Sustainable Agriculture 2011: a year in review

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At this time of the year, when every journalist, essayist and blogger seems to be reflecting on the past year…… well, why not?

This past year, many of my blog posts focused on the need to build the local food movement as means of enhancing food security and sustainability in troubled times.  I began the year with an essay on the most local of all local foods….. that which we grow ourselves in “Gardening and Living by Three Ecological Rules.”   In this post, I suggested gardening is the perfect way to live according to the three ecological rules for sustainable living:

  1. Use current solar income for energy (whenever possible)
  2. Recycle everything material (waste equals food)
  3. Encourage biological diversity (necessary for 1 & 2 to function)

In March, I wrote “Collapse of the Industrial Food System,” in which I claim that a system which allows large corporations to control the food supply is fundamentally unjust and dangerous.  I followed this with some thoughts on “Dealing with Collapse of the Food System”  in which I suggest that we must promote a more local and regional food system so that we are not so reliant on the globalized, industrialized system.  We need;

  1. tax incentives for small, integrated farms committed to selling within their own community,
  2. public investment in infrastructure to support a bioregional food system (within a specific foodshed),
  3. changes in zoning regulations to support the “homegrown food revolution” and
  4. education programs encouraging family, neighborhood, community self-sufficiency, and local farming.

In preparation for April 17, the International Day of Action working toward “Food Sovereignty – the People’s Response” I reminded readers of a recent United Nations study which claims that small farmers, using agroecological techniques, can double food production in 10 years.   These techniques are supported by the International Peasants Movement, La Via Campesina, which claims that peasants can feed the world.

Returning to the personal once again I wrote in “Growing Our Own Food Can Strengthen Our Spiritual Connection with the Earth” that rediscovering the sacred is an act of healing..  I wrote “in forgetting the sacred we have become unhealthy and un-whole.  From this place of illness, we ask the wrong questions and seek after the false-gods of consumerism and superficial amusements.  I believe we must rediscover ways to reconnect with the earth, perhaps by growing our own food, raising a few hens (for the eggs and the laughs), and buying real food from people in our own communities we know and trust, if we are to heal the damage we have caused to the global ecosystem and the human soul.

In May, I went from the personal to the community level of sustainability in “Just Grow Food: Public Opportunities & Responsibilities.”   In June, I proposed that a worldwide network of interlinked local and regional food systems should be developed to balance the globalized, industrial food system in my essay “Local Food: Let’s Get Serious – NOW!

In August, I tried to deepen our understanding of why we must “Relocalize the Food System to Support Democracy.”   And we marked the height of the harvest season in New England with a New York Times report that suggested that an increasing number of farmers are competing for customers  in a market that is not expanding as fast as production.  I cried out that we need more people to buy local – and we need your help to make this happen!

Finally, I finished the year by exploring the Occupy Movement with the posts “Occupy the Food System” and “Occupy with Education and Policy Work” in which I encouraged some of the occupiers to continue the struggle by joining with the many food and farming education and policy organizations that have been working on these issues for years.

As gratifying as it is to see a garden on the White House lawn… only 1% of the American public buys directly from farmers on a regular basis.

Lets join this 1% – and buy more food from our neighbors!

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends and perhaps comment below.  For more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please check out my web page Just Food Now.  And go here for more of my World.edu posts.

Occupy the food system: education and policy

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I received quite a bit of feedback on my last post, Local Food: Lets Get Serious Now, which calls for a personal commitment to supporting the emerging local food system.  While most readers agreed that buying local was an important means of changing the food system, a few thought my unwillingness to “sleep outside in a public park” myself demonstrated a lack of commitment to the movement.

In my post, I applauded those young people (and old) who took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations, but I really don’t think all protesters need to “march.”  Eco-philosopher and social activist Joanna Macy reminds us that there are three dimensions to significant social change (which she calls “The Great Turning”).  They are:

  1. Actions to slow the damage to Earth and prevent harm to its beings (such as lobbying and protesting, blockading and conducting vigils, whistle-blowing and documenting problems).
  2. Analysis of root causes and the creation of alternative structures (such as education, policy and new organizations and businesses).
  3. Shift in Consciousness (perhaps the most powerful – and a topic for a future blog).

The Occupy protests have largely focused on action and public awareness.  And the December 4 Farmers March in New York City for example, helped focus attention on inequities in the global food system.  Unfortunately mainstream media did little to cover the story but this video does a nice job of presenting some of the major issues.

While some of us are out marching in the street and sleeping in public spaces, others need to be working on the “creation of alternative structures” to the current food system.  Small organic farms, community supported farms, backyard and community gardens, and all of the many organizations that work to re-localize the food system are critical to the continued emergence of alternatives to the corporately-owned industrial food system.

My hope is that the Occupy Movement energizes more people “vote with their food dollar” and buy local.  And while this sort of personal commitment is necessary, it is not sufficient to create lasting change in the global food system.  We need education and policy change too.  I hope the “occupiers” will continue to bring energy to the local food movement by joining one of the education or policy organizations currently working to support a more local and sustainable food and farming system.  There are many such organizations.

At the international level, la Via Campesina, is a significant voice for peasant agriculture and family farms.  I’m particularly attracted to their claim that peasant agriculture and small family farms can feed the world while reducing carbon pollution.  The banner above was from a protest march at the Climate Conference in Durban on December 5, at which time they called for all governments to “stop industrial farming that promotes pollution and climate change through high levels of use of petroleum based chemicals and to support agro-ecology.”

At the national level in the U.S., I’m attracted to the National Farmers Union (I belong to the New England chapter, which is a member-driven organization, committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, fishermen, nurserymen and their customers through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement).

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is another policy group, with local and regional working groups throughout the nation.  The “SAWG’s” (regional Sustainable Agriculture Working Groups) have been particularly effective.  Many of us prefer to work close to home in local or regional groups, such as the Northeast’s Food and Farm Network which was created by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.

Each of us should find an organization we can support and join.  One that I helped to found is the local organization called CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.  If you don’t have one in your area – start one!

Perhaps we can take inspiration from the Victory Garden movement or the Women’s Land Army, which grew food for people at home during World War II.  There are many groups “pitching in” at the neighborhood, community, regional, national and international levels working to transform the food system.  If the authorities continue to take down the tents and move protesters out of the public parks, rail links and ports (military power always sides with economic wealth), I hope some of the occupiers will continue the struggle by joining with the education and policy organizations that have been working on these issues for years.

There is more than one way to “occupy the food system.” 

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends and perhaps comment below.  For more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please check out my web page Just Food Now.  And go here for more of my World.edu posts.