Bust the Trust and the Bypass
Since January, I have been traveling the country promoting my book Foodopoly. While the travel is exhausting, the people I meet on the road keep me going. They tell me how much they appreciate Foodopoly’s honest account of the imbalance of power at the root of our dysfunctional food system and often share with me their personal experiences. Farmers impart stories of having to sell their land and find other work because they can’t compete in an unfair marketplace. Former neighborhood market owners explain how they’ve been pushed out of business by large national chains. And everyday consumers lament their frustration with the consolidation of every type of food – especially organic – that has diminished most real choice on grocery shelves. These are the people I wrote Foodopoly for.
Today, I am in Willits, a little town in Northern California, where I will be speaking at the Little Lake Grange. Willits is called the Gateway to the Redwoods – majestic tree groves and farmland form a beautiful patchwork in this tiny town in the heart of Mendocino County – and it is a welcome detour from my typical tour route of big cities.
Sadly, however, this beautiful patchwork is endangered by an unnecessary freeway bypass project. And peaceful protests by residents against the project have been trounced by a massive occupation by the California Highway Patrol. Since March 21, Willits has had the highest CHP-to-citizen ratio in the state.
The Willits Bypass would require clear-cutting an old growth forest, cause severe damage to the watershed, seasonal wetland and wells. The bypass construction and mitigation would take more than 2,060 acres of farmland out of production. If the bypass is constructed, the valley would essentially be owned by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), with no mind to the farmers and residents who will be forced to live in the bypass’s shadow.
And, the saddest part of this obsolete monstrosity is that there is no need for it. Sara Grusky, who runs Save Little Lake Valley and coincidentally used to work for Food & Water Watch, tells me that the traffic volumes through Willits do not call for a project of this size and her group has proposed several time- and environment-saving alternatives to the bypass.
“The bypass is an obscene waste,” Sara told me. “It is all part of the same obsolete model as the Keystone XL pipeline, fossil fuel intensive energy solutions that we just cannot let go forward.”
Which is why Sara, the brave tree sitters, and other residents of Willits are risking arrest and injury to protect their town and precious ecosystem. I am awed by the fortitude shown by the people of Willits and hope their courage will inspire others to stand up for what they believe in. Whether it’s stopping a destructive, wasteful freeway project from tearing your town apart, fighting to get genetically engineered food labeled in your grocery store, or holding the Department of Justice accountable for blocking food monopolies that harm farmers and consumers, we must all do our part to take back our political system.