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By Stephen Wagner

Yesterday, hundreds of people descended on Washington DC for the Department of Justice and the Department of Agriculture’s joint public workshops to explore how corporate monopolies affect food and farming in the U.S. Although we came from different sectors of the food system for the fifth and final of these year-long hearings, we all spoke out in our shared role–the consumer.

Check out the action in this slideshow:

It was a motley crew with lots of 10-gallon hats, farmers, retailers, activists, policy experts, mothers and a significant number of impressive mustaches. But the message was clear.

There is no doubt the dominating of the market by a handful of multinational industrial corporations is impacting all actors in our nation’s food system in a serious and widespread way. Because of the actions of unchecked corporate greed and anti-competitive behavior over the last several decades, the cost of food for consumers has increased but the price paid to farmers has decrease, all the while the corporations have seen record profits.

But what was also very clear on and off the stage yesterday is that this does not just impact our wallets but the true cost of the consolidation, a cost immensely burdening our country.

Farmer after farmer and consumer after consumer demonstrated this cost through their powerful stories. A dairy farmer from Wisconson talked about how after generations of families produced milk across his hometown, but now the consolidation of the dairy market has reduced the the number of companies to just a handful and many dairy families have been forced off their land.

A representative of the Pesticide Action Network explained how consolidation was facilitated by the corporate ownership of the genes in the seeds we sow. That’s right–the very genetic base of our agriculture, the common heritage of thousands of years of farmer-driven innovation, has been patented like some piece of software.

Ranchers spoke of how 4 companies now control 85% of the red meat market and the poultry farmers seem to have it even worse. A cost beyond just our wallets, indeed.

But as I watched these mustached ranchers in 10 gallon hats and spurred boots march up to the mic, I thought to myself this is so not the place for this kid from the burbs of NYC. Then as they told their stories I realized we are so similar: we all eat and are clearly affected by this true cost of food.

I knew I had to find my courage and walk that long walk to the mic. I did not have an embroidered hat, but I did have my story…our story.

By the time I reached the microphone to speak, I must have channeled the all over 10,000 of you who demanded the government take action because it was easier than I thought. Ok–it also helped that a big ag representative said that our food system problems could be aided by more Apps for our smart phones–no joke.

I spoke for a few minutes and presented our 10,000 strong petition that many Slow Food members signed in the wake of the half a billion egg recall recently.

I was followed by local Slow Food members told the hearings their stories as consumers and small-scale growers of how they witness the true cost of this consolidation in their lives.

So that’s the scoop. We were there with your petition, and were joined by dozens more organizations representing a quarter of a million voices over the last year of hearing who told the DOJ and USDA to take action.

If our testimony was not enough, during lunch we gathered on the steps to spell out “Level the Farming Field”, to make sure there was no doubt left that we stand together to demand strong action to break up these harmful monopolies.

This is democracy at work: everyday people, concerned about the state of agriculture in this country, mobilized together to have our voices heard where they count the most. Thanks to all involved for standing up to big ag.