Here On Earth
Manitoulin Island, The jar and the Banana Republics.
14 September 2015 at 15:45
I offered a public group session at The Island Jar on Sunday in Little Current, Manitoulin Island. As no one knew about it happening, we had a cozy group of six asking about the spiritual nature of Manitoulin and current events. I had dropped the ball due to too much going on; just coming back from two months away, a nasty go round with the flu, and the first of the month work duties, so word had not gone out as per usual. People didn’t know we’d be there.
Don’t get me wrong, it was divinely perfect and I enjoyed my afternoon very much, but I will often end up hearing from so many ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?’ and I feel bad that I didn’t email or call everyone. I do care about them and think about my old friends from the Island often.
I get to know people very deeply and intimately with my work as it is soul to soul with many. Some people prefer to keep their distance and I respect that, but with some we share a soul experience and that connection stays for me. I always feel like I have offended friends when I don’t get to see them when visiting their area.
This is really why I do group sessions so we can all connect at some point. It is nice to share the Council experience with others too, so I like to try to make that happen when I can. Many people no longer need one on one sessions as they have learned to connect up for themselves, but would like the chance to connect up with their friend Red and group Sessions are perfect for them I am told. I apologize to my Manitoulin friends. I dropped the ball and missed seeing you.
I was excited to make many more new friends however, and I got to spend a couple of inspired days with fellow, as Tom Kenyon calls us 'psychonauts' (explorers of consciousness). I always am up for that!
I do my shopping when I am at the Island Jar because I want them to prosper and stay. Local, healthy, independently owned and operated, they are my kind of store and this time I bought bananas. They were a little over ripe and expensive but I bought them because I knew what I was buying. I wondered if maybe many people did not know about those bananas sitting there and what they mean. So much is misunderstood when we do not know, it is important to share what we know with each other.
One of my daughters just did her BA in International development and I proofread her final paper on banana’s and how the American based United fruit Company gained political control over many Central and South American countries and put in military control to maintain economic control of land and the agricultural workers in these countries. It is not just about the ridiculously low price of bananas we expect to pay here, it is about corporate control of agriculture. It is no accident she chose this topic to write about, she grew up on an organic farm.
When she was a child, farming friends John and Joan Smith, respected organic farmers and elders in the Warsaw area north east of our farm, hosted a group of organic farmers from Central America. These farmers had kitchen talks over lunch while they were touring organic farms here in Ontario. They all seemed to feel at home in the Smith’s big country kitchen. Jars of preserves and jams open on the table by a bowl of fresh butter and stacks of her freshly baked organic whole grain bread. Cheese, meats, boiled eggs,bowls of tomatoes, radishes, peppers and cucumbers, raspberries and melon. A pot of nettle and raspberry tea and one of black tea warmed ready on the wood stove. Everything grown here on this farm was on the table to share. Some of the other more ‘modern’ and agribusiness farms were so different than what they were used to that they wondered if they had much in common with the farmers here in the north.
One young man said he was so relieved to see their farm because that meant he had farmers he could relate to. John and Joan were almost entirely self sustaining on their farm and even did their own butchering. Most of the visiting farmers did not have access to the infrastructures the other farms relied on, so they could apply more of what the Smith’s shared to their own experiences.
I would bring my kids with me to these lunches, as we were a homeschooling family and this was real education as far as I was concerned. We felt very privileged to be invited and listened intently as we heard about how hard it was to convert fruit and coffee farms to organic.
A gentleman who was a large plantation coffee grower told us of a brother in law whom he helped get off heroin. He said healing his coffee orchards over to organics was like helping his brother in law get off drugs. It is a six year process to wean the trees from heavy chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Plants that do not fit in an ecosystem are are often attacked by insects, so pesticide use is usually very high. As the earth is always trying to grow diversity, herbicides are used to keep down growth of any competitive plants, so most coffee trees are used to a whole cocktail of toxic substances to stay alive. He divided his plantation up and began the process a few acres at a time.
He told us his coffee plants in pesticide and herbicide addiction areas (as he named it) were tall plants and produced coffee, but the land around them was barren and there was a dullness in those orchards, a lack of vitality and a shorter life span for the plants. There was a noticeable lack of insects and birds.
His weaning trees would get very sick and stop producing before they begin to pick up again. Some did not make it he told us. It was very brave of him to trust this process, a trust that he would not lose his whole farm, but he had a mentor who had converted his plantation and was inspired by what he saw there.
The trees that are on their second and third years of exclusively organic are vibrant and alive he said. That part of his plantation had an abundance of butterflies, birds and bees. He plants clover and other beneficial cover crops all around the trees, mowing them occasionally. He says the coffee is much better, richer and full of antioxidants. The soil is healthy and holds moisture better and he is restoring the shade that the trees prefer when healthy and not hybridized. When you read 'shade grown, this is what it means, non hybridized, healthy plants.
He is committed to leaving his farm to his grandchildren in a healthy organic state and his interest in coming north was to figure out how he could sell his coffee.
The woman farmer and her daughter that were there from Belize nodded in agreement. It was the same for their family’s banana plantation. They risked a lot to go organic but they believed in healing the earth, no matter what the cost. They face serious challenges when trying to sell their independently grown bananas and coffee. It is almost impossible to get any market for their goods unless they sell out to a multinational company, namely The United Fruit Company that umbrellas Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte.
We also met a woman from the Philippines who spoke in Peterborough who had watched her boyfriend and other friends gunned down for growing food for themselves on an unused corner of Del Monte’s huge plantation. The workers were forbidden to grow food and were only allowed to purchase from the company store. If they did not live in a nearby village, they had to rent a bed in a dormitory or a hut for their families to stay. They were charged so much more than they earned, they were in economic slavery.
It is sadly a common story in our world for the past few thousand years. Big in China, which is why I try not to buy stuff manufactured there. Most Chocolate is harvested by these methods too. But those companies use child labour. Cadburys has recently committed to stop using child slavery. They have some chocolate labeled Fair Trade. Look for that blue symbol or don't buy the chocolate please.
The workers in the Philippines asked to use a corner lot that was filled with rubble and given permission from Del Monte. They set about cleaning it up and putting in a garden. It was very successful and the workers and families were celebrating what they had done with a harvest gathering when everything was ready to pick. Feeling empowered and strong, they arrived at the garden at the appointed time to find the police were there blocking their entrance, citing trespassing. They were told they were not allowed to harvest the garden as it was on Del Monte property. Nothing was in writing so they felt they could not prove anything to the police.
When later some of the workers, including her boyfriend decided to break through the barricades and harvest the food, they were shot to death.
This is over bananas people. Cheap uniform Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte bananas, hybrids that all taste and look the same.
Heidi’s choice to do her paper on how the American Owned United Fruit company had waged war on the agriculture workers and the independent fruit farmers of Central and South America was not a surprise to me.
There were marches and strikes as fruit workers organized themselves in asking for at least a living wage and more rights and freedoms during the 1950’s and 60’s. They wanted the rights for their farms to participate in the global markets, and that they as the people got a share of the kickbacks for using their country as a farm for the US, not just the few elite that the United States had put into power. Of course the corporate control did not want any of this to happen. Heaven forbid the Americans, Canadians and Europeans have to pay more for their banana’s! or the stock holders and owners take a smaller cut on the billions and billions profited.
The United Fruit company gained political and economic control of many countries during this time and also bought out utility companies like railways and power plants, pulp and paper mills, often from the governments, so that transportation costs, packaging and production costs could be under their economic control. It was like a giant game of monopoly going on and bananas were the key to the winner
United Fruit Company (UFC) gained control of forty-two percent of Guatemala's land and was exempted from taxes and import duties during this time for example. This was the same in many other countries and 1% of the population held most of the land and money that United Fruit did not! The connections and kickbacks from United States called the shots.
You wonder why the Americans would care so much about the price of bananas? Well Important people in the ruling circles of the US were deeply involved with United Fruit Company at that time. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles' law firm had prepared United Fruit's contracts. His brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, belonged to United Fruit's law firm; John Moors Cabot, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, was the brother of a former United Fruit president; President Eisenhower's personal secretary was married to the head of United Fruit's Public Relations Department for example. There were personal favours at stake here.
USA called ‘Communist’ during this time and created such a terror around this word that they could use it to get rid of whomever could challenge their control. This was the famous McCarthy era. They used this fear to make the Americans agree to go to war all over Central and South America to maintain control of land and agricultural workers. They also used this manufactured fear to remove anyone with an opinion, courage or bravery from television, movies, radio, journalism, government workers, students and company workers all over the USA.
The CIA was in full swing and American troops were sent in to take over governments and put the fruit producing countries under the military control that they are still under to this day.
When my daughter Megan and I went to El Salvador we learned that the second largest US military base is in El Salvador. The first is in Israel our guide told us. The most strategic places in Central America and the Middle east, holding control of oil and bananas, these places host the largest military bases we were told.
United Fruit won the war everywhere except in Cuba, who kicked them out and took over their own food production. We all know that they were cut off from any ability to trade with anyone but Russia. China grew their own fruit and didn’t need Cuba’s. On the other hand, Cuba has learned to grow organically and their land is healthy and people well fed and very healthy too. Compared to every other Central and South American place I have seen, in the rural areas where the truth is, Cuba seem in pretty good shape. They also have bees and butterflies and a healthy environment.
Everywhere else United fruit company squashed down the farmers and workers. We in the west can buy cheap banana’s of one variety. Cheap vegetables and other fruits of one variety as well are abundant in our supermarkets, but we have lost the diversity, the taste and nutrition, along with human rights and self respect. Rampant use of pesticides and herbicides produced by associated American Companies like Monsanto pollute the land and water making the sales of bottled water a necessity of life in many places. The lack of power and ability to survive runs the drug cartels who also sell to the American market. The military has not historically interfered here with the drug lords as much as they have with the fruit pickers, unless the drug lords start helping local communities against the regimes in place. Then they go down.
The Clinton Government received a huge contribution from the United Fruit Company that helped put Mr. Bill into power and the monopoly and military control of these countries has continued to this day. This agricultural monopoly from the USA, through Monsanto and others, has introduced GMO crops to these regions over the past decade and even the few surviving local varieties of corn and soy are getting polluted now too. The battle is on in some of these countries once again as they try to stop the GMO crops from coming in and some are making progress.
Dole and Del Monte, afraid of losing even the crumbs to the organic banana growers are now buying them out, tearing down their heritage trees and planting their GMOs and hybrids and labeling them organic. Bananas are still the cheapest fruit you can buy and it is almost impossible to buy from anyone but United Fruit and their one type of boring banana, organic or not.
This store, The Island Jar, in Little Current Manitoulin Island, has organic fair trade bananas and they are delicious.
They are supporting a different reality, making a strong political statement by offering these bananas to you for sale.
Think healthy orchards, healthy communities.
Think of the faces of the families growing them for you.
The children who are not exposed to poison every day of their life.
The families brave enough to stand up to corporate take over and corruption and violence.
Think of what you are supporting and go buy their bananas.
Tell them you will buy their bananas every time they can get them in so they can keep supporting the importers who are selling these brave farmers' excellent bananas.
Put them in your pancakes and chicken curries, pan fry them in butter and cinnamon for a delicious desert.
You can freeze them. I use frozen bananas and frozen berries in my vitamix to make ‘ice cream’. You can add them frozen to smoothies, put them on a stick, coat them in chocolate. roll them in nuts and freeze them for a treat.
If they are going brown you can freeze them and do lots of things with them like smoothies and muffins and cakes later when you have time. Buy their bananas and eat them. That is a scrumptious political action you CAN take.