From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans Participate in 'Rally for Rural America'

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date 06 Apr 2000 14:59:04


April 6, 2000


     WASHINGTON, D.C. (ELCA)   Members of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America (ELCA) joined with a broad group representing some 40
farm, labor, rural development and religious organizations here March
20-21 for "Rally for Rural America."  The rally was designed to capture
the attention of the U.S. Congress, the Clinton Administration and the
public on the conditions of farmers and ranchers across the United
States.  The ELCA was a rally sponsor.
     Those who traveled to Washington, D.C., participated in meetings
with legislators, interfaith prayer, town hall discussions and the
rally, among other activities.
     Helen Waller, a third-generation farmer from Circle, Mont., an
ELCA member and a member of the National Family Farm Coalition and
Northern Plains Resource Council, was a participant.
     "We are at a point in time when the issue is whether or not
Congress and the Administration believe that the family farm system of
agriculture is worth saving," she said.      Waller said she has been
working with family-farm issues since her five grown children were
young.  She and her husband decided that although time was limited,
they needed to educate themselves about the trends impacting their
wheat and cattle operations.
      Participants expressed a sense of urgency about changing public
policies toward farmers and ranchers.  "It's not enough to ensure that
we survive for another season.  We're tired of this man-made crisis,"
said Waller.
     An estimated 1,500 people attended a "Farmers' Share Luncheon,"
an activity which demonstrated the frustration faced by people who are
farmers and ranchers.  For 39 cents each, the attendees consumed a meal
of sliced beef on a bun, baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, milk and
a cookie.  Such a meal that would typically cost $7 or more at retail
     The bargain price illustrated what farmers and ranchers generally
receive -- a small portion of each dollar spent on food at the retail
level because of depressed commodity prices, unprecedented market
concentration within the processing industry and what they say is poor
public policy.  For example, consumer food prices have gone up 235
percent since 1975 to 1979, while farm prices have declined or remained
nearly steady in the same interval, according to statistics compiled by
the American Corn Growers Association.
     "I get so tired of hearing about a booming economy.  We're
desperately hurting," said Anne Kanten, a Minnesota farmer and member
of the ELCA who attended the rally with her son and her grandson.
     Rally speakers cited the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act as a key reason
why rural communities are in crisis.  The legislation took away the
federal "safety net" many family farmers and ranchers relied upon for
support as commodity prices fluctuate, the speakers said.  The loss of
family farms and ranches has caused significant changes in many rural
communities.   Many large agri-business operations do not bear the same
adverse impact.
      "We're losing our young people," Waller said.  "They need to
move to meet the needs of their families.  And our main streets are
shutting down."
     At a news conference, Sandra LaBlanc, ELCA director for rural
ministry, resources and networking, Des Moines, Iowa, summarized the
impact of the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act.
      "We find that the Golden Rule -- to love your neighbor as
yourself -- no longer applies," she said.   "Rather, it's the policy of
'who has the gold, rules.'"
     "Agriculture is basic to the survival and security of people
throughout the world," according to "Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood
for All," a social statement on economic life adopted by the 1999 ELCA
Churchwide Assembly. "At the same time, society as a whole must address
the high levels of risk farmers face and the low prices they receive,"
it continued. The statement calls for:
     + Changes to ensure that farmers will receive a greater proportion
of the retail dollar;
     + Adequate prices for agricultural products so that farmers can be
compensated fairly for their labor and production costs; and
     + Sustainable agricultural practices that protect and restore the
regenerative capacities of the land, rather than practices that deplete
the land.
      "We need to speak the truth about agriculture," said Brother
David Andrews, CSC, representing the National Catholic Rural Life
Conference. "It is a way of life; it is stewardship -- the respectful
care of the land, plants and animals in accord with God's plan -- best
carried out by families, not by transnational corporations."  The
organization originated a Green Ribbon Campaign, in which supporters
wear green lapel ribbons, to demonstrate their commitment to farmers
and family farms.  Many green ribbons were worn at the rally.
     The Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, bishop of the ELCA South Dakota
Synod, participated in the rally.  She said the ribbon is a symbol of
the land, of growth and of hope for family farmers.  The synod sent
three busloads of people to the Washington rally.
     People expressed anger, frustration and tears during the course
of the event.   Kanten, who has been to Washington before to advocate
for the needs of farmers, said something was different this time.
     "It will be difficult to change direction," she said. "We're
putting on our 'last hurrah' here.  "But we've never stood with our
church before.  It is exciting that my church is here."

[*Karen S. Krueger is communication  coordinator for the ELCA
Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod]

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home