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White Plains Protest Asks Gillibrand to Mend Food Bill

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Protesters clustered Saturday in White Plains' Renaissance Plaza, waving signs reading "farms feed us" and "support small farmers" while chanting denunciations of the "agribusiness corporations" they say monopolize the market with unsafe farming tactics.

The "Green Your Saint Patrick's Day" protesters urged Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to introduce a competition title to protect small and mid-size farmers as lawmakers rework the Fair Farm Bill. Demonstrators from the Bronx to Yorktown Heights were among the roughly 20 people who turned out.

Will Summers, a Yorktown Heights farmer, said the government should end subsidies that promote saturating big farms with acres of corn, rice and soybeans in a practice called monoculture.

"Monoculture facilitates the use of a lot of synthetic pesticides and chemicals into our environment, which not only gets on the food we eat, but it gets into the soil, it gets into our water supply," said Summers, 31. "Often, things like corn, rice and soybeans, the big farms that grow that are locked into it by the government paying them — whereas the small farmers are not guaranteed government assistance. I feel like the system is rigged."

The consumer group Food and Water Watch , which organized the protest, has received the support of 1,300 New Yorkers and 60 farms, school groups and other organizations on a competition title petition, said Westchester organizer Emma Greenbaum.

Food and Water Watch wants bill clauses that would "prevent market manipulation by meatpackers and pork processors," "enforce anti-trust laws for milk processors, vegetable shippers and grocery stores" and include a moratorium on "agribusiness mergers."

Greenbaum said she became convinced that changes were in order after meeting "farmers who have lost their livelihood" and "moms whose children can't eat veggies from the local supermarket" because they're allergic to the "contaminants" used in the farming process.

"We need to reign in corproate influence on our food system if we want to make sure that everyone has access to safe and affordable food and water," she said.

Some supporters had additional requests, including Peifang Fang, a Bronx resident with the Concerned Citizens Network, who said she'd like the bill to create a subsidy system that helps meat farmers transition to growing organic vegetables.

The Real Food Club of Mamaroneck High School joined the rally. Founder and president Piper Martz said the club was concerned that "agribusinesses" were depleting the quality of food, which "ultimately controls our happiness and our ability to work properly."

Gillibrand's office did not immediately return a call for comment.

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