By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2007
Albert Valentine "Al" Krebs Jr., 75, a journalist who investigated corporate farming and was a determined voice for small farmers and rural communities, died Oct. 9 of liver failure at Emerald Hills Healthcare Center in Lynnwood, Wash. He lived in Everett, Wash.
Mr. Krebs began to cover agricultural issues in the 1960s, when he was a freelance journalist in California covering a farm workers' strike organized by labor leader Cesar Chavez. He devoted the rest of his career to investigating agribusinesses and to projects benefiting small farmers and rural areas.
After working for the National Sharecroppers Fund in New York, Mr. Krebs came to Washington in 1971 as corporate research director and later co-director of the Agribusiness Accountability Project, investigating and documenting the role of agribusiness in the farm economy. He contributed to several books on agriculture and corporate farming.
"The passion of his life was family farm agriculture," John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union and a former Washington colleague of Mr. Krebs's at the Agribusiness Accountability Project, wrote in an e-mail. "He was a walking family farm agriculture historian who chose to defend our traditional system" of family-owned ranches and farms.
Mr. Krebs worked for a consumer action group in San Francisco in the mid-1970s and published an independent newsletter, the AgBiz Tiller, examining corporate accountability in agriculture.
In 1979, he returned to Washington to lead a three-year project investigating agribusiness for Rural America, a nonprofit group dedicated to rural organizing and advocacy. From 1982 to 1989, he was a freelance journalist in Washington, writing about agricultural issues. He then spent three years on the staff of Ralph Nader's Center for Study of Responsive Law.
From 1993 to 1995, Mr. Krebs worked with PrairieFire Rural Action, an education and organizing group based in Des Moines.
Since 1995, he had lived in Everett, where he was director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project until his death, monitoring the effects of corporate farming on rural life. He was the editor and publisher of the project's newsletter and a regular contributor to Progressive Populist, and he had more than 1,000 subscribers to his weekly e-mailed discussion of issues affecting rural America.
He also revived the AgBiz Tiller as an online periodical, in which he stated his vociferous opposition to corporate agriculture:
"Whereas family farming/peasant agriculture has traditionally sought to nurture and care for the land, corporate agribusiness, exclusive by nature, seeks to 'mine' the land, solely interested in monetizing its natural wealth and thus measure efficiency by its profits, by pride in its 'bottom line.' Family farmers, meanwhile, see efficiency in terms of respecting, caring and contributing to the overall health and well-being of the land, the environment, the communities and the nations in which they live."
Mr. Krebs was born in Santa Monica, Calif. His father was a movie-studio electrician who devised a way to get hundreds of birds to flee a telephone wire in Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 film "The Birds."
Mr. Krebs graduated from Seattle University and was a sportswriter with the Los Angeles Examiner before he began reporting on agriculture.
In 1998, he received the National Farmers Union's Milt Hakel Award for his coverage of topics related to family farmers and rural communities.
His marriage to Margaret G. Krebs ended in divorce.
Survivors include two sons, David Arevalo of North Bend, Wash., and Jonathan Krebs, whose last known address was in California; and two grandsons.