U.S. Corn Belt: Labor and Food Justice in the Agriculture Industry

Alternative Break Food Justice 2013

The Trip: 

While agriculture has been a tenant of human civilization for over 10,000 years only in the past 50 years has the agriculture industry been dependent on synthetic chemical fertilizers and increased use of farm machinery. This change towards an intensive style of commodity agriculture has altered the way we farm and the way we eat. This trip will focus on the wide reaching effects of industrial agriculture in the U.S. Corn Belt, particularly impacts on farmers, the environment, and food access. The trip will explore the complex process of our food system – from the seed to our plate and the injustices that occur along the way. Participants will learn the true cost of their food, witnessing external costs such as environmental degradation, predatory labor systems, and a broken food system.

Participants will engage with stakeholders in a variety of spheres including large-scale and sustainable farmers, government, industry and civil society groups in order to get a balanced perspective on the issues and be introduced to a few grassroots movements responding to these issues. Furthermore, participants will learn how they as consumers can help to affect change in creating a more equitable, healthy food system.
Trip Social Justice Issues:
The trip aims to identify and study the social, political, and economic factors that shape our agricultural system and will examine a variety of issue areas related to intensive industrial farming. These include:
- Unfair labor conditions that result due to large agribusiness models: The average American farmer earns only twenty cents of every dollar for the produces s/he sells due to high marketing, packaging and shipping costs. There is also the widespread use of chemical pesticides, which studies have shown can have a negative effect on health.

- Environmental degradation: We will see firsthand the adverse environmental effects from large-scale agriculture from industrial irrigation systems to the widespread use of genetically modified seeds.

- Unequal access to healthy food: We will look at the structural inequities of our food system, which subsidized corn for the use of high fructose corn syrup, which is a main ingredient in many foods with limited nutritional value. Due to the heavy subsidies these foods are consistently priced lower than healthier alternatives creating a systemic cycle of poverty and malnutrition.

Additionally the trip will focus on alternative models of agriculture and grassroots movements that have formed in response to these issues.

About the student leaders:

Paige Watson is senior studying international studies. She was a participant in the 2010-2011 Alternative Break to Guatemala and then co-led the trip in 2011-2012.

Marney Coleman is a senior studying environmental studies and international studies. She participated in the 2010-2011 Alternative Break to Guatemala and co-led a trip to West Virginia and Kentucky in the summer of 2011 focused on Mountain Top Removal Mining.
Sample Itinerary (subject to change):

Day 1 (Friday, March 9):
- Fly from D.C. to Des Moines, IA
- Stay at hotel
- Brief group meeting/expectations

Day 2 (Saturday, March 10):
- Reflection & breakfast
-Drive to Ames, IA (45 min)
- Meeting with Iowa State University, School of Agriculture
- meeting with Environmental Working Group on Farm Bill & subsidies
- Lunch
- meeting with Iowa Farmers Union on labor issues
- Dinner
- Debrief and reflection

Day 3 (Sunday, March 11):
- Reflection and breakfast
- Drive to Kansas City, KS (~4 hours)
- Meeting with Cultivate Kansas City about urban agriculture
- Service with Cultivate Kansas City
- Lunch
- Meeting with Food Not Lawns Kansas city about urban food movements, permascape
- Dinner & free time in Kansas City
- Debrief and reflection

Day 4 (Monday, March 12):
- Reflection and breakfast
- Drive to Columbia, MO (~1 hour, 45 minutes)
- Meeting with Missouri Seed Improvement Association on seed quality, genetic diversity, environmental issues
- Drive to Chesterfield, MO (~1 hour, 45 minutes)
- Meeting with Corn Farmers Coalition on role of lobbying organizations, pro-industry perspective
- Lunch
- Drive to St. Louis, MO
- Meeting with Monsanto on genetically modified seeds/organisms
- dinner in St. Louis
- Drive back to Kansas City (~4 hours)
- Debrief and reflection

Day 5 (Tuesday, March 13):
- Reflection and breakfast
- Drive to Holt, MO (~45 minutes)
- meeting with industrial-scale soybean farmer
- drive back to Kansas City (~45 minutes)
- Lunch
- Meeting/tour with Green Dirt Farm on organic dairy farming
- Dinner
- Debrief and reflection / prepare for meeting with KS Department of Agriculture

Day 6 (Wednesday, March 14):
- Reflection and breakfast
- Meeting with Harvesters Community Food Network on food access, hunger issues
- Drive to Topeka, KS (~30 min)
- Lunch
- Meeting with Kansas Department of Agriculture on state and federal government role
- Dinner
- Debrief and reflection

Day 7 (Thursday, March 15):
- Reflection and breakfast
- Drive to Manhattan, KS (~1 hour)
- Meeting/tour with Kansas State University School of Agriculture
- Lunch
- Meeting with Farm Service Agency, Kansas Office on government support for farmers
- drive back to Kansas City (~30 minutes)
- Dinner
- Debrief and reflection

Day 8 (Friday, March 16):
- Breakfast and reflection
- Drive to Salina, KS (~1 hour)
- Tour / meeting with the Land Institute on sustainable agriculture research, developments
- Lunch
- Meeting with Wes Jackson of the Land Institute on his research
- Activity in Salina
- Drive back to Kansas City (~1 hour)
- Dinner
- Debrief and reflection

Day 9 (Saturday, March 17):
- Breakfast and reflection
- Closing ceremony
- Group meeting to plan for post-trip activism
- lunch with a local farmer
- leave for airport

Location: Iowa, Kansas & Missouri
Dates of Trip: March 9- 17, 2013
Student Leaders: Paige Watson and Marney Coleman
Faculty Advisor: Tevis Graddy, SIS
Cost: $850
Cost includes airfare, food, accommodation, transportation, and all planned activities.