Organic Checkoff — NO, New U.S. operating system — YES

Organic Checkoff — NO,  New U.S. operating system — YES
Posted April 18, 2017

This blogpost contains two parts:
A. My comments on the USDA Organic Checkoff proposal
B. Additional resources for learning about the U.S. economy’s operating system — money, banking, language, and democratic process.

A. Public comment regarding the Organic Checkoff proposal
(submitted on April 19, 2017 to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service at

1. I oppose the Organic Checkoff, both in concept and content, on the grounds that the operating system of the entire U.S. economy (money + banking policies) encourages extraction, corner-cutting, and over-use of our natural resources. This makes the real growth of organic farming and distribution untenable — no matter how much how much $$ gets funneled into “organic” marketing and research.

2. Any U.S. food-and-farm policy that wants to grow the U.S. organic sector in a way that is fair to all U.S. farmers, eaters, and non-humans (our natural resources) must first address the disfunctional operating system.

3. I would be happy to work with a coalition of U.S. organic farmers and organic eaters who want to address the U.S. operating system through Congressional legislation, such as the NEED Act (HR2990, introduced in 2011 by Cong. Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers).

For background and more information, please read on.
“U.S. food system needs a new operating system”
In 2007, when I was working on the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Acts, an Idaho agricultural banker-turned-publisher gave us our first serious media attention. Ben Gisin published a 2-page article (with pictures) in his magazine Touch The Soil.

A year later, we were in the throes of the 2-year Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force. We were writing a report (Local Food, Farms, and Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy) and drafting a second bill to create a State of Illinois food-and-farm council. One of our task force members, Dean Craine (AgriEnergy Resources in Princeton, IL) invited Ben to speak at an AgriEnergy conference. Ben and his wife, Susan Gisin (co-editor and publisher), came to Illinois and I was able to meet them in person.

In subsequent phone conversations, Ben kept talking about the U.S. needing a new “operating system”. I knew he meant something about money and banking. But he didn’t have a specific plan and I didn’t know enough to ask the right questions.

By 2010, I was getting a clear understanding that no matter what U.S. food-and-farm advocates did to address food-and-farm disparities and injustices, the numbers — dollars-and-cents — were never going to add up for most of us. That included farmers, eaters, food businesses of all kinds, and food-and-farm advocates such as myself. I was starting to see what Ben was seeing: The operating system itself was (and is) disfunctional.

Since then, I’ve been gathering details. According to many observers — economists and non-economists, Americans and non-Americans — the operating system of the U.S. economy is currently:
a. Not under public control (e.g., the Federal Reserve Bank is not owned by the U.S. government)
b. Rigged and manipulated by private interests for private profit (e.g., tax laws, campaign contributions, fractional reserve loans)
c. Being rigged and manipulated with increasing technological sophistication and at an ever-increasing pace — including frequent changes to the rules of the game (public policy) at multiple levels (federal, state, local)
d. Rigged, manipulated, and obfuscated by jargon, fake news, legalese, and other linguistic gobbledygook
e. Out of sync with and in many ways contradictory to nature’s operating system

Hence, the need for a NEED Act.

Public Money under Public Control for Public Purposes
The NEED Act – National Emergency Employment Defense
Quotes from Climate Change, Land Use, and Monetary Policy by Geraldine Perry

a. “This Bill…contains all the monetary provisions of the 2009 draft of the American Monetary Act which itself represented a culmination of efforts and contributions from Charles Walters and numerous other seasoned monetary scholars, researchers and reformers, under the auspices of the American Monetary Institute.” p. 202

b. The American Monetary Act “proposes that infrastructure expenditures, including education and health and farming parity be used as mechanisms to get newly created money spent into circulation to promote the general welfare.’” p. 207

c. According to Stephen Zarlenga, director of the American Monetary Institute, “The three essential elements of proper monetary reform” are:

‘First, incorporate the Federal Reserve System into the U.S. Treasury where all new money would be created by government as money, not interest-bearing debt; and be spent into circulation to promote the general welfare. The monetary system would be monitored to be neither inflationary nor deflationary….

‘Second, halt the bank’s privilege to create money by ending the fractional reserve system in a gentle and elegant way….

‘Third, spend new money into circulation…starting with the $2.2 trillion that the Civil Engineers estimate is needed for infrastructure repair; creating good jobs across our nation, re-invigorating local economies and re-funding local government at all levels.’” pp. 207-8
This is the organic bailout for the Earth — and the rest of us.

Debbie Hillman

B. Resources: U.S. economy’s operating system
Money, banking, language, & democratic process

1. NEED Act (National Emergency Employment Defense) HR2990
Major monetary reform for the U.S., sponsored by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich (2011-12).
No current lead sponsor.

a. Bill homepage
Very readable summary.

b. Talking points (1 page)
Probably needs to include specifics about:
— farms and farmers as essential infrastructure
— mothers as essential infrastructure
— student debt relief

2. American Monetary Institute (New York)
More information on the NEED Act and other monetary policy.
Next annual conference in Chicago (Sept. 2017).

3. Climate Change, Land Use, and Monetary Policy (2013)
Geraldine Perry (Illinois)
This is the only book that I know of that connects monetary policy directly to climate change (weather and carbon sequestration) and historical land use — and to healthy (nutrient-dense) food.

4. Michael Hudson – Economics, Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City, Univ. of Peking
Dr. Hudson has been working overtime in the last few years trying to explain what many Americans know — that our economic and financial systems are rigged. His latest book (J is for Junk Economics) just came out in February and he is working even harder doing interviews, etc. Much of his recent work (including this book) concentrates on words, definitions, language, etc. Hint: The meaning and history of the term “free market” has been totally co-opted and distorted.

a. J is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (2017)
Two recent interviews with Michael Hudson about this book:
— Interview with Laura Flanders
— Democracy at Work (audio podcast) April 2, 2017

b. Michael Hudson website 
Lots of other interviews, articles, speeches, etc.

c. The Lost Tradition (debt cancellation in ancient Near East — Jubilee, clean slate)
Very readable and interesting paper. Reminds people that the content of the Rosetta Stone includes a “clean slate” decree.

5. Debt or Democracy: Public Money for Sustainability and Social Justice (2016)
Mary Mellor (sociology professor emeritus, Northumbria University)
In my opinion, this is the best overall explication of the issues. So far as I know Prof. Mellor is the only scholar who differentiates between public money and private money — a very effective and accurate differentiation for understanding our collective confusion.

6. NORM Economics – National Organization for Raw Materials
It is the mission of the National Organization for Raw Materials to maintain and add to the body of knowledge of raw material economics, then use all possible informational means to educate an ever-growing number of U.S. citizens and leaders. It is NORM’s belief that a citizenry, informed about raw material economics, can return the U.S. economy to widespread and stable prosperity.

NORM is a 40-year old organization whose membership includes many farmers. There are lots of short, readable essays on specific topics (Farm Bill, parity, NAIS, Monsanto, etc.) that help explain the disfunctions of our money and banking systems.

7. Public banking & local currencies
Please note that at the moment I disagree with Stephen Zarlenga and other experts at the American Monetary Institute about “banking not being a function of government”. I think that state banks can provide an extra level of response to on-the-ground needs. I think public banking is a type of local currency — without all the confusion of different kinds of currencies.

a. Public Banking Institute
Actively supporting groups all over the country trying to create public banks at the state, county, and municipal levels.

b. Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies (2011)
Gwendolyn Hallsmith, co-author Bernard Lietaer
Gwen is an urban planner, long-time Vermont resident.

8. The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise (2015)
Martin Prechtel (New Mexico)
Chapter 9: Money Eats the World
Mythology and spirituality of money as “blood money”, money as loss, money as unmetabolized grief.  Incredibly beautiful prose.

9. Touch the Soil blog
Ben and Susan Gisin (Idaho)
Food-and-farm news from all over the world, with an eye for high-leverage events, actions, and policies.

Beyond Capitalism, Before Billionaires: A New-Old System


Posted February 13, 2017

Adapted from a post published on COMFOOD listserv (Tufts University), Feb. 3, 2017.
Written in response to a January 2017 thought piece by Ahna Kruzic and Eric Holt-Giminez (Food First), Beyond Trump: How Will a Billionaire’s Privatization of the Presidency Affect our Food?
(posted on COMFOOD by Hugh Joseph on Feb. 2, 2017)


In the last paragraphs of their analysis of the 2016 presidential election and what it means for our food-and-farm system, Ahna Kruzic and Eric Holt-Giminez call for a new system:

“This system isn’t broken – it’s working exactly how it was meant to: it consolidates wealth and power and passes off the economic and environmental costs to society. Under a Trump administration, we have a profound opportunity to reflect, and to fight not just for farmers markets, food security, racial equity, or farm justice—but together, for transformation, for an entirely different system built to serve workers, farmers, women, people of Color, and more.

“We’ll have to fight the same battles we always have but under new circumstances. The old ways of doing things, including petitions, sign-on letters, farm-to-school efforts, community gardens and other alternatives don’t work in isolation—not when the corporate elite is not just represented in our political system, but is becoming our political and economic system.

“Forty-five percent of eligible voters chose not to participate in an electoral system they felt did not address their realities. What time is it when both the political class and the ruling class have lost their social legitimacy? Time to unite efforts to build a new system.”
I agree with the authors that the 45th U.S. president is not the problem and that we need to get past personalities and stop searching for a messiah.

New System? If anyone wants to read about a model for the new system, I would recommend diving into the details of the Iroquois Constitution and the Iroquois League. I think the answers have been right under our noses, in plain sight — an old system that is suddenly new again.***

1. Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas
by Barbara Alice Mann
2000, Peter Lang Publishing

“Gantowisas” is variously defined in the book as:
— clan mothers
— government women
— indispensable women

This is the most detailed book that I have been able to find. The chapter titles will give you an idea of the structure of the book and of the League itself. To me, it reads like a poem:
1. No-Face Husk Doll: Women Wiped Clean from the Record
2. The Direction of the Sky: Gendered for Balance
3. “They are the Soul of the Councils”: Women’s Role in Political Life
4. “Good Rule: They Assist One Another”: Women’s Control of Economics
5. “No Whips, No Punishments, No Threats”: Women’s Control of Social Life
6. “Come, Let me Untangle your Hair”: Women as Faithkeepers
Epilogue: Now our Minds are One

Dr. Mann is a humanities scholar at University of Toledo. She is also a member of the Seneca nation, Bear Clan, which is part of the Iroquois League. The book is both scholarly and fun. Dr. Mann does not hold back, in truth-telling or in humor.

2. Basic Call to Consciousness
Akwesasne Notes, ed.
2005, Native Voices

The bulk of this small book are position papers presented by the Haudenosaunee — the Six Nations Iroquois — to the Non-Governmental Organizations of the United Nations in Geneva (Switzerland) in 1977. Includes a new introduction by the late John Mohawk and an afterword by Jose Barreiro (Indigenous into the 21st Century).  Thanks to Grace Gershuny, drafter of the original USDA Organic Standards, who recommended this book to me.

The main chapter titles are:

The Haudenosaunee: A Nation Since Time Immemorial
Thoughts of Peace: The Great Law
Deskaheh: An Iroquois Patriot’s Fight for International Recognition
— The Last Speech of Deskaheh (March 1925, from a radio microphone in Rochester, NY)
Geneva, 1977: A Report on the Hemispheric Movement of Indigenous Peoples
A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World
— Introduction
— Spiritualism, the Highest Form of Political Consciousness
— The Obvious Fact of our Continuing Existence
— Policies of Oppression in the Name of “Democracy”
Our Strategy for Survival

This is an historical account and more of a conceptualizing rather than a detailed description of how the Iroquois League worked on a day-to-day level. But we who are living on this land — North America, U.S., Turtle Island — need to know this history and will take much heart that the Iroquois League exists. It is the model that most Americans have been looking for.

Of interest to food-and-farm folks are the last sentences of the last chapter (Our Strategy for Survival): “Many of our communities are struggling against colonialism in all of its forms. We have established food co-ops, survival schools, alternative technology projects, adult education programs, agricultural projects, and crafts programs, and serious efforts at cultural revitalization are underway.”

Sound familiar?

3. Formulating the new system
I believe that we can do no better than to ask the Haudenosaunee (and other indigenous peoples) for their help in re-designing the U.S. system to create:
— a true democracy (direct or participatory)
— a human structure in line with natural laws
— a living & resilient document
— ? other system changes ?

Per the issue of a “living” document, I think politically savvy Americans will be interested to know that at least one version of the Iroquois Constitution includes a renewal clause (in addition to a separate amendment process):
Great Law of Peace (Iroquois Constitution)
Official Symbolism, Article 55. The fourth paragraph reads:

“Every five years the Five Nations Confederate Lords and the people shall assemble together and shall ask one another if their minds are still in the same spirit of unity for the Great Binding Law and if any of the Five Nations shall not pledge continuance and steadfastness to the pledge of unity then the Great Binding Law shall dissolve.”

What if the U.S. Constitution had had such a clause from the beginning?

More to this moment in time, what if women’s councils (public authority) had existed from the beginning and were codified in the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and municipal codes?


***NOTE:  Thanks to Hank Herrera for replying to my post on Feb. 4, 2017 with this message: “Right under our noses, in plain sight” indeed. In historical fact, the Constitution of the United States is explicitly modeled after the Iroquois Confederacy and many of the democratic principles in the Constitution come from the Iroquois Confederacy (link here).

The link is to a posting on First Nations Experience ( about a Congressional Resolution passed in October 1988 acknowledging the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations to the development of the U.S. Constitution, Iroquois Confederacy is Foundation of United States Constitution.