A Great Winter Conference
Many thanks to the 800 people who joined us last Saturday at Wilton High School for our biggest winter conference ever with 200 more participants than last year. What a wonderful gathering of people doing critical and exciting work, sharing skills and enthusiasm. We are creating a healthy and local food system.
The community at the conference brings to mind the quotes that Dr. Wolfe put on his last slide. (You can see his whole presentation here. )
From environmentalist and author Paul Hawkin: "If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse."
From author Terry Tempest Williams: "I do not believe we can look for leadership beyond ourselves."
Besides the great crowd, it was very exciting to be so warmly welcomed in Wilton by so many different organizations, businesses and people. Thanks to everyone who made it such a wonderful experience.
If you attended the conference, please go here to fill out the evaluation and help us plan an even better conference next year.
GMO Labeling Heats Up
There are two GMO Labeling bills before legislative committees in Connecticut. One, HB 6527, requires labels on baby food that contains GMOs. The other, HB 6519, requires labeling on most products that contain genetically modified ingredients. There is a public hearing on the second bill on Friday March 15 at 10:30 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
The Labeling Coalition is planning statewide events on March 20th at 7 PM.
Click here for more information on our GMO Labeling efforts and useful links for submitting testimony.
Now is the time to talk to your state senator and representative about your Right to Know what is in your food with labeling for GMOs.
A Triumph of the Industrial Food System
Most of the GM ingredients are Roundup Ready. They are sales tools for an herbicide. Roundup Ready wheat, tomato and lettuce are waiting in the wings. What does it say that we have a food system designed to increase sales of a chemical that kills all green plants except GMOs? Until the weeds become super weeds. I think taste, nutrition, health, a healthy environment are more appropriate to create a food system around. Gear up the industrial medical system for incoming disasters.
Visions of the Food System
We've been involved in creating the Connecticut Food System Alliance. That has stimulated thoughts about food systems and reflections on the last four decades of working to create a better food system. Here is a start.
How about some frank talk about visions for the food system?
This is not a call to action, but a call to thought and discussion about the bigger issues in the food system and their implications for our work in Connecticut.
Food is essential for our health and life. It is our MOST important energy source and, after air and water, our most important connection with Earth.
The values of the Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) are Justice, Health, Knowledge, Integrity, Courage and Enjoyment. In the interest of those values and gearing up as much courage as I can, I put forth some information, resources and thoughts for your consideration.
My personal values for a food system include widespread knowledge, democratic control, maximum solar energy use and nurturing communities.
The Connecticut Food System Alliance has this vision:
"Together we can build a better food system. We envision a Connecticut where everyone has access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable food; where the food supply chain supports many vibrant and varied businesses that provide sustainable livelihoods; where there is broad public awareness and passionate public support of a robust local food system; and where stewardship of soil, water, air and energy resources is institutionalized as an integral part of a resilient and robust regional culture of food, health and community."
So you know where CT NOFA is coming from, NOFA is dedicated to a vision of interconnected healthy communities living in ecological balance deeply rooted in a sense of place, grounded in organic care of the land.
Based on over 40 years of work on, and study of, the food system, I can say that there are two distinct visions and trends in the food system- industrial and ecological. More recently agro-ecological has been used to describe the alternative to industrial. (I wrote about agroecology here.)
Over 15 years ago, I wrote about this divide in "Two Visions," (attached as one of a collection of essays I put together in the last century. I think they are still relevant.)
This "Two Visions" framing of food system thinking is based on a speech by Fred Kirschenmann, a large-scale, organic/biodynamic farmer from the Great Plains who is now director of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.
In the mid 1990s, I spent two years as a participant in a Keystone Dialogue on Trends in Agriculture with representatives of the two visions. We heard from many experts, shared our work and opinions, and visited farms in three states. We never came to the consensus that the funders (Dow, Monsanto, etc,) looked for.
What is the Industrial Vision?
Recently, a kind of in-your-face description of the Industrial Vision came across my screen.
For a few weeks, I've been getting the New England edition of Morning Ag clips, complete with some useful articles as well as ads for Roundup Ready sweet corn. (They had a nice article about Brendan Smith, the Branford Oyster Farmer who is also raising seaweed and removing excess nitrogen from Long Island Sound. Note that he is doing at least three things at the same time, all for the good.)
On February 11, they linked to an article in the Delta Farm Press. I've since seen the article reprinted in other farm presses. Undoubtedly there is a well-funded PR firm behind it.
Here is an amazingly frank description of what is important to U.S. agriculture, or at least what some think of as US agriculture.
The author Baise says in part:
"In the coming four years of the current administration, U.S. agriculture will face five major trends:
- Opposition to monoculture cropping. Environmental and public interest groups in the U.S. and worldwide don't like the idea that we are the world's best producers of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Their opposition to this monoculture is, in part, where the organic movement is coming from - feed the rich, not the poor. *
- Opposition to CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). I spend much of my trial time these days defending CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). We win most, but opposition to CAFOs is a given for environmental public interest groups.
If you don't believe it, check the website activistcash.com for a rundown on all the foundations in the country. It shows that for many of these groups a high priority is opposition to CAFOs.
- Opposition to international trade.
- Opposition to genetically modified organisms, the technology that will allow us to continue to feed the world.
- Criminalization of runoff from concentrated livestock and poultry feeding operations.
"We must continue to work to defend agriculture against those who want to put us out of business."
So his vision is large-scale monocultures of genetically engineered crops grown in large part to feed confined animal feeding operations whose wastes flow into our waters without harm to the "farmers"; much of that meat will be exported to other countries. (The US government is currently suing India at the WTO because they won't take our chicken legs. China and Russia don't want our pork and beef because of a chemical fed to industrial animals.) Another big part of the harvest will provide raw materials for the food and beverages that the industrial system markets and sells to us.
This vision has farmers as serfs between the likes of Monsanto and Cargill, caught between the seed cartel with concentrated control of inputs and the grain cartel with concentrated control of markets.
*We have tens of millions of acres of GMO monocultures in this country, but still lots of the poor are hungry, here and all over the planet. However, many tons of fresh produce are donated to the needy by organic community farms in Connecticut each year.
Creating the Alternative
However there is a growing population that doesn't want to eat that industrial food because we see avoiding those products and withdrawing our support for the industrial system as one of the best ways we can have widespread positive effects on the environment and on our health. In fact there are people who go way out of their way to avoid participating in the whole GMO, monoculture, CAFO, long distance system.
The Good, Fair Local Food Movement in Connecticut
Indeed, if you look at the literal explosion of good local food and agriculture in Connecticut in just the last 15 years, we can sense how much interest there is in the alternative to industrial. (It doesn't take very long monitoring the Comfood and ComfoodJobs list serves to learn that this explosion is happening all over the country and the planet.)
Since my "Two Visions" essay first aired on the Living on the Earth radio show, Connecticut people have created:
- Working Lands Alliance
- Town Agricultural Commissions
- Organic farms at Yale, UConn, Conn College, SCSU, Wesleyan and more
- Common Ground High School
- CitySeed Farmers Markets
- Coventry Farmers Market
- 50-100 other new Farmers Markets
- Fiddleheads Coop
- Connecticut Farmland Trust
- Elm City Coop
- Fresh New London
- Urban Oaks Organic Farm
- About 100 Community Supported Agriculture Farms
- School gardens in a growing number of schools. Some towns plan to have a garden in every school.
- Farmers Cow
- A growing number of farms whose land is protected from development
- Farm to Chef Program
- Community Farms Program
- Community Farms in Woodbridge, Glastonbury, Simsbury, Wilton, several in New Haven, Cheshire, Stonington, Madison, Bridgeport, Hartford, Suffield, Weston, Stonington, Waterbury, and more
- Litchfield Farmers Market
- New Connecticut Farmers Alliance
- CT NOFA's Beginning Farmer Program
- Incubator Farmer program at Community Farm of Simsbury
- Farm to Table restaurants
- Wood Fired Pizza trucks
- Lots of new Community Gardens
- Food Corps
- Many classes in schools at all levels studying food and agriculture.
- Lots of work in Eastern CT, RC&D, Woodstock, Last Green Valley, Agvocates that I only hear of.
- Very Alive
- Garden/farm projects at many churches
- Connecticut Food SystemsAlliance
- Farm to School Program
- Dozens of cheese producers
- Farm wineries
- Food Policy Councils in Hartford, New Haven, New London, Bridgeport
- UConn's Scaling Up program
- Farm to Table dinners at Hall HS and Shepaug HS
- Lots and lots of home gardens
- Incredible increase in backyard egg production
- Sharp increase in maple syrup producers
- Plow to Plate Program
- Wellness Gardens
I suspect that this just scratches the surface. In just 15 years! Imagine what could happen in another 15 years.
As far as I know, none of these organizations or programs is saying "Please give us more monocultures of genetically modified crops, more CAFOs, more international trade and dirtier rivers."
In fact, most of them are working as hard as they can, scrambling to put together the resources to grow a diversity of good food in Connecticut, to educate people about food and make food more available to those who need it. Indeed the steep rise in donations of healthy local vegetables from Community Farms and Gardens, as well as from individual growers also looks explosive.
I spent most of a recent week talking to new farmers. To a person, they were interested in producing healthy food, fruits and vegetables for local markets. Many wanted the public and especially children to visit their farm.
Problems with the Industrial Vision
As we create the new healthy food system, our work is slowed by headwinds from the wealthy and powerful supporters of the industrial system - input suppliers such as Monsanto and Dupont, producer groups such as the National Cattleman's Beef Board and the Pork Producers Association, as well as the beneficiaries of all this cheap raw material such as Coke, ConAgra, McDonald's and Pepsi.
I've been enjoying Eric Holt-Gimenez's blogs from Food First. In this recent blog, God made a Farmer... but Dodge RAM channeled the Dominant Food Narrative Eric points out that the Industrial System thrives by making many food system realities invisible and promoting the idea that there is no alternative to the industrial system.
There has to be an alternative to the destructive industrial system that is destroying the health of the environment and the population; a system which destroys biodiversity on a massive level, uses incredible quantities of nitrogen fertilizer which releases large quantities of greenhouse gases as it makes us all less resilient.
Given my food system values, it is not surprising that I am not a fan of the industrial system that thrives on our ignorance of how to grow, raise and gather food and how to cook a meal. It thrives on our ignorance of labor and environmental conditions in the food chain and seems to think it needs to keep us ignorant about the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our food supply. (There is a very large overlap between the opponents of labeling and the Industrial Ag leaders.)
Spend a little time working for the widespread public desire to know what is in our food through labeling of GMOs and you quickly understand the power and hegemonic control exerted by the industrial system.
The Farm Bill keeps showering money on the growers of large GMO monocultures despite the connections between the products those crops produce and serious crisis in public health. (One thing we learn from the study of organic agriculture -a holistic paradigm- is that human and environmental health are closely linked.)
It is a sign of the dominance (hegemony) of the industrial system that 42 years after Frances Moore Lappe connected meat production with personal and planetary health and food justice, that the National Cattlemen's Beef Board can make the USDA remove a suggestion to its employees that they try "Meatless Mondays."
There is a lot of scientific, anecdotal and personal evidence that eating less meat is one of the most beneficial things we can do for our health and the health of the planet. That is especially true for factory-farmed meat. Pasture based meat is better for the planet and our health.
If the Industrial system's enforcers can intimidate the USDA, imagine what they can do to smaller organizations.
Thanks for your work. I look forward to your thoughts and feedback. Contact me at email@example.com.
A few other interesting links:
- About the desire to keep things hidden
New Vision created by executives from Kraft, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Walmart, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Dupont and others who want to control the food and agriculture system
Fresh from Oakland, check out Earth Amplified's new video "Food Fight"
The cover story of last week's New York Times magazine. It's basically "Confessions of a Frito-Lay Junk Food Scientist.
Shannon Hayes, the keynote speaker at our 2011 Winter Conference puts the "Feed the World" idea to deserved end in this essay. It is really an act of hubris and arrogance to think we will feed the world, especially since so much of the world doesn't want the GMOs and Factory meat the Industrial system produces.
Another good essay from Food First.