Legislative Whirlwind Part 4: Lettuce & Birds (video)

Romaine lettuce, Yuma, Arizona
Yuma lettuce
Here we can see miles of fields of Romaine lettuce with crews of migrant workers in the distance. In the foreground are 1000s of discarded outer Romaine lettuce leaves. Workers severely trim lettuce heads down, so they can be sold as “Romaine hearts”. The leaves will be plowed back into the ground for nutrients, but still, the waste was surprise to someone like me who heard “waste not want not” many times while growing up.

During our Yuma Legislative Tour in December, we saw miles and miles of lettuce, cotton, broccoli, seed crops, and more. We got muddy and trudged around the Romaine lettuce fields with migrant workers, and we also toured a cotton gin. (More photos are here on my Facebook page.)

After our first day of touring Yuma’s agricultural areas, we heard multiple presentations at a hosted dinner paid for by different growing/ranching industry groups and served up by 4H and JTED youth. The presentation by Paul Brierley, director of the University of Arizona Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture, stuck out in my mind. He talked about using engineering technology to help growers in the Yuma area. According to the UA website, “The [Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture], based in Yuma, is a public-private partnership (PPP) between the college and the Arizona and California desert agriculture industry, dedicated to addressing ‘on-the-ground’ industry needs through collaboration and research.” The website continues on to say: “More than two dozen industry partners from Yuma and Salinas, California, have invested in the center, together committing more than $1.1 million over the next three years.”

Brierley is an affable engineer who grew up on a large farm. According to Bierley, the primary problem that industry partners wanted the PPP center to tackle was “productivity”*. He talked about different ways to boost productivity by using technology. For example, Brierley said that the date palms needed help with pollination. He showed a photo of a migrant worker pollinating date trees using a machine that looked like a leaf blower strapped on his back. This human-assisted pollination worked, but to improve productivity, the UA and Yuma growers began experimenting with drones. They found that drones to be more efficient pollinators than people. Technology to the rescue: mechanical birds. (For some jobs, this is the future: people being replaced by machines.)

Another problem area that had been identified as a hindrance to productivity was birds. Birds– and four-legged creatures like dogs and coyotes– poo in the lettuce fields and create unsanitary conditions. Remember the e. coli outbreaks related to fresh spinach? Several growers and lobbyists expressed grave concern over any future e. coli outbreaks due to contaminated fresh produce. Now the UA folks and the growers boast that there are no footprints in the Yuma fields– not a bird track or a canine track anywhere.

Continue reading Legislative Whirlwind Part 4: Lettuce & Birds (video)

Public Banking & the Nonpartisan League: Is It Time for a Financial Revolution? (video)

Nonpartisan League

During this political season, we have heard a lot about too-big-to-fail banks, corporate greed, politicians on the take, bad trade deals, inequality and … starting a revolution to save the middle class.

Just over 100 years ago, at the dawn of the first American Progressive Era, the same conditions sparked a revolution which spread from North Dakota throughout the prairie states.

In the early 1900s, family farms were under attack. Railroad robber barons charged farmers exorbitant prices to ship their grain, and if the farmers fell behind on loan payments, Wall Street banks stepped in—not to save the farmers but to foreclose on them.

As one farm family after another lost its land, politicians, who were in the pocket of big money interests, accepted the lobbyists’ cash and stood idly by.

Discontent grew among the farmers. In 1915, failed flax farmer A.C. Townley and his friend Fred Wood sat down at Fred’s kitchen table and drew up a progressive agenda to help the people of North Dakota. This blueprint for reform included regulating railroads and controlling fees, organizing farming cooperatives, and creating a state bank, which would make investments for the common good, instead of foreclosing on family farms. This was the birth of the Nonpartisan League (NPL).

Scan from original on Epson Expression 10000XL.
Taking the Nonpartisan League on the road in rural North Dakota.

Townley attached a Nonpartisan League sign to his Model T and began traveling around North Dakota to recruit citizens to join the Nonpartisan League and fight for change. Charging $6 for dues, Townley organized farmers, intellectuals, writers and women to stand up against the banks and the railroads. Knowing that they were the underdogs in this fight against the power brokers of the Gilded Age, the members of the Nonpartisan League called themselves the “six buck suckers.” Their slogan was, “We’re too dumb to quit.” The NPL published regular newspaper and used poignant political cartoons to educate North Dakotans. They knew they were in a David and Goliath match. Farm families were losing their land, their homes, and their livelihoods. What more did they have to lose?

One weapon that the Nonpartisan League had on their side was the right to vote, which North Dakota extended to women before the rest of the country did. The League sponsored meetings, not just for the farmers but also for the farm wives. Farm wives led lives of drudgery and isolation. Ladies luncheons—with political discussion—were a welcome change from everyday farm life for these women. Regardless of party, the NPL backed candidates who pledged to work toward these common goals. Their pitch—particularly to the farm wives—was “vote for the family, not for the party.” The NPL encouraged people to vote for politicians who shared their values and who would work for the people, instead of working for corporations.

In 1916, the NPL ran a slate of candidates as Republicans. (This is when progressive reformers like Teddy Roosevelt were Republicans.) The NPL took the governorship and seats in the Legislature. After the 1918 election, the Nonpartisan League controlled the entire Legislature, one Congressional seat, and the Governorship. With organization, true grit, and the right to vote, the Nonpartisan League staged a revolution in North Dakota. As a result, the NPL-led Legislature passed multiple progressive reforms to help the people of North Dakota. Most notably, these progressives created the Bank of North Dakota, which got North Dakota out from under Wall Street’s thumb and built a robust economy that is a model today.

Is It Time to Bring Back the NPL?

Continue reading Public Banking & the Nonpartisan League: Is It Time for a Financial Revolution? (video)