Sunday, June 24, 2007

Blisters on Lobby Day

(originally published in Bread blog, June 23, 2007)

Can you get blisters on Lobby Day? Sure you can. (And I don’t mean those kinds of “blisters” you get on your ego after a disappointing visit with an uninterested or combative congressional aide). I’m talking about the blisters that torture your feet when you wear the wrong type of shoes as you scurry from one appointment to another at Longworth to Cannon office buildings on the House side and then to Hart office building on the other side of Capitol Hill and back to Longworth. (OK, we took the Metro from Union Station back to the House side).
It happened to one member of our party during Lobby Day 2007. She made the mistake of wearing the wrong type of shoes to our congressional visits and at times had to walk barefoot on the hot sidewalk. But she was a good sport, and dutifully went along on all five of the appointments with our U.S. representatives and senators from New Mexico. (Not to mention the frequent re-enactment of the visit to Rep. Udall's office for a camera crew working on a video about Bread for the World).
And fortunately, there was relief. Another member of our party came prepared with a handful of band-aids. And all were used. But like so much of the legislation our Congress approves, a band-aid is just a “band-aid.”
The best solution to our dilemma came when another member of our party discovered that she wore the same size of shoes (comfortable shoes) as the one who had the uncomfortable shoes. So she offered to trade for a little while. And isn’t this the spirit that we want Congress to adopt when considering anti-hunger and anti-poverty legislation?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Seeds of Hope, Seeds of Change (and environmental stewardship)

In 1998, our Bread for the World offering of letters had the word "seeds" as part of the name of the campaign. In that case it was "Seeds of Hope," an effort to redirect U.S. development assistance for sub-Saharan Africa toward small-scale farmers and struggling U.S. rural communities.

Does that theme sound familiar? Our offering of letters this year, "Seeds of Change. Help Farmers. End Hunger," also advocates for small farmers, both in our country and in poor countries. Our efforts this year seek to cap subsidies on major commodities (which in the end could help farm economies in poor countries) and directs funds for rural development, conservation and so-called specialty crops (fruits, nuts, lettuce, and all the nutritious stuff).

So what was the result of "Seeds of Hope" in 1998? The initiative was approved in both houses of Congress and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton.

In Albuquerque, we try and commemorate the offering of letters in other ways. Often our celebration has taken the form of an ecumenical worship service.

Our service in 1998, which we named "Seeds of Hope" after the offering of letters, was very memorable. We partnered with Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, Iglesia Congregacional Unida and the Sisters of Charity to put together a fabulous multicultural worship and celebration.

In addition to celebrating our commitment to small-scale farmers in Africa, the theme of the service was environmental stewardship and simplicity. Our guest speaker was Paula Gonzalez, a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati. Paula spoke about many of her projects involving energy conservation, ecospirituality and healing the Earth. At that time, we did not know that we had the future recipient of the
Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the environmental organization Green Energy Ohio in 2005.

Paula is very deserving of all recognition and accolades. Among the projects she developed is La Casa del Sol, a 1,500 foot super-insulated passive solar house with recycled materials and volunteer help. (The cost was $10 per square feet)!

Another major project was EarthConnection, a center for learning and reflection about "living lightly" on Earth. The center features a solar-heated model of energy efficiency.

Paula Gonzalez, SC, to speak at Environmental and Simplicity Conference
Even though she lives in Cincinnati, we are proud to claim Paula as a native New Mexican. And we are very fortunate to have her in our midst again this summer. She will be one of two guest speakers at the Center for Action and Contemplation's summer conference, The Great Chain of Being. Click here for information about the conference)

The title of the conference is connected to ecospirituality.
Ecology is a modern word for what medieval Franciscan scholars called “The Great Chain of Being,” describing the interconnectedness of all: God, angels, humans, animals, plants, water, and the Earth itself. They predicted that if we stopped seeing God in any one link of the chain, the whole chain would fall apart. This conference will offer spiritual, global, and practical direction to help each of us discern our place, and how we can work together to re-link the chain.

Appropriately, Bread for the World and The ONE Campaign will have a small role (through displays) in promoting not only the "Seeds of Change. Help Farmers. End Hunger" campaign, but also the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, an effort to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015. The Seventh Millennium Development Goal suggests that all efforts against global poverty should include environmental sustainability, and that this should be achieved in partnership between developing and developed countries.

We urge you to consider attending the conference, which will also feature host Father Richard Rohr, OFM, and Tiki Küstenmacher, German author of the best-selling book "How To Simplify Your Life."

Click here for registration information.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Offering of Letters from a New Mexico Farmer's Point of View; Lobby Day Report

When medium and small family farms growing commodity crops receive payments, we look to see which tractor can be repaired or what seed or fertilizer bill will be paid. A large corporate farm is looking to see which medium-sized farm is going broke so they can buy or rent more land to increase the subsidy payment they receive, or buy new larger equipment to farm more acres.
Gene Watson, a farmer in southern New Mexico

When LaVerne Kaufman and members of her committee at Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, N.M., asked local farmer Gene Watson to address the congregation the week before the Offering of Letters, he readily agreed. After all, Gene is a member of the congregation, and the topic of the Offering of Letters, the 2007 Farm Bill, is dear to his heart. Gene is a third generation New Mexico farmer, who with his brother grows crops on 425 acres of irrigated land.

During his presentation to members of the congregation, Gene spoke about how our system of farm subsidies--which go primarily to corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and cotton-- is skewed toward the larger farmers. In many cases, these huge farms are owned by corporations, which have easy access to government payments. Often these huge corporate farmers exploit loopholes in the farm law to get funds beyond the legal limits. "If you are a corporation or conglomerate, the $360,000 max subsidy does not apply to you because you can hire a lawyer who finds a loophole to allow you to receive $360,000 for each commodity crop you grow," says Gene. "In other words, a corporation with sufficient land, some acquired from nearby farmers who went bankrput, could conceivably get as much as $1.8 million for growing the five crops."

Bread for the World's Offering of Letters, seeks to put a cap on these payments and close some of the loopholes. Some of the money would redirect some of the money to other crops, which in many cases are grown by small- and medium-sized farmers like Gene and his brother. "Eight years ago my brother and I decided to look for specialty crops to expand into. We were tired of growing lettuce, onions, cabbage and selling them for the harvesting cost, trucking cost and broker fees," said Gene. "In other words we received nothing for growing the crops, or very little in return. We had to hope for bad weather in other farming areas to make a profit, which isn't a very good Christian attitude."


A handful of Bread members from New Mexico took Gene's fight to Capitol Hill on June 12. We were particularly impressed by the willingness of several congressional aides to really listen to the concerns of farmers like Gene. Our visits turned ihto cordial conversations about the farm bill and US food and agriculture policies. In particular, I would like to single out Tim Charters, the legislative director in Rep. Steve Pearce's office, who happens to be Gene's congressional representative. We were also pleased with our visits with Dan Alpert at Sen. Jeff Bingaman's office, Zane Vaughn at Sen. Pete Domenici's office, and Jeannette Lyman at Rep. Tom Udall's office. (Unfortunately, we did not have a positive experience at Rep. Heather Wilson's office).

Will our visits make a difference? You bet they will. We ensured that the concerns of Bread for the World and other anti-hunger and anti-poverty organizations are part of the conversation as Congress debates the 2007 Farm Bill over the next several weeks. Not only did we reinforce the message about subsidies, but we also urged Congress to strengthen the food stamp program, support rural development, help small- and medium-sized US farmers, and promote conservation. By limiting subsidies, our country can also help poor people in developing countries. By not sending our surplus commodities (resulting from the overproduction due to subsidies), we'll ensure that agriculture markets in poor countries have the opportunity to thrive.

(Photos: The top image is a display of produce in front of the altar at the Interfaith Convocation, which was part of the National Gathering. The lower image shows four of our five members who went on visits to Congress on Lobby Day. They are (left to right) Ruth Hoffman, Vicky Scheidler, Emily Thorn and Ann Sims).

A Different Setting for Writing Letters

Bread members in New Mexico had managed to get almost 1,500 letters written to Congress about the farm bill through mid-June, and we expect a few dozen more letters by this fall.

While the majority of these letters came via the traditional method (setting up tables after a service or mass), some letters were written in other kinds of settings.

Sharon Barefoot
(pictured above), a volunteer at Trinity Catholic Worker House in Albuquerque, used one of the Thursday evening gatherings to encourage letters.

Mary Singleton
had the women's group from Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church in Truchas, N.M., write letters at its Wednesday gathering, hosted by Ki Holste and Kai Harper in Pe
ñasco, N.M. on May 15. (Pictured above are Sharon Adee, Sandra Holzman and Clorinda Romero)

Estella Gahala-Lange at First United Methodist Church and Terese Rand Bridges at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church organized letter writing as part of an education forum on the farm bill. Laurel Wyckoff of the New Mexico Association of Food Banks spoke at the St. Michael and All Angels forum. Marilyn Novak and Susan Tomita at St. Bernadette Catholic Community also had their letter-writing event through their Peace and Justice Committee.

Emily Thorn, a teacher at The Menaul School in Albuquerque had students and teachers sign a banner (with the anti-hunger message of the farm bill) to present to Rep. Heather Wilson as part of Lobby Day in Washington on June 12. The banner was signed by 22 students and teachers. (See above post for short account of Lobby Day).