Farmers Raise Food, not Wind

Posted by By at 24 January, at 13 : 29 PM Print

In Pennsylvania, it’s called SLAPP – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – and it’s illegal. And maybe it’s too specific.

The Pennsylvania law specifically grants immunity to anyone who seeks to have their elected representatives enforce environmental law and find themselves sued by a large company intent on bullying them into submission – and silence. It does not grant immunity if what the defendants are asking is simply to get their officials to prevent neighbors from allowing the pipeline to be laid beneath their neighbors’ homes.

As a daily news reporter, I covered townships under pressure from developers – before the whole housing market collapsed. I actually heard a big-name developer one evening tell township leaders, “You might as well approve this now; I have more money and lawyers than you.”

Out in the parking lot, the developer’s attorney left in a car that cost more than the total salaries all three township supervisors earned in a year.

A thing I learned about Maine history – I lived there as a youngster and for awhile as an adult – was how some of the counties were named.

Let’s say a fellow named Knox, a big wheel with large unsurveyed land holdings in Maine before Maine was split off Massachusetts to become a separate state, rents a parcel to a young man who wants to go up in the woods and start a farm.

The fellow takes several weeks finding the place Mr. Knox described, clears some of the land, milks a cow and begins raising a family.

A year or two later, over dinner, Mr. Knox mentions to York, a fellow big wheel with land holdings in the wilderness that will become Maine, about the farmer and the success he apparently was enjoying up in Maine, farming a parcel adjacent to York’s established holding.

“But that land is mine,” says York to Knox. “ I protest your collecting rent on my property.”

York files suit in court against the farmer, accusing him of illegally squatting on York’s land. The farmer insists he is not squatting, but is paying rent – to Knox. Unfortunately, he has not the money to pay a lawyer to defend his position against York, and the issue is eventually settled – to York’s advantage, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the parcel in question is now surveyed and its ownership established in court.

Another month, another farmer, and it’s Knox’s turn to win. Eventually, all the counties’ boundaries are established, some named for their connections to early Native Americans and at least two for litigating lessors.

(It is not my assertion that all the county borders were so established, but it is fairly clear that some were. At any rate …)

There is a new boundary battle being fought, again involving farmers, this time in contest with a large seed designer. Monsanto is a major producer of genetically modified seed, especially for such commodity crops as corn and soybeans.

Wind and seed don’t read maps and don’t honor property lines. Monsanto has sued several farmers in Canada and the U.S. for contaminating Monsanto crops when non-Monsanto seed has blown onto its fields.

The reverse also is possible, if the wind shifts to the opposite direction. It is a fact that has led a consortium of organic and other non-Monsanto farmers and their organizations to file a preemptive suit in federal district court in New York. The group is looking to prevent Monsanto from suing small farmers for patent infringement simply because the big guy’s seed has drifted over the little guy’s field and taken root.

If Monsanto wins, the organic growers say, virtually all farmers – even non-organic farmers who simply do not wish to use Monsanto seed – would be forced to buy Monsanto’s product or find another livelihood.

We often hear, especially over recent months of political campaigning, that the free market should decide which products are successful and which should be relegated to the history of failed ideas. Ordinarily, I’d agree.

But when the big guy moves his production line into the little guy’s plant, and then sues the little guy for getting in the way – that removes consumer choice from the equation.

Even Knox and York didn’t kick the farmer out of the forest, or even tell him what to grow.

Photo by AndiH

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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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