Occupy the food system: education and policy


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.” 


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.