[permaculture] Resistance from the Breadbasket, Orion Mag

sunsh8ine nature1 at uniserve.com
Fri Jul 7 16:10:21 EDT 2006

Breadbasket of Democracy
Beneath North Dakota's amber waves, the roots of resistance to corporate
power run deep. 
By Ted Nace
Orion Magazine


N THE NEW RED-BLUE LEXICON of American politics, the Red River Valley of
North Dakota seems aptly named. This is football-on-Friday-night
country, where Clear Channel Radio sets the tone, and patriotic themes
blend smoothly with corporate ones. Broad and pancake-flat, with topsoil
measured in feet rather than inches, it possesses some of the most
prized agricultural land in America. The roads run straight, the pickup
trucks are big, and the immense Massey Ferguson tractors that ply the
fields come equipped with global positioning system guidance, satellite
radio, and quadraphonic sound. In 2004, George Bush carried North Dakota
with 63 percent of the vote. It seems like the last place that one might
go looking for a revolt against the powers that be.

Nor does a man like Todd Leake seem like the type of person to
participate in any such uprising. "Extreme traditionalist" might be
closer to the mark. Lean and soft-spoken, Leake has spent the past
twenty-eight years farming the homestead established by his
great-grandfather, a Canadian immigrant who arrived here over 120 years
ago. "I guess you'd describe me as an umpteenth-generation wheat
farmer," he says, "because as far back as we can tell, on both sides of
the family, it's been farmers. And as far back as we can tell, it's also
been wheat."

On a crisp, windy November day, Leake reflects on the events that turned
him into a thorn in the side of the agribusiness establishment,
especially the Monsanto Company. He gestures toward two symbols. The
first, just visible through his kitchen window, is the outline of the
North Dakota Mill, the only grain-handling facility owned jointly by the
citizenry of any state. "Sort of the epitome of farmers cooperating," he

The other symbol offers a less inspiring vision, one of farmer
fragmentation and disempowerment. It is a simple refrigerator magnet
inscribed with the words, "MONSANTO CUSTOMER SUPPORT 800-332-3111."

"They call it customer support," says Leake. "It's actually a snitch
line, where you report that your neighbor is brown-bagging. Or where
somebody reports you, and a week or two later you find a couple of big
guys in black Monsanto leather jackets standing in your driveway."

Ultimately, Leake insists, conventionally accepted notions of law and
property must be challenged, particularly the idea that lifeforms can be
patented. "Whatever rights corporations are claiming so that they can
try to control our seed stocks," he says, "have to be subordinated to
the right of farmers to plant and replant this seed."

"Seed?" he continues, "That's literally the future of humanity. Patents?
Corporations? Those are just inventions on paper."

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