by Adventist Today News Team

George Harris is a local elder in the First Seventh-day Adventist Church of Fort Valley, Georgia, and chief executive officer of the Center for Family Farm Development. He is recruiting volunteers to help him get 100,000 signatures for an online petition which asks the President of the United States to use $1.25 billion from a class action settlement that totaled $117 billion to establish a permanent trust which would provide production loans to small, low-income farms.
 
“The White House will give policy review status to petitions [that get] at least 100,000 signatures within thirty days,” Harris told Adventist Today. The thirty days will begin April 14, the date in 1999 when the original court action was settled. As a run-up to the 30-day petition period, Harris is looking for 20,000 volunteer “ambassadors” who will each promise to recruit at least five friends to sign the petition during the time frame.
 
The case was actually settled 14 years ago. It involved a lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture because of racial discrimination over decades, Pigford v. Glickman. Because government bureaucrats did such a poor job of distributing the original settlement an additional amount has been earmarked for the victims of discrimination. Harris is advocating that most of these funds be placed in a perpetual trust instead of used in a one-time distribution. This would have a significant long-term impact on encouraging and building small farms owned by African Americans in the South.
 
“We think that we are an unprecedented Adventist initiative,” Harris stated in an interview. He has deep roots in the Adventist faith. His parents moved from a 105-acre farm in Ohio to Huntsville, Alabama, in 1950 where his father managed the Oakwood College farm and his mother was director of food services. He refers to the last page of a pamphlet by Ellen G. White entitled The Southern Work as the mandate for this campaign. “We have invited the church to take a stand,” he said.
 
Agricultural development is key to the Adventist position on health, Harris said. For disease prevention “people need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.” Oakwood University ended its farming operations some time ago, “but now there is a resurgence of demand for locally grown, organic food.” Small farmers are the ideal vehicle for this kind of product. It does not lend itself to production in massive corporation-run farms and being trucked for thousands of miles.
 
The new emphasis on good nutrition is fundamental to public health policy, a concept that Adventists have been advocating for more than a century, and it opens opportunities for small farmers to make a decent living for their families and survive over the long term. This is the focus of the center Harris runs and why he is seeking to launch the petition drive.
 
“Agricultural capability has been underdeveloped from its roots in slavery and through continuing discrimination,” Harris points out. “This year is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation,” and he wants to see one small, but permanent step toward reversing the effect of the past. “This will help small farmers join the upwardly mobile economy.”
 
The conference president in the South Atlantic Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—where Harris is a member—has endorsed the petition campaign. Pastor William Winston has loaned the resources of the conference IT department to the project. Two officers of the Adventist Church in North America are also backing the campaign, Harris told Adventist Today; Pastor Ken Denslow, assistant to the president, and Pastor Alvin Kibble, vice president.
 
Readers interested in more information can contact the Center for Family Farm Development at (404) 378-3803 or visit the center’s web site:  www.centerforfamilyfarmdevelopment.com