Friday, January 18, 2008

BILL ALLEN After The Riots

In December 2007, I received the following email from Will (Bill) Allen:

(Image courtesy of

I am sending this note to apprise you of my current whereabouts and
interests and give you a thumbnail sketch of my life since IV. As you may
know, after I got out of jail in 1971 I went underground, changed my name,
and stayed active against the war. I became part of the back to the land
movement. My reading of Marx (especially the last chapters of Capital) and
other Marxist-Leninists convinced me that rural activism was every bit as
important as industrial sweat shop organizing. I lived in Oregon for a year
and a half until 1973, interning on farms and working as a farm laborer on
bulb and tree farms.

In 1973 I returned to Santa Barbara for about nine months, but the police
harassed me constantly so I moved to Santa Maria and rented a farm there. In
1974 I moved to Creston, in San Luis Obispo County and rented a 15 acre farm
there. In 1975 I moved to Forbestown in the Sierra foothills and bought a
small piece of hilly, rocky farmland. We lived in tee pees, built a house,
terraced the land, an d built the soil.

In 1980 we moved to Crows Landing because the schools were bad in the
foothills and my two eldest sons had muscular dystrophy, which made it
difficult to care for them in such basic surroundings with no running water
and bad hospital services. I went to work as a farm laborer on my
father-in-law's 2300 acre bean, alfalfa, cotton, tomato, cattle, and walnut
farm. I rented 25 acres of land from him and became one of the first organic
farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. My youngest son died in April of 1981.

We farmed in Crows landing and also worked for my in-laws on their farm for
the next nine years. During that time I stayed politically active and helped
jump start the organic movement in California. I helped write the first rule
book for certification of organic growers when I served on the board of
California Certified Organic Farmers. I helped start the Ecological Farming
Conference, and served on their board from 1982 until 1995.

In 1989 we moved back to Goleta and worked for a year and a half for
Fairview Farms. I was farm Manager and educational director. In 1990 we had
the 20th anniversary celebration of the burning of the Bank of Amerika.

In late 1990 we moved back to the San Joaquin Valley and I rented a farm in
Patterson. That year I was offered a job as rural toxics director for the
California Institute for Rural Studies. In that capacity I worked with
cotton farmers and farmworkers, since cotton was the most toxic crop in
California with more that one million acres. In 1991 I founded the
Sustainable Cotton Project which was designed to get growers to grow cotton
organically and to get garment industry companies to use organic cotton. Our
efforts helped launch the organic cotton industry. We were able to get
15,000 acres converted to organic by 1995, before NAFTA and GATT were
passed. We also got dozens of garment companies to buy organic cotton,
including Patagonia, Esprit, Nike, Norm Thompson, Levis, etc.

After GATT and NAFTA the demand for domestic organic cotton tanked (because
Patagonia, Nike and all the rest of the fucking garmentos could get it for a
few cents cheaper from Turkey, Pakistan, India, or Peru. Our growers
switched to other crops. By 2003 I was sick of the full time farmer
consulting role and anxious to get back to farming full time, instead of
part time.

In 2000 we (with two partners) bought a piece of land on the Connecticut
River in Vermont. We currently farm 55 acres of rich bottom land, have a
farmstand, a coffee shop, 13 greenhouses, and a small bakery. We also have
an educational program to help young people learn how to farm, and to get
safe organic food into local schools and into the inner cities (we have an
inner city program with mostly black and Puerto Rican kids in Worcester,

I just finished a book, The War On Bugs, that is being published by Chelsea
Green and is due out at the end of January, 2008. It is a historical survey
of chemical promotions since the 1840s and is richly illustrated with
advertisements and promotions.

I currently serve on the policy advisory board of the Organic Consumers
Association, and I am a national co-Chair of Farms not Arms. I am also on
the board of Rural Vermont. I am very active against the war and have been
arrested four times in 2007. I am very active with Farm Aid and with the
Armenian Tree Project. My wife and I have done consulting work in India,
Mexico and Armenia.

Bill Allen wasn't a very popular name in the San Joaquin Valley, so I
changed my name to Will Allen. I have used that name since we started to
grow organically in Crows Landing. My dad wouldn't be happy with the change
but it kept me safe and gave me the ability to slide under the radar of
local officials.

I will be promoting my book in California in January, March, and April.
Perhaps we could meet. Thanks for writing about that very exciting time in
all of our lives. Perhaps you could send me a copy. Venceremos, Bon Apetit!

Will (Bill) Allen