The
AGRIBUSINESS
EXAMINER
November 26, 2002   #204
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
From a Public Interest Perspective

EDITOR\PUBLISHER: A.V. Krebs
ADDRESS: PO. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201
E-MAIL: avkrebs@earthlink.net
WEB SITE: http://www.ea1.com/CARP/
TO RECEIVE: Name and e-mail address
CONTRIBUTION$ WELCOME !!!
 

COMMENTARY:
THANKSGIVING, 2002

One cannot help but wonder as most Americans and their families sit down at the table for their holiday meal on Thursday if they are aware, or much less even care, about the menu of corporate irresponsibility, crime, corruption, deception and human suffering that is spread out before them???

Turkey:

Turkey is usually the traditional main dish of the holiday session and the nationís second largest turkey producer is CARGILL, the world's largest grain trader and this nation's largest private corporation. It also has through a number of past and present executives economically shaped and politically implemented a self-serving domestic farm and trade policy that has spelled ruin for thousands of our nation's family farmers.

Cargill's supremacy in turkeys is exceeded only by the large meat packer SWIFT & CO., which is currently 46% owned by ConAgra and until recently was a wholly owned subsidiary of ConAgra. Its Greeley, Colorado plant was reopened last week after a five-day shutdown by federal regulators because of recurring problems with feces-smeared meat. The plant has been cited by the USDA for a variety of problems over the past several weeks, including feces on carcasses and in meat trimmings destined to become ground beef, inspectors said. The USDA cited the plant 19 times since late August for allowing feces to contaminate carcasses. Three of those violations occurred 24 hours before inspectors walked out the previous Friday. The shutdown, the first in the plant's history, came four months after the plant recalled 18.6 million pounds of beef, then the second-largest beef recall in history, because of E. coli concerns.

Immediately behind Cargill as the nationís third largest turkey producer is PILGRIM'S PRIDE. Recently its Wampler Foods subsidiary in Franconia Township, Pennsylvania was closed after it was identified as the likely source of the listeria outbreak that killed seven people, sickened at least 46, and caused three miscarriages. The Wampler plant recalled 27.4 million pounds of poultry and chicken products, the largest meat recall in U.S. history. The Wampler plant's spotty sanitation record is similar to that of many large meat-processing plants around the country, according to industry watchdogs, and the recall further exposes a flawed food-inspection system that inspectors say allows too much contaminated meat to reach the public in the course of the companies high speed processing operations.

Cranberries:

Cranberries and cranberry sauce has also been a perennial meal favorite. Some 80% of the nation's cranberry market is controlled by OCEAN SPRAY. On November 8 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Wisconsin's Northland Cranberries Inc., filed suit against Ocean Spray accusing the Massachusetts company of several illegal activities designed to gain a monopoly in the market. The suit alleges price-fixing, market manipulation and "surreptitiously rearranging retailers' shelves" in an attempt to shut out the little guy.

Pork and Ham::

Pork and ham have also become popular holiday dishes and the nation's largest pork producer and processor is SMITHFIELD FOODS. This is the same Smithfield that received the largest pollution penalty in U.S. history, as in 1988 it was fined $12.6 million for dumping excessive levels of hog waste into a Chesapeake Bay tributary in violation of the Clean Water Act. The government agency not only accused the company of dumping illegal levels of waste into the Pagan River, but also falsifying and destroying records to hide it. In December, 2000, an Administrative Law Judge of the National Labor Relations Board also issued a monumental 400-plus page ruling against Smithfield, using some of the strongest language in recent labor history, for massive violations of federal law during a union recognition election at Smithfield, and found that the company had conspired with law enforcement to instigate violence at the vote count.

Poultry:

Poultry other than turkey is frequently also served as part of our autumn celebration and the nation's largest poultry producer is TYSON FOODS who along with several other large and powerful corporate agribusiness's have turned the nation's contract poultry growers into no more than indentured slaves, many of them forced to sell or abandon their life-long operations after the company arbitrarily canceled their contracts, while others have seen the loss of their independence as family operated businesses through the company's iron-fisted binding arbitration process.

Red Meat:

Red meat is only one of the many alternatives that can be substituted in our holiday meal for poultry and Tyson Foods chief subsidiary is IBP, the nation's largest meat producer, which in recent years has seen literally hundred of thousand of pounds of its products recalled from grocery shelves for contain the life-threatening and health endangering bacteria e-coli from its meat products. In addition the large meatpacker not only has been in the forefront of rapidly destroying the independent cattle producer through its packer controlled cattle and formula pricing apparatus, but also in addition using immigrant, frequently illegal, labor as one of its many tools in its long history of union busting.

Cheese:

Cheese, cheese dishes and cheese toppings are also a popular item to go along with the other entries on our Thursday menu. More than likely such products will come KRAFT, the nation's largest food producer and partly owned by the tobacco giant Philip Morris. However some of those "cheese" products displayed on the table may in fact not be cheese at all due to the fact that since 1978 cheese processors, like Kraft, have been illegally using an inexpensive and plentiful imported substance called milk protein concentrate (MPC) in cheese to fuel their profits while deflating dairy prices.

Consequently, dairy farmers are facing historically low prices for their milk this year. In August and September of 2002, Wisconsin farmers netted $100 million less in revenue per month than they did a year ago in 2001. It is estimated that the farm dollar turns over in the economy three to seven times. That means Wisconsin alone is losing $300 million to $700 million a month in economic activity.

MPC is a dairy powder that is 42-90% casein protein. It is commonly used as an ingredient in glue and animal feed. All MPC is imported. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved of MPC as a food ingredient because it does not meet "Generally Regarded as Safe" standards. MPC does not have a "standard identity," meaning consumers have no idea whether it contains waste products that constitutes a health hazard and it is not inspected at port entries.

Mushrooms:

Mushrooms are also a popular food delicacy during any holiday meal and one of the nation's leading mushroom producers is PICTSWEET MUSHROOM FARMS of Ventura, California. For over 15 years, this Tennessee-based  agribusiness corporation has refused to negotiate a decent union contract with the United Farm Workers (UFW) who won the right to represent its workers in a democratically conducted election. Pictsweet during this 15-year period also has a lengthy record of labor law violations and has been found guilty of negotiating in bad faith and numerous other violations.

Appetizers, Condiments, Vegetables Desserts, Side Orders, Beverages:

All the extras that often make up our holiday meal from popcorn to spices, from ketchup to cooking oil, from tomatoes to potatoes, from pudding to toppings, from dinner rolls to ethnic dishes, from apple to tomato juice are all name brand products manufactured and marketed by CONAGRA, the nation's second largest food manufacturer. Along with the increasing concentration in the production, processing and manufacturing of food that the nation has witnessed in the past 50 years, has been the rapid movement toward vertical integration, where one corporation controls many or all of the various stages of the food delivery system. There is only corporation, however, that can boast that it literally controls everything from "the ground to the table" and that corporation is ConAgra. It's story of how it acquired such power, marked by its ruthlessness in its relationships with its suppliers while purporting to give consumers healthy choices in their brand selection is endemic of corporate agribusiness today.

Food Ingredients:

Ingredients in the various foods we eat at this time of year are given little attention as long as they satisfy the palate and cause us no undue suffering aside from a late evening bloatedness, upset stomach and the occasional heartburn. If, however, one tracks the numerous ingredients and additives in our food they would soon discover that corn and corn derivatives have become an essential part of a whole plethora of food products. Nothing on such brand name food labels, from potato chips to pickles, from chicken noodle soup to soda pop, from coffeemate to salad dressing would reveal that those corn ingredients came from but one company --- ARCHER DANIELS MIDLAND (ADM), "Supermarkup to the World."

No other corporate agribusiness, however, better illustrates the depths to which the corporate culture has sunk. Using fraud, conspiracy and corruption in its efforts to unseen and unseemly control world markets in farm commodities through monopoly and price fixing, it produces and manufactures a wide array of food, feed and fuel additives, such as ethanol. At the same time, along with Cargill it controls 60%-70% of the nation's grain trade, it also has the reputation as the nation's single largest benefactor of corporate welfare through federal subsidies and tax loopholes.

Fruits:

Fruits, colorful and fresh to the sight and in abundant amounts, are usually always in evidence at holiday meals and this Thursday will be no exception, yet the chances are that such fruits sitting on the table will be fruits, unknown by their consumers, imported from abroad --- fruits which were included among the imported food products covered in a recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) report that stated that less than one percent were inspected before being shipped off to the nation's grocery stores and retail food outlets. Likely they will also be fruits that were not only grown on large foreign corporate-owned plantations like CHIQUITA, DOLE and DEL MONTE where workers are nothing but rented slaves, but were also more than not treated with chemical poisons banned in this country, but shipped abroad by major profit hungry chemical companies for use on foreign crops.

Genetically Engineered Food:

Missing from our holiday menu is any indication that an increasing amount of the food products we eat and are serving to our family and friends have been either genetically engineered or have unknowingly been genetically engineered contaminated. The industry that stands to benefit financially in substantial ways from these efforts to fundamentally change the nature of our food while at the same time keeping the consuming public unaware and ignorant of such changes is led by the St. Louis, Missouri MONSANTO CORP. This is the same company for over 100 years has been poisoning the public and polluting the Earth with chemical poisons and herbicides, including Agent Orange, carcinogenic and neurotoxic artificial sweeteners, PCBs, a genetically engineered animal drug, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), as well as an expanding menu of untested and unlabeled trangenic field crops --- soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, potatoes.

Earlier this year a court found that the Monsanto Co. had engaged in "outrageous" behavior by releasing tons of PCBs into the city of Anniston, Alabama and covering up its actions for decades, thus handing 3,500 local residents a huge victory in a landmark environmental lawsuit. The jury held Monsanto and its corporate successors liable on all six counts it considered: negligence, wantonness, suppression of the truth, nuisance, trespass and outrage. Under Alabama law, the rare claim of outrage typically requires conduct "so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society."

Suicides, Alcoholism, Drug Use, Divorce, Family Violence, Personal Stress and Loss of Community:

FAMILY FARMERS, are the last but by no means the least of what is silently sitting at our holiday dinner tables for in most instances this "horn of plenty" that is spread out before us is due to their efficiency, their toil, their suffering!!!  Yet, while we enjoy the fruits of their labor many of these same farm families are owing their meal this holiday to food stamps.

For far from the non-inquisitive eyes of the media we are still witnessing a continuing number of farm and rural business bankruptcies, foreclosures and forced evictions all reaping a grim harvest of suicides, alcoholism, drug use, divorce, family violence, personal stress and loss of community as the very economic and social fabric of rural America is being ripped asunder.

Burdened with an unfair debt load, shrinking non-competitive markets, increasingly expensive input costs, corporations seeking to rid agriculture of its "excess human resources," an absence of political and movement leadership, public apathy and ridicule, and most of all lacking a fair market price for what they produce so abundantly, family farmers and our family farm system of agriculture today stands on the threshold of eradication.

Indeed when one stops to consider all the conditions and the nefarious means by which this cornucopia of food has finally arrived at our tables, both the meaning and the term "Thanksgiving day meal" begins to ring increasingly hollow.

bon appetit !!!

See also

http://www.worldwatch.org/pubs/paper/163/press.html

http://salon.com/politics/comics/2002/11/21/meat/index.html
 

IDENTIFYING  CONVENTIONAL, ORGANIC
AND GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FRUIT

MARIA GALLAGHER, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: As much as we may dislike them, the stickers or labels attached to fruit speed up the scanning process at checkout.

Cashiers no longer need to distinguish a Fuji apple from a Gala apple, a prickly pear from a horned melon, or a grapefruit from an ugli fruit. They simply key in the PLU code --- the price lookup number printed on the sticker --- and the market's computerized cash register identifies the fruit by its PLU. The numbers also enable retailers to track how well individual varieties are selling.

For conventionally grown fruit, the PLU code on the sticker consists of four numbers. Organically grown fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number nine. Genetically engineered fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number eight..

So, a conventionally grown banana would be 4011, an organic banana would be 94011, and a genetically engineered banana would be 84011.

The numeric system was developed by the Produce Electronic Identification Board, an affiliate of the Produce Marketing Association, a Newark, Delaware-based trade group for the produce industry. As of October 2001, the board had assigned more than 1,200 PLUs for individual produce items.

Fruit companies hear plenty of complaints from consumers about hard-to-remove stickers. Retailers gripe that stickers fall off or become marred during transport.

In response, some shippers have begun using stickers designed with tabs that make them easier to lift off, and are buying equipment that applies adhesive to the sticker but not to the tab. Companies are also experimenting with different sticker materials, such as vinyl, that hold up under a variety of temperature and moisture conditions. The adhesive now used to attach the stickers is food-grade, but the stickers themselves aren't edible. To remove stubborn ones, soak in warm water for a minute or two.
 

EDMONDS INSTITUTE:
CELEBRATE NOVEMBER 29, 2002,
THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING,
THE "BUY NOTHING" DAY !!!

BUY NOTHING DAY is the international holiday, according to the Edminds, Washington-based Edmonds Institute, designed to help people cleanse their systems of the terrible bloat and plaque of over-consumption.

In honor of this auspicious event, the Edmonds Institute, the tiniest of public interest, non-profit groups, invites the public to stay home and read a book --- preferably one gotten long ago and not yet read.

If the urge to spend overwhelms you, Beth Burrows, the Institute's director recommends, consider a donation to the Edmonds Institute, a public interest non-profit organization. "We promise to send you nothing (but a thank-you note) in reply," she adds.

"Whether or not you give on November 29, BUY NOTHING. Shun the malls. Enter no stores. Fork over neither cash nor credit cards. Avoid the market. BUY NOTHING. Forget the once biggest shopping day of the year. Go 24 hours acquisition-free. Make love, not purchases."

"Wake up the next morning," she urges, "respecting yourself, knowing that you made it through one day and you can do it again whenever you want."

The Edmonds Institute is one of thousands of (non-paying) sponsors of BUY NOTHING DAY.

In the past in downtown Seattle, Washington where BUY NOTHING activites were held at the Westlake Mall, an ad-hoc singing group calling itself "The Frugalettes" crooned satirical carols with lyrics like "Big Business has been telling us what Christmas means today" and "shopping like Santa's zombies." Their version of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" began, "Slow down,you frantic shoppers, for there's something we must say."

Some BUY NOTHING advocates passed out checklists to help shoppers buy more consciously; they included questions like "Do I need it?," "How many do I already have?" and "Can I do without it?" And others dispensed advice from a booth much like the one Lucy occupied in the comic strip "Peanuts," under a sign reading "The affluenza doctor is in."

The BUY NOTHING Day campaign in Seattle distributed a checklist to let shoppers evaluate things they were thinking of buying.

* Do I need it?
* How many do I already have?
* How much will I use it?
* How long will it last?
* Could I borrow it from a friend or family member?
* Can I do without it?
* Am I able to clean, lubricate and/or maintain it myself?
* Am I willing to?
* Will I be able to repair it?
* Have I researched it to get the best quality for the best price?
* How will I dispose of it when I'm done using it?
* Are the resources that went into it renewable or nonrenewable?
* Is it made or recycled materials, and is it recyclable?
* Is there anything that I already own that I could substitute for it?
 

RURAL ISSUES
OF NO IMMEDIATE CONCERN
TO STATE LAWMAKERS,
ACCORDING TO NATIONAL SURVEY

JAMES PRICHARD, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Despite acknowledging the decline of family farms, state lawmakers across the nation have not spent much time working to help them, according to a survey released [last] Tuesday.

Rural issues ranked far behind urban and suburban concerns among lawmakers from all states, as budget shortfalls and other pressing priorities threaten to halt new rural initiatives.

State lawmakers also said they do not see agriculture as the larger solution to rural America's economic problems, according to the "Perceptions of Rural America'" survey of 1,030 of the nation's 7,000 state legislators. .. . .

Although half of those surveyed perceive that they personally deal frequently with rural problems, only eight percent said such issues are given higher priority than those facing cities and suburbs. Thirty-six percent said all three areas receive equal priority. Half reported that they never deal with rural issues, or deal with them infrequently.

"In the competition for increasingly scarce state dollars, rural-policy advocates may find it harder than ever to get legislative attention," said Rick Foster, vice president for rural development at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, based in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Respondents said the biggest problem facing rural Americans is a lack of opportunity for young people, followed in order by the decline of the family farm, lack of access to health care, low wages and poor quality of education. But the list of rural problems does not match lawmakers' estimation of legislative work devoted to rural issues.

When asked about rural problems that have attracted the most attention, 84% said quality of education, followed by the environment, access to technology, access to health care and access to transportation. Economic issues scored much lower. Several factors were behind the discrepancy, Foster said.

"Larger economic problems tend to be intractable, forcing legislators to focus on narrower issues," he said. "At the same time, lawmakers are overwhelmed with budget shortfalls --- states simply do not have the resources for serious investment in rural development."

[Michigan] State Rep. Ron Jelinek, a farmer and livestock producer with 160 acres in Three Oaks, was among those surveyed. The Republican said he was not surprised so few respondents said rural issues receive top priority in state legislatures. "The urban areas are where the people are that need the help first," Jelinek said. "There are more of them and they have the loudest voice, and they need to be addressed."

The survey, which was conducted by Washington-based Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc. and was mailed to 5,000 of 7,000 legislators, with additional surveys mailed to legislators in states with significant rural populations. There were 1,030 surveys completed and returned, and the data were weighted to represent regional distribution of the national population.
 

GETTING THE TENSION
OUT OF EXTENSION

LAVON GRIFFIEON, CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF 1000 FRIENDS OF IOWA: With a stroke of his pen in 1862, Abe Lincoln signed legislation that created the Land Grant College System. By insuring that the sons and daughters of the working class would have the same opportunities to higher education as anyone else this system guaranteed an informed and educated citizenry that would further democracy.  Iowa was the first state to accept the provisions of the law for its frontier college in Ames. In 1887 federal legislation provided funding for research stations to give agricultural teachings a scientific basis.

Extending scientific information to farmers on the land was accomplished with corn trains, farmers' short courses and demonstration farms. In 1906 the Iowa Legislature enacted the Agricultural Extension Act, being the first state in the nation to make funds available for demonstration projects. In 1914 Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act that established Extension and by 1918 each Iowa county had a county extension worker in place. Local Farm Bureau boards were governing bodies for Extension until 1955 when the Iowa Legislature created county extension councils to govern extension and established a local tax to support the local extension effort. Today nine members are elected at large as a part of the general election.

When Norman Rockwell painted "The County Agent," with a kind man examining a young lady's Guernsey calf as Mom, Dad, kids and various farm animals watch with anticipation, he captured the Extension Service that I knew growing up. The county agent was a caring friend who seemed to know about everything. He gave crop advice, bug advice, livestock advice and the Extension home economist even checked the seal on Mom's home canner. County agents are definitely in the nostalgia category these days.

I'm still very involved with Extension programs, but the last 30 years seem to have taken a toll on personal outreach. Instead of one person covering a county, we have several specialists that cover several counties. It seems that farmers no longer seek the advice of the Extension crop specialist. He may be the most unbiased opinion around, but he's not the most accessible. So instead farmers obtain information from seed companies, fertilizer salesmen and feed salesmen. Sometimes we forget that the Extension service is still available.  Sometimes I hear farmers quip that Extension information is dated and the large multi-national companies have their own in-house research that is far more cutting edge.

It's easy to conclude that Extension has abandoned Iowans. Those of us that remember home visits have to realize that an Extension employee could drive to quite a few farmsteads before finding anyone home these days. Not very many of us want to pull away and take time out of our day to attend an educational meeting.  I've been told that more than a few field agronomists at local elevators have a close working relationship with area Extension specialists. So even though Extension isn't visiting our home it is still working on getting the information out there in the field.

However, somewhere along the line we came to expect more from Extension than simply information dissemination. We live in an information world where data and facts can be brought to us, wherever we are, with the touch of a keyboard. What we want is a relationship. We want to know there is an entity out there that has the ability to listen to our wants, needs and expectations. We want someone who knows our family, our business and enough about us to give us unbiased guidance and steer us in the right direction when we have questions. Knowing the right questions to ask is paramount to finding the correct answers.  Someone that can see the larger picture often knows the right questions.

But as Extension has become more specialized, the broader view and a more personal touch are sacrificed. As lifetime Extension employees retire or move from county offices the new specialized replacements don't have the diverse opportunities for outreach to build those relationships. Extension is often not at the table when service clubs, community organizations and civic groups meet. Soon they become a forgotten member of the community and their resources are left untapped. Involvement and partnering with local leaders ought to be key to Extension's mission.

So maybe it is time that Extension takes a long hard look at itself and asks some tough questions.  Funding cuts have taken a toll over the years.  Opportunities to cut administrative expenses can often be found internally.  Ask employees what each office could do to cut costs and improve programming.

My guess is that many field specialists could give up their office and run their business from home. Most of them conduct their work from a car with a cell phone and laptop. They could be based from their home with clerical support back at the Extension office. The time they save commuting could be devoted to working with civic groups and making Extension increasingly visible in more communities across the state.

This approach dictates that an effort be undertaken to maintain staff unity within the office. With so many specialists looking out for their own programs, Extension team members must make a more concerted effort to communicate with each other about what is going on in all programs. It is equally important that a community liaison works to be sure that customers know what services are available.

The stated mission of ISU Extension is "to build partnerships and provide research-based learning opportunities to improve quality of life in Iowa." Extension needs to take a hard look at Iowa. What does the state need to make it a more vibrant place? What is needed to preserve and sustain the small-town atmosphere that defines Iowa as a special place?  We need to work together to identify how Extension can work best for us, including employees, staff, customers and communities in the conversation.

LaVon Griffieon of Ankeny, Iowa, is a farmwife and co-founder and president of 1000 Friends of Iowa. LaVon is also a Food and Society Policy Fellow, a national fellowship program designed to educate consumers, opinion leaders and policymakers on the challenges associated with sustaining family farms and food systems that are environmentally sound, health promoting and locally owned and controlled.
 

RED PIGS IN THE SNOW

VERLYN KLINKENBORG, NEW YORK TIMES: A couple of weeks ago I found a small settlement of lice on one of the pigs. It was only about the width of a pencil eraser, but even that was too big. I got out a stiff horse brush and gave that pig and her companion a serious brushing, which is one of the great joys in a pig's life.

Then I raked out all the old hay in the pig house, closed the two pigs inside with a fresh hay bale to tear apart, and hauled the house off to a different part of the pasture. I brush them every time I feed them now, and I haven't seen any lice since. Eventually, as I'm brushing, the pigs flop over on their sides and lie there, barely breathing, eyes closed, legs practically quivering with pleasure. I try to remember to watch just how much affection I let myself feel for them.

Affection is what we're really farming up here, farming it mostly in ourselves. Snow fell late the other afternoon, and as it thickened all around me, I realized that there is nothing more definite in the world than the top line of a red pig against the snow. I can always see the self-interest in the animals, and perhaps they see it in me too. But there is always something else, as well.

Badger's joy when he bounds out of his kennel in the morning is unspeakable. Is it freedom or is it me? The horses drift their flanks in my direction when they nuzzle up to their hay. Is it just a scratch they want or do they have something to tell me? The chickens crowd up against the chicken yard fence to watch as I approach with the feed bucket, and I have to admit that this is small-town self-interest at its purest, the look of the line in front of the payroll office.

But there is always one, a Speckled Sussex hen, that will let me hold her under my arm. Why she lets me do that I have no idea. Why I like to is easy: the inscrutable yellow eye, the white-dotted feathers, the tortoise-shell beak, and, above all, the noises she makes. "No inhabitants of a yard," Gilbert White once wrote, "seem possessed of such a variety of expression and so copious a language as common poultry." I have no idea what the Sussex is saying, but it sounds like broken purring.

A clean barnyard is its own reward, and the way the pigs exult at feeding time is itself a source of exultation. But there is still no chore as pleasing as gathering eggs. Most of the serious chicken books have charts that measure cost-effectiveness in the poultry yard, the ratios of feed to eggs to dollars and cents. None of the books say anything about gratification, even though a newly laid egg looks exactly like something for nothing.
 

BOOK REVIEW:
THE FAR SIDE OF EDEN:
NEW MONEY, OLD LAND AND THE
BATTLE FOR NAPA VALLEY
By James Conaway

DAVID MAS MASUMOTO, WASHINGTON POST: As a farmer, I've always believed that producing a great wine requires a good steward of the earth working with rich, fertile farmlands. After reading The Far Side of Eden, James Conaway's detailed and revealing expose of Napa Valley and the wine industry that has flourished there, I realize that beneath the bouquet of the renowned Napa wines there's just as likely to be a whole lot of dirt mixed with sour grapes.

A decade after writing Napa: The Story of an American Eden, Conaway returned to the valley to discover that new immigrants and their money had transformed the landscape. Here, he tells the inside story of the struggle for power between Napa's business community of vintners, seeking ever-expanding growth of wineries, and environmental activists opposed to unbridled development in the Napa hills, with both sides claiming ownership of the natural bounty that blesses this valley north of San Francisco.

The newcomers to Napa were of varying breeds. Some came from Silicon Valley --- young, newly rich dot-commers who had discovered that owning "a vineyard of one's own" offered the "latest, best way of transforming money into status." Others were celebrities like Francis Ford Coppola, who purchased the historic Inglenook winery and installed a staff that placed "the emphasis . . . on sales," looking for ways to "enhance the merchandise." Wine, of course, was only one part of what could be sold, and to some observers, the regal chateau took on the feel of Disneyland. Finally, there were the speculators who migrated into this unspoiled land with dreams of even greater wealth.

These migrants were not Steinbeck's Joads, but they would soon transform the valley's treasures into the grapes of wrath. Arriving in "big, bright SUVs," they brought with them a driving ambition to grow some "rocket juice," as they referred to the "good Napa Valley cabernet that had propelled many fortunes." "Few of the new arrivals understood or readily accepted the idea of restraints," Conaway writes. "Making money had become a necessary component of social and cultural authentication."

The newcomers and many of the old-line vintners --- those who had "a vineyard of one's own"--- would soon clash with those who cherished a passion for the land. Led by a community activist named Chris Malan and supported by the Mennen Environmental Foundation, environmentalists girded for battle to protect the Napa hilltops from new vineyard development. Malan sought a moratorium on new vineyards on the valley's steep slopes, citing damage to the Napa River from erosion.

She and her supporters felt that prior efforts at regulation --- the 40-acre minimum lot size for the hills set in 1973 and the 1988 winery definition, which restricted business activities at new wineries --- simply were not enough. Ratcheting up the rhetoric, "environmentalists [began] calling grape-growing `alcohol farming,' the act of planting a vineyard `graping the land,' and wineries `alcohol factories,'" Conaway writes.

In Conaway's account, a county board of supervisors election in 2000 serves as the backdrop to the unfolding drama. Land-use policy provided the flash point for the race, in which Kathryn Winter, an incumbent who had supported many environmental issues, was running against political unknown Bill Dodd, who was largely supported by the pro-development vintners. Then Malan entered the race. Though she knew she'd never win, her goal was to keep the issue of hillside development before the public. (For many, this represented bittersweet parallels to the national presidential election that year.)

Add to the mix a Sierra Club lawsuit supported by the team of Malan and Mennen. Filed against the county for failing to enforce its own environmental regulations, the suit eventually would be settled and all agricultural development made subject to the California Environmental Quality Act, slowing vineyard expansion to a crawl. Meanwhile, Dodd was elected, brightening the future for pro-development policy.

Who won? Who lost? As Conaway writes, "the whole drama engulfing the valley [was] a kind of California Rashomon --- a tale told very differently from different points of view."

Conaway has spent time in Napa Valley, getting to know the lay of the land and listening to conversations at vintners' breakfast meetings and over glasses of wine at the annual wine auction that raises millions for Napa Valley charities, primarily health care. He uses the language of a subculture to enrich his story and create a sense of place: "Mountain fruit" are grapes of the newly developed and controversial Napa hills; "lucky spermers" are those who have inheritance to thank for their vineyards and jobs; "crush widow" is what you call a vintner's wife during the all-consuming grape harvest.

The story of The Far Side of Eden is replete with a vivid cast of characters. There's Peter Mennen, the hippie postmaster with the ever-present pet parrot on his shoulder; he inherits a fortune, establishes an environmental foundation and challenges the U.S. Postal Service.

There's Jayson Pahlmeyer, an Oakland attorney and real-estate developer who dreams of producing a wine "that drops you to your knees," but who instead channels his energies into divisive politics. There's Delia Viader, the impeccably dressed, philosophy-reading daughter of an Argentine diplomat who develops a vineyard without a permit and insists she has done nothing wrong after a rainstorm washes tons of topsoil into a nearby reservoir.

At times, though, all the names and stories become blurred --- there are too many to remember and the reader is unsure which ones it's important to keep in mind. Occasionally, Conaway repeats information, and the board of supervisors election, which takes up about 70 pages, seems to go on and on. The reader starts to feel like the residents of Napa, grown weary of the politics and tired of the bickering.

Still, the book is effective. Robert Louis Stevenson once spoke of Napa's potential for producing "bottled poetry." The Far Side of Eden captures a dark poetry of winemaking and shines a light on the ominous future for valley agriculture. What Conaway reveals in this sobering, intriguing book is that the apple in this garden of Eden has already been picked.

David Mas Masumoto, author, essayist and California farmer, grows grapes and peaches.
 

THE FINAL VERDICT ON
THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN FARM

"The final verdict on the future of the American farm lies no longer with the farmer, much less with the abstract thinker or even the politician, but rather with the American people themselves --- and they have now passed judgment. They no longer care where or how they get their food, as long as it is firm, fresh and cheap. They have no interest in preventing the urbanization of their farmland as long as parks, Little League fields and an occasional bike lane are left amid the concrete, stucco and asphalt.

"They have no need of someone who they are not, who reminds them of their past and not their future. Their romanticism for the farmer is just that, an artificial and quite transient appreciation of his rough-cut visage against the horizon, the stuff of a wine commercial, cigarette ad or impromptu rock concert. Instinctively, most farmers know this. It's the real reason they are mad."

--- Victor Davis Hanson, a former California raisin grape grower, Fields Without Dreams (Free Press, 1996).
 

"FARMING MEASURED BY MONEY?
TOO GOOD FOR THAT"

"We were farmers, it was ours to make the farm worthwhile and be satisfied. We did not compare our lot with others. We went about our farming as the days came, the program being determined by the weather and the seasons. Nor do I recall laments about the weather; it will come out right in the end, we shall follow the Lord's will --- this was the attitude. Perhaps these practices and outlooks cannot develop the most skillful and productive farming, but farming was not a competitive business. We needed little and were never in want. We had not learned to substitute machines for men. We knew nothing about `efficiency' and cost accounting was not even in the penumbra of dreams. The men of that stripe and generation would have resented that farming can be measured by money; it was too good for that"

--- Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954), Dean, Cornell College of Agriculture
 

                                            EDITOR'S NOTE

Preparing to post this 204th edition of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER it is
gratifying to know that over 1100 people throughout the world are currently receiving it

on a regular basis and judging from comments received feel it is a valuable source of
information. However, it is also quite troubling to realize that less than 4.5% of that
readership has ever seen fit to make any contributions toward its continued existence.

To that small cadre of contributors this editor can only express his profound gratitude
and appreciation for I realize that in some cases even a small donation was a sacrifice for
them.

From the outset it was never the purpose of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER to
charge a subscription fee for the original intention of this newsletter was to get it into as
many hands as possible as a vehicle for monitoring corporate agribusiness from a public
interest perspective, just as was the establishing of a web site
[http://www.ea1.com/CARP/] to provide facts, background, analysis and educational
information on corporate agribusiness.

Thanks to the generosity and creativity of the editor's oldest son David and his business
colleagues at ElectricArrow in Seattle, Washington that sight is being maintained on a
virtual pro bono basis.

Having said all this, may I repeat CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS are always and
will always be most welcomed for editors of such publications as THE AGRIBUSINESS
EXAMINER can not always live on bread and water alone. Such checks made out to
A.V. Krebs can be sent to P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203.