A Precautionary Tale
Chelsea Green Publishing • 978-1-60358-705-1 chelseagreen.com/philip-ackerman-leist What’s ahead in the struggle between local farmers and giant agrobusinesses?
Ideally, there would be dialog in lieu of lawsuits and criminal acts directed toward the citizens of Mals. However, government authorities are currently suing activists and a local filmmaker for taking on the “apple cartel.” Perhaps worse, in late September, someone sprayed glyphosate on the organic fruit trees of Ägidius Wellenzohn, the organic fruit pioneer I profile in the book, not only ruining the apple crop he was about to harvest for market but also nullifying his organic certification for the next three years. The people of Mals chose a difficult path, but they continue to resist and persevere in creative ways.
What in particular attracted you to the story of Mals and its citizens?
Two decades ago, I worked in orchards and vineyards an hour’s drive from Mals for three years—meaning I spent a lot of time in a rubber suit and respirator. Mals is a place where I’ve taken American groups for 3-5 day walking tours to explore the unique landscape and food traditions. Trading that fertile, diverse landscape for a toxic monoculture made no sense to me—and I wanted to share the brave story of the Malsers.
What can other community organizers learn from the example of Mals?
Although not particularly experienced in activism, the citizens of Mals began by holding two-dozen public information sessions on the science behind their concerns. Then they began building consensus around a common vision for the future. With the added boost of some guerilla-style art and advocacy events, they next used direct democracy to turn vision into policy. And instead of using words like “no,” “not,” and “ban,” they opted instead to “Say yes to a pesticide-free future!”