On Oct. 28, St. Olaf students plan to conduct a peaceful protest at the local McDonalds. They object to the restaurant's practice of buying potatoes grown with harmful pesticides.
This protest is part of a larger movement called "Toxic Taters," a campaign that aims to protect Minnesotans from fungicide and pesticide drift. The culprit is RD Offut, one of the world's largest potato providers. The company caters to corporations such as McDonald's and Burger King. Their production method involves heavy pesticide and fungicide use, both of which are harmful to the environment, animals and humans.
In one particular case, these chemicals drifted onto the lands of the White Earth Nation, a Native American tribe whose territory is surrounded by Offut potato fields.
The campus arm of the campaign has been collaborating with organizations on campus such as the Talking Circle, a Native American organization and environmental coalition to reach a wider range of supporters. It has also joined forces with Carleton students to increase activism in Northfield.
The coalition calls for action against McDonald's, which has the power to make tangible change in the practices of its growers. In 2000, two organizations, White Earth Pesticide Action Network WEPAN and Minnesotans for Pesticide Awareness, teamed up to attempt to get McDonald's to reduce its use of harmful pesticides.
They published a report that outlined the pesticide and fungicide drift in their communities. They used simple apparatuses called drift catchers that measured the amount of pesticides and fungicides in the atmosphere.
On the White Earth Reservation, they set up drift catchers outside an elementary school. They not only found chemicals in the air outside the school, but the air intake and the ventilation system had also been compromised. McDonalds expressed a desire for change, but there have been no concrete results thus far.
"This issue is especially important to Talking Circle because White Earth Indian Reservation is situated directly in the middle of potato production fields," said Abigail Nelson '16, co-chair of the Talking Circle. "Being right in the middle, there is no way exposure to drifting fungicides and pesticides can be avoided. Acute exposure to these fertilizers does not seem to be problematic, but the Environmental Protection Agency has said that fungicides like chlorothalonil, which is used as an aerial spray, are probable carcinogens and endocrine disruptors if there is long-term exposure."
Wednesday, Oct. 28 is the day of action for the campaign. Students from St. Olaf and Carleton will walk down to the Northfield McDonald's and deliver a letter to the manager, urging the restaurant chain to change its practices.
A big part of the campaign is the education of people on the origins of their food. They will then hold a direct action protest educating consumers about the movement's goals.
"It's important that people know we aren't trying to be really disruptive or agitate anyone," said Graham Glennon '17, one of the organizers of St. Olaf's Toxic Taters protest. "We just want to express our ideas, and get the managers of the Northfield McDonald's on board with tangible change McDonald's needs to make."
The protesters hope to raise awareness in the Northfield community regarding the implications of chemicals in food production and to take a stand against large corporations such as Offut who use these toxic chemicals. They feel it is important for students to know where their food comes from and the impact of its production.