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By Rady Ananda

Don’t you just hate it when your heroes sell out? Urban farming revolutionary Will Allen just accepted a cool million from the Wal-Mart billionaires whose ill-gotten gains derive squarely from slave labor.

Very few store employees, and farm workers who supply the behemoth, are paid a living wage.  Meanwhile, the Walton family is worth $90 billion, according to Forbes’ calculations as of September 2010.

Based in Milwaukee, Allen started Growing Power in 1993 to rebuild community food systems by teaching unemployed urban youth how to create healthy soils for growing food. They sought competitive grants to benefit nonwhite youths who are traditionally disadvantaged.

Andy Fisher, who founded the Community Food Security Coalition in 1994, is familiar with Will Allen and Growing Power.  The CFSC recently keynoted Allen at its annual conference.  In his recent Civil Eats column, Fisher confronts Allen’s acceptance of the Wal-Mart donation, cataloging reasons why the populist “Good Food Revolution” should not ally with a food monopoly, including:

  • “Each Wal-Mart store, averaging 200 employees, costs taxpayers approximately $420,750 annually in public social services used by store employees. Multiplied by the chain’s 3,800 stores, this translates into a burden on taxpayers of $1.6 billion annually.
  • “The spectre of Wal-Mart moving into urban areas has other supermarket chains running scared, leading them to demand cutbacks in wages and benefits of their unionized workers across America.
  • “Wal-Mart is undermining the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ campaign to improve farmworker conditions in the tomato fields of South Florida.”

Good, healthy food is not the sole value in the food freedom movement; we also value “fair trade” – meaning laborers and farmers are paid a fair amount for their efforts.  Food freedom and food sovereignty include food justice.

Russ over at Volatility agrees.  “In theory it’s possible for Will Allen’s Growing Power to take greenwashing money from Walmart and use that money to fight Walmart.  Of course, it would help those trying to have faith in Allen if he hadn’t immediately launched into pro-corporate propaganda.” The following is Allen’s press statement:

“We, as a society, can no longer refuse to invite big corporations to the table of the Good Food Revolution… Wal-mart is the world’s largest distributor of food – there is no one better positioned to bring high-quality, locally grown food into urban food deserts and fast-food swamps.  We can no longer be so idealistic that we hurt the very people we’re trying to help.  Keeping groups that have the money and the power to be a significant part of the solution away from the Good Food Revolution will not serve us.”

The World Wildlife Fund applies the same twisted thinking in accepting funds from multinational corporations that destroy the environment, including Monsanto:

“The world’s environmental and conservation challenges are not going be solved without the help and support of big business.”

Right. And the most effective way for big business to do that is to immediately stop exploiting people and the environment. They could start by paying farmworkers a living wage, instead of requiring them to pick over two tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday.

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest private employer.  Women comprise 65% of Wal-Mart’s hourly employees and only 35% of its managers.  This year, a corrupt Supreme Court threw out the massive class action lawsuit brought by Betty Dukes and others. It overturned decades of labor law by redefining what constitutes a class.  The U.S. Supreme Court no longer recognizes institutional sexism.

The $90-billion-dollar family would have had to cough up a billion to compensate women they exploited.  Cry me a river.

The fact that Wal-Mart refuses to provide adequate health insurance for half its workforce doesn’t seem to trouble Allen.  That most of its employees require public assistance to make ends meet is not a bother, either.

Russ points out that Allen refused a half million dollars from Monsanto back in 2009 on the same grounds it could have used to reject Wal-Mart’s million. Will’s daughter, Erika Allen, serves as Chicago projects manager for Growing Power. She writes:

“We turned it down because of the kind of work we do, the belief in our vision, and to show our solidarity with Via Campesina and the Department of Justice’s antitrust hearings. We advocate seed saving and slow food, and potentially if we accepted the Monsanto/Seminis funds we would have legitimized their work.”

By their own admission, then, by accepting funding from Wal-Mart, Growing Power approves of Wal-Mart and its practices.

Will Allen has traded ethics for dollars, and the folks who will be most hurt by this alliance are the unemployed urban youth and non-whites he so desperately wanted to help.