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Organic Farmers Mobilizing Against the Iraq War

DAVENPORT - Farmer Jim Cochran is inviting troops to drop their arms and join him on thefarm to stick their hands in the dirt, grow something and feed people.

In his line of work, Cochran always has to anticipate potentially harmfulsituations, like water and insect problems, and think about what he can doto mitigate things. Now, Cochran, who founded Swanton Berry Farm nearHighway 1 and served in the military for two years, is rallying the farmingcommunity to think globally, and say no to war and terror.

That's the basis for Farms Not Arms, an organization Cochran co-chairs, thataims to unify farmers The group, with headquarters in Petaluma, was formed less than a year ago bya handful of West Coast farmers and now has about 200 members nationwide.They are intent on finding ways to bring an end to the war and welcometroops back home.

"Farmers want to cooperate in a constructive way," Cochran said as he fixedan omelette for a recent brunch he hosted at his Davenport farm stand todiscuss the role food producers can play in opposing the war.

Taking a stance against war may not be an issue commonly associated withfarmers, but in Santa Cruz County, some say it's only natural.

"California, specifically this area here, has been on the forefront offarming innovation and independent thinking," said Steve Bontadelli,president of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau.

The idea of introducing Iraq war veterans to farming is appealing toBontadelli, who said his nephew recently returned from Baghdad after a yearof service.

While the county Farm Bureau has not taken an official stance on the war,Bontadelli said, bringing the troops home and welcoming them into thefarming community could be a healthy distraction.

"It would be a good way to get their mind off what they just went through,"he said.

Farms Not Arms wants to work with veterans groups to organize paid work onAmerican farms for the war-weary and injured veterans returning from Iraqand Afghanistan.

Farming, Cochran said, can provide a therapeutic experience and viablevocational training. He said the work and training can be extended to otheryoung people who are considering the military because they may not be awareof other opportunities.

"This is a way to increase those choices In addition to introducing would-be troops to the tools of the farmingtrade, Farms Not Arms is looking to go green by producing alternatives toforeign oil. Many types of crops are being turned into environmentallyfriendly home-grown fuels, and much more can be done in the future,according to the Farms Not Arms Web site.

Another of the group's goals is to reduce fuels and carbon dioxideemissionsin what it calls "wasteful food production and distribution systems."

Building alliances among farmers to protect farmland and the environmentmust start in the community, said Mike O'Gorman, a founder and co-chair ofFarms Not Arms.

"It's not the president that needs to make a change, it's our whole countryand society," O'Gorman said. "We all have to do something."

For information, visit http://www.farmsnotarms.org or e-mail info@farmsnotarms.org .

Contact Soraya Gutierrez at sgutierrez@santacruzsentinel.com .