Food Sovereignty: the people’s response to the global food crisis

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Last week’s blog, “The Future of Food; Dealing with Collapse,” elicited a lot of comments.   A few of them reminded me that if we are going to address the global food crisis, we must listen to the people who do most of the work growing food.   We must hear from the peasants, farm workers, and small landholders who grow 50% of the food on the planet.

Without their voice,  policy makers responding to the food crisis, will continue to invest in the same industrial model for growing food that is the root cause of the problem.

If we care about sustainable food and farming, we must work for Food Sovereignty.

According to La Via Campesina, “Food Sovereignty is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture.”   One of the “raps” against sustainable agriculture is that while we talk about Social Equity as one of the three principles of sustainability, most of our efforts focus on Environmental Integrity and Economic Vitality.  Food Sovereignty provides a framework to make sure we maintain a focus on justice!

Food Sovereignty is about solutions!

La Via Campesina is a global movement of peasant farmers and workers.  In 1996, they introduced the concept of Food Sovereignty at the World Food Summit in Rome, and since then the principle of Food Sovereignty has been adopted by many organizations.

This movement which brings together the environmental, economic and social aspects of food production was created to serve the needs of small and medium-size farmers, migrant workers, the landless, women farmers, and indigenous peoples from all over the world.  These are the same people who are most likely use agroecological principles to grow food in a way that builds rather than degenerates natural resources.

A recent United Nations study 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.

According to Via Campesina “food sovereignty prioritizes local food production and consumption.  It gives a country the right to protect its local producers from cheap imports and to control production. It ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those who produce food and not of the corporate sector. Therefore the implementation of genuine agrarian reform is one of the top priorities of the farmer’s movement.”

This global movement however, is not only relevant in developing countries.  Last week, a town in Maine passed the first Food Sovereignty law in the U.S.  I encourage you to learn more about this movement and to support one of the 148 member organizations in 69 countries working for Food Sovereignty.  And join the millions of small farmers and workers around the world on April 17, 2011 to celebrate the struggle of peasants and rural people to survive and continue feeding the world.

To learn more, go to April 17, 2011 – International Day of Peasant’s Struggles.

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends. And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now. And go here for more of my World.edu posts.

Gardening and living by three “ecological rules”

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Spring semester is underway at the University of Massachusetts and I’m teaching a class called Sustainable Living with about 300 students.   My next several posts will share some of the lessons from this class.  My first lecture is called Ecology “Rules”.

The three ecological rules for living sustainably are:

  1. Use current solar income whenever possible.
  2. Recycle everything (waste = food).
  3. Encourage biological diversity.

This post looks at how we try to “obey Mother Nature’s rules” in my own household and garden and makes suggestions for you to consider in your own life.

1. Use Current Solar Income

Well, the obvious use of solar income growing food in the garden.

We have a big garden, with two unheated hoop houses that allow us to grow food during three seasons in New England.  But if you live in an apartment, you can still grow some food in planters and window boxes.  Or check with your town hall and ask about access to a community garden.  Or join a CSA (many deliver directly into the city).  But if you have a big back yard, why not try “food not lawns”.  Lawns require too much fertilizer and water and produce nothing.

A simple way to use solar energy is dry your clothes outside.   I enjoy feeling like I’m somehow beating the oil companies this way.  And while it is a small thing, I like to feel the sun on my back while I’m hanging the laundry out.

And if you own your own home, there is no better investment than solar hot water! 

Although, both oil and wood are originally solar, wood heat is much more “current” than oil and can be regenerated in a lifetime.  So we burn wood for supplemental heat.  It also provides a back up when the power goes out in a winter storm!

I suspect there are lots of other actions we could take to obey Mother Nature’s first rule.  Why don’t you add your own below in comments box?

2. Waste=Food

So, here’s the second rule…..  everything cycles, or “waste=food.”  And of course the easiest way to obey this rule is to compost food wastes.  We collect all of the organic waste (except meat) in a small bucket on the kitchen counter.  It goes out to a compost pile to turn into organic matter, which goes on the garden to grow more food.  In Mother Nature, there is no waste!

Some of the food “waste,” like old tomatoes, go to our hens, which turn that “waste” into fresh eggs.  Have you ever had a fresh egg?  It tastes different than the industrial version.

There are other ways to turn waste into food.  The ashes from the wood stove (waste) go onto the garden to grow more food.   Wood ash has potassium (potash), an essential nutrient for plants.

And how about recycling old newspapers and cardboard by using it as a mulch on the garden?   Non-glossy newsprint is safe and prevents weed growth, builds organic matter, and provides a great home for worms that turn leaves and garden residues into fertilizer.

The newspaper is covered with hay and then watered down.  We do this every fall to get the garden ready for planting in the spring.  We try not to rototill at all, since this kills the worms which help feed the garden.

3. Support Biological Diversity

And the third rule…… well, the first two don’t work well without biological diversity.  A monoculture, either a 1000 acre corn farm or your front lawn violates Mother Nature’s rules.  And the best way to mix things up in the garden is to make sure you have both plants and animals!   Animals…… really?

Well, yes.  Animals in the garden are needed to recycle nutrients.  Here are our “meat chickens” feeding (and pooping) in the old strawberry patch. 

Chickens are one of the easiest animal to include in your garden.  We raise 25 broilers each summer.  They are around for about 8 weeks and then “into the freezer.”  Lots of communities are working to change their zoning rules to encourage backyard chickens and hens for food self-sufficiency.

There is one backyard animal that is even easier than chickens….. that’s bees.  We harvest about 8 quarts of honey each year from our bee hive.

Oh sure, you say…. I can’t do that!  Well, its not all that difficult and there are lots of your neighbors who have already joined the “homegrown revolution!”

But if you are not ready for chickens and bees….. well, then start with worms.  Yup, that’s right.  They can help recycle kitchen wastes all winter long.

This little “worm condominium” supports a few thousand worms that quietly eat food waste, producing lovely potting soil.  And the hens love to have a few worms as a snack during the winter when the ground is frozen and they can’t scratch up their own bugs.  Try it!

The food waste goes in and the worms do the rest.  Its called vermiculture farming (worm) and its simple!

How are you obeying Mother Nature’s rules?  Post your ideas in the comments box below!

But I don’t want to “obey” the rules

There is a part of me that rebels when I hear the word “obey” or “obedience”.   But lets look more closely at that word “obey.”  It comes from the Latin “obedire“, which is to hear or listen.  Perhaps that is what it means to “obey” Mother Nature’s rules, simply to listen deeply.

I remember my first Permaculture course, when we we told to go out and sit in a garden and observe quietly.  I was surprised by the difference between this garden brimming with biological diversity (birds, bees and bugs) and my own which was productive but sterile.

When I sit and listen to Mother Nature’s “voice” I seem to become part of something much bigger than myself.  I can feel the energy of the earth and I feel at peace.   And yes, I try to obey the rules.

After all, these ecological rules have evolved over 4.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error (or perhaps divine intent) on this planet.  Our own human cleverness isn’t working so well and seems to have gotten us into quite a mess.  Maybe we can learn something by listening to Mother Nature!

How do you live by these three ecological rules?

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And go here for more of my World.edu posts.

Growing your own food may not save the planet – but do it anyway!

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Its finals week at the University of Massachusetts and I seem to find myself having really interesting conversations with students.   Kind a funny…. now that we aren’t rushing from one class to the next we are finding time to really talk with each other!  Oh well………

So a student shows up in my office asking the big question “why bother?”  You know,”… why bother try to make a difference in this world when everything looks so bleak?”  This student wanted to know how I maintain a sense of hope when we are facing “the perfect storm” of…. 1) climate change, 2)  peak oil, and 3) economic collapse.

Good question!

Rather than launching into my usual rap (which I stole from Michael Pollan’s near-classic essay, “Why Bother”), I chose to tell him about a novel I had read recently.  Right up there with James Kunstler’s World Made by Hand is a new “novel about secrets, treachery and the arrival of peak oil” (according to the book jacket).  Prelude by Kurt Cobb is a fast-paced adventure and espionage story set in the context of “the end of oil” and while a bit simplistic, the book keeps your attention.

One of my favorite scenes comes when Cassie Young, a rising star at a Washington, D.C. energy consulting firm asks her friend Victor Chernov, a former oil trader who helped her gain access to a secret report that proves global oil reserves are diminishing much more rapidly than anyone thought, “so what do we do now that we know the truth about peak oil?” It is a moment of despair, that many of us who are aware of the pending oil/climate crisis have felt from time to time.  And Victor’s response………  grow a garden! It seems this former oil trader is learning to grow tomatoes at his Washington townhouse…..  hmmmmmmmm.

While not destined to become a classic, the appearance of mass market books like Prelude suggests that common culture is beginning to accept the fact that there seems to be a oil/climate crisis on the horizon…… and of course the economic crisis is with us now….. and yes, at least one of the solutions might be to grow food for myself, family and neighborhood.

Like Pollan, Kurt Cobb (who by the way is a well-respected columnist and founding member of  the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas – USA) seems to propose a simple and doable response to the crisis we seem afraid to face.  Cobb reminds us that “fear trumps hope” and finding a source of hope is a necessary first step toward developing real solutions to the problem.

I believe that if we can’t imagine reasonable solutions to a crisis, then we are not going to look at the problem (which seems to be what most Americans are doing).  But denial of the problem is actually a quite reasonable response when you can’t imagine a solution.   So yes, yes, yes, lets grow food.  Grow food everywhere! Grow food now.  Just grow food and teach others to grow food.

This is not to suggest that a few tomatoes will solve the global climate, energy and economic crises….but it is a place to begin to find hope.  And with hope….. anything is possible.

Following the story this very patient student asked me if I really believed “the perfect storm” was imminent.   So, I took a deep breath and launched into the “do it anyway” soliloquy.

You know….. that’s the one that claims the quest for individual and community self-sufficiency is a better way to live, even if there was no crisis.   And if the perfect storm slams us sooner than anyone of us would hope….. well, then at least we have begun to take some steps to be better prepared.  So, yes…. lets learn to grow our own food.  According to Sharon Astyk, we need to become a “nation of farmers,” (with farmers described as anyone who grows food for themselves and others).  That might be anything from a single patio tomato to a family garden to a small farm.  And the rest of us need to learn to cook real food!

One of my favorite books!

At this point, my student brightened up and almost shouted “that’s it! That’s what Sharon Astyk calls the anyway theory.”

And we both recalled reading with delight her “theory of anyway” which recently has given birth to one of those Astyk “lets do it together” projects that I so love.  If you have not heard about this yet, be sure to explore the “Anyway Project.”   But the point for me was that something came alive in my formerly despairing student.

Of course not everyone wants to grow tomatoes, but we all can do something.  I bake bread, make yogurt and raise worms (for my backyard chickens of course).  You pick your own sustainable thing to do!  Ride a bike to work, volunteer at the local soup kitchen, join a CSA, hang your clothes in the sun to dry, anything …… but do something – and do something fun!

I told the student that Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her book,  Small Wonder, …..people will join the sustainability movement because “…our revolution will have dancing and excellent food.”

At which point we both smiled – and hope restored, we laughed.

After he left, I did a quick search for more information on the book I just recommended (sort of) and found a lovely statement from Kurt Cobb who advised that if we are going to invite others to join the sustainability revolution, we need to be creative.  He suggested that “….an alternative way of pressing your case is to do it in verse or in song or in the form of a play, a novel, a painting, ora stand-up comedy routine.” Good advice!

Well, I can’t sing or dance very well, but I can grow food.   And I can teach others to grow foodWhat can you do? How will you contribute to the sustainability revolution?

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Here is a contribution to the sustainability revolution from a friend who makes videos about peak oil.  Check out Kriscan: Peak Oil Action and Adventure!


……

And don’t forget to keep dancing…..

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends. If you are interested in a college program in Sustainable Food and Farming, check us out at UMass.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And go here for more of my World.edu posts.