In a recent conversation, poultry grower Craig Watts spoke to us candidly (as he always does) about why he answered RAFI’s call years ago to help lead the way for farmers like himself.
“I preach to my kids about justice,” he said. “If I don’t do it, I can’t preach it.”
From the moment we reached out to Craig, he has helped us amplify decades of working for fairness in contract agriculture. He is a prime example of a farmer who thinks strategically and advocates personally for change. His life reflects first-hand the hopes and dreams of growers who have both everything to win and everything to lose in this struggle.
Craig has been pushing for full protections in the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration while holding poultry companies accountable. The current regulatory structure allows contracts to be essentially terminated at will by the companies, allowing them to increase and decrease production capacity without cost or ramifications. Frequently, the companies take all that the farmer owns as collateral. Not just the farm, but the home, the possessions and almost everything that the person owns.
“I don’t think about the money,” Craig said. “I think about these people losing everything they’ve got. There is risk in everything, but they did not fail on their own. They failed because of other people making decisions for them.”
In August 2011, the Raleigh News & Observer published an editorial written by Craig. In it, he responded to the then-recent closing of a Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Siler City, NC.
“There is one major factor in these plant closings that is rarely discussed in the media,” he wrote, “and that is how undisciplined the poultry industry is when it comes to supply management.”
Throughout the years, Craig’s voice has been a witness to farmers seeking help. He has become our unofficial phone bank, taking calls from farmers in crisis. Craig documents the calls in confidence, making specific details and cases currently off the record. He has worked with farmers in desperation. The stories he hears share a similar thread in empty promises and forceful demands by poultry companies, leaving farmers exasperated, at the brink of losing all hope, and left with nothing but an enormous debt.
In 2012, Craig wrote:
“Poultry is unique in many aspects even to other agricultural contracts. RAFI is the only organization I have ever witnessed that knows how onerous conditions are for us, the small farmer. And each issue they have attacked on our behalf. Whether it be in the press, local and state governments or Washington, DC, it is comforting to know that you have the support of such an organization.”
The plight of the farmer is a direct human cost of policies not properly executed and protections being rescinded. But in the midst of this dire crisis, there are people like Craig. His strong voice empowers his peers to speak up for what is right, and to get what they deserve. And that gives us all hope. For that, we can’t thank him enough.
To nominate your favorite farmer or food hero for RAFI’s 30 Days of Thanks, click here.Follow along every day at rafiusa.org/30daysofthanks
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Reverend Eddie McNair, of New Life Agribusiness Center, points out future pastureland for chicken, hogs, and sheep.It’s not too common that someone moves back to northeastern North Carolina to farm. And it’s even more unusual when instead of growing the region’s big crops of cotton, peanuts, soybeans, wheat, and tobacco, he or she starts to grow produce with their congregation for a retail market.
Yesterday, the USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program released a new report and an interactive website that illustrate how USDA programs help build local and regional food systems. Among the findings in the report: Every $1million in farm income from local and regional markets creates an average of 13 farm operator jobs.
This morning, NPR responded with their take: Local food is about food, and the USDA’s attempt to explain it in terms of jobs is an attempt to defend local food programs in a contentious political climate. The jobs argument, the article implies, is a tenuous one. “Hey, Locavores,” the title asks, “are you creating jobs?”
Well, with respect, our answer is a resounding “yes.”