When farmworkers get organized they join the United Farm Workers and stand up to Big Agriculture. Farmers, at least the new breed of young farmers, join the Farmers Guild and whoop and holler at get-togethers that rock old Grange Halls.
They also put their heads together, trade tools (sometimes) and try to figure out how not to be undone by the food monster. Evan Wiig, the brains behind the Farmers Guild—and the organization's executive director—isn't a farmer himself, though he's gotten down and dirty in fields. You might call him "the organizer." In the 1930s, he would have stood outside factory gates and urged workers to join the union or go on strike. In the 1960s, he might have told kids not to fight in Vietnam. The idealism of the past is alive and well in Wiig's vision of an organization that makes the small independent farmer into a force to be reckoned with.
"The Farmers Guild started in Valley Ford," he says. "We figured out that if we bought in bulk we'd pay less than if we bought as separate individuals and that we'd save money."
For much of the year, he travels by car from county to county; from Sonoma, where he lives, to Mendocino, Santa Cruz and beyond, schmoozing with guys and girls on tractors and setting up guild chapters. Wiig's goal is to bring consumers and farmers together, facilitate direct marketing, and encourage sustainable farming practices. He wouldn't mind it if GMOs were banned.
"I want to democratize the conversation and encourage dialogue between shoppers and producers," he says. "We haven't succeeded everywhere. In Fresno, we didn't get off the ground, but the Farmers Guild is growing in part because we emphasize what we can do, not what's wrong with the world."
For more info, visit www.farmersguild.org.
Jonah Raskin, a retired Sonoma State University professor, is the author of 'A Terrible Beauty: The Wilderness in American Literature.'
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