetings in the early 80's and they were talking about how this was not the way they wanted to farm and they would say, "Hi my name is John and I'm addicted to chemicals."  It was as if they were at Alanon.  "I am completely addicted to these chemical and I do not know how to get out of it".  That is what they are coming to us saying and now we need to help get those farmers off of that addiction. We need to stop having the drug pushers visiting their farms all the time. They do it as a package.  They give them the pesticides to start with and then they monitor their fields. Guess what; if you monitor the fields and you are a pesticide seller, what are you going to tell the farmer?  You need more pesticides. Because this is how I get my commission. The guy who is selling the pesticides is monitoring the fields and that has to stop. That is an obvious environmental conflict of interest. That is the big part.

We have all the available information to switch to organic farming techniques. We don't need much.  It will make it better. We have already done cotton, fruit, corn, veggies, and every single flower.  No chemicals in our greenhouse. We have 100s of annuals and perennials and we use beneficial insects to deal with pests. We might spray some soap.  But in general we can knock White flies off with water.  With high dose of sprinkler you can get ride of White flies.  Those are our only pests in the greenhouse.  We can take care with beneficial insects.  In the field, we use big-eyed bugs, soldier beetle, bugs; we have ladybugs from time to time. They escape from our greenhouses all the time. And we use tri-wasps, our whole strategy is dealing with pests with beneficial insects. We have not sprayed anything but nematodes, all we do is spraying a nematode into our turf. That nematode is a nematode that attacks. So really the spray of bacteria is for everything else.

David Kupfer has worked as an organic grower raising watercress for Chez Panisse, Gather and other San Francisco Bay Area restaurants, as a farm worker on 6 Northern California organic farms and as an organic farming advocate with the Ecological Farming Association and the Community Alliance for Family Farmers. He has written for the Earth Island International News Journal, The Sun, Progressive, Bay Nature, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Ad Busters, Yes, SingOut!, Auto Free Times, CCOF News, Rodale's New Farm, Common Ground, Whole Earth, & Hope magazines. He has been an agriculture and environmental educator for the California Conservation Corp/Americorp in Del Norte Nortern California as well as in the Tamalpais Union High School District & worked as an environmental consultant for Hollywood Studios, Bill Graham Presents, String Cheese Incident, Tassajara Zen Center/Green Gulch, Esalen Institute and others. He lives North of San Francisco and is working on a book on the history of the West Coast Organic Farming Movement.

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