North Carolina UCC Member Advocates for Small Farmers
November 10, 2011
Marie Rietmann UCC Sustainable
Agriculture and Food Security Liaison
eat a lot of chicken and one might expect that farmers who raise chickens are
making a good living. But actually most of them aren’t. The only set of
consistent records on the economics of contract poultry production reports that
in the last 13 years, the average annual return for a farmer with five poultry
houses is a loss of $9,668. How is it possible that the people who
produce our food could be at risk of going hungry?
After reading an article by Becky in a poultry association newsletter, poultry grower Craig Watts of Fairmont, North Carolina connected with RAFI and has become a leader in the campaign for contract farmers’ rights. Here the Watts twins stand in front of their family’s poultry houses. “There's no way I'd want my kids to inherit this business the way it is now,” Craig says. “That's why we're fighting for changes in this industry.”
Contract poultry growers own their
land and their chicken houses, while the company they produce for owns the
chickens, feed, and processing plants. Contract poultry growers currently have no
control over the forces that affect their lives. There is no assurance of
accountability, transparency, or equity for the tens of thousands of producers
farming under contract.
contract farmers are not defenseless against the large companies for which they
produce. They have RAFI-USA, the Rural Advancement Foundation International to
help them; RAFI traces its heritage to the National Sharecroppers' Fund, which
was founded in the 1930's and led by Dr. Frank Porter Graham, Eleanor
Roosevelt, and other distinguished Americans. And they have UCC member Becky Ceartas, RAFI’s
Program Director for Contract Agriculture Reform who works to bring fairness to
the agricultural contracting system for contract poultry growers who struggle
to support their families and maintain their farms.
a member of the United Church of Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Rev. Wallace Ryan Kuriowa, then of Justice and Witness Ministries, spoke at her church some years ago and
encouraged her to apply for a Neighbors in Need grant to help
fund RAFI’s work
toward fairness and justice in contract agriculture. She did, and over time she has collaborated closely with UCC members
and national staff, working to shed light on the challenges faced by people who
put food on our tables.
continues to work for systemic justice on behalf of small and mid-sized farmers throughout
the country. She recently helped with a grassroots effort JWM led to mobilize
UCC activists to advocate
for a proposed USDA rule ensuring that poultry and other contract farmers
are treated fairly and paid justly. At Becky’s urging, JWM also signed a letter to Congress this year along with 189 other national and regional groups in
support of better protections for contract poultry and livestock growers.
We give thanks for her ministry. The
world needs more Becky Ceartases.