A death knell was sounded for local farmers Saturday as activists used flash mob tactics to draw attention to the possible defunding of programs helping small and mid-size farms in the proposed federal budget. The group collected seemingly random followers as they carried a coffin down the 16th Street Mall and to the doorstep of Senator Michael Bennet’s downtown office where they offered up a letter of concern for programs vital to small farmers.
Food & Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy organization, along with a number of local advocacy groups took their list of concerns up to Bennet’s office, where a representative cordially received the procession. Bennet sits on the Agriculture Committee.
One day after President Barack Obama and Rep. John Boehner announced a budget compromise, the group called for potential agricultural program cuts found in Obama’s 2012 budget to be reviewed under the light of their potential for increasing farm consolidation and job losses in the state. Obama’s 2012 budget released in February would cut $1 trillion from the federal deficit over the next 10 years.
That number is not good enough, however, for House Republicans who, according to the Los Angeles Times, plan to push through their 2012 budget plan this week while this year’s budget funding is being wrapped up. The plan looks to cut social welfare programs while making Bush tax cuts permanent.
Protesters pointed to the need to fund programs such as direct farm ownership loans that benefit small start-up and minority farms, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Accounts Pilot Program, Rural Business Enterprise Grants, the Conservation Stewardship Program and a number of other programs that help to maintain small to midsized farms–all of which are facing cuts in the proposed budget. In addition to those already targeted in Obama’s plan, they said they expected cuts to the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, which provides poor women and children funds to buy fresh produce at local farms, and Community Food Project Grants among many others.
Carrying the coffin was board member Emanuel Ortiz of GreenLeaf Denver, an organization which promotes and generates urban gardens in Denver and which helped organize the event.
“The cuts would mean no more Greenleaf,” Ortiz said. “Without a Greenleaf I don’t have access to most healthy food and that is what Greenleaf does–it is about food justice–we want everyone in the world to have something fresh to eat.”
Other flash mob participants came down from around the state. Garrison Bennet, a member of Longmont Youth for Equality said he had traveled down to Denver to make certain small farms continued to thrive in the state.
“I am down here today to raise awareness for food programs. If those die the big corporations win and I don’t want that to happen,” Garrison Bennet said, “I want to live in a country where farmers have rights.”
“I think that this is a great example of how the community is coming together to fight not only for the environment but for everyone. To have fair access to clean healthy food,” Katherine Welling, one of the board members for Greenleaf Denver, said.
As Sen. Bennet was in flight back to Colorado when the event took place, Rosemary Rodriguez, Bennet’s state director, told the crowd that Bennet was committed to finding efficiencies in government programs to limit the outright elimination of programs. Rodriguez went on to explain that Bennet was very concerned about small farms and ranchers in the state.
“[Michael Bennet] is very committed to trying to preserve a place for the little guy … in the whole process because really that is not only our heritage in the state but it is important to preserve food that is not genetically modified,” Rodriguez said. “I am going to follow your example and plant my own food garden at my house this summer.”
Asked what the hopes were for Bennet’s response to their letter, Welling told The Colorado Independent: “I would like to see Michael Bennet make a statement that he is for sustainable food practices, for local food and against [genetically modified organisms].”
Bennet spokesperson Michael Amodeo responded by email:
“It is encouraging to see Coloradans, including young people, actively engaged in the democratic process. Sen. Bennet will take their opinions and concerns back to Washington. As we work to get our nation’s fiscal house in order and begin discussing the next farm bill, we must improve the risk management tools available to farmers and ranchers who provide the rest of us with an abundant, affordable and safe food supply while making sure federal investments in agriculture, conservation, nutrition and rural economies are efficient, effective, and fair.”