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Recently, I was asked to be a guest blogger for Handpicked Nation, an authentic food & farm site. I wandered around in a field of possible stories and settled on one of my hot new topics...the realization that  CSA doesn't stand for a "weekly box of veggies" but rather "community supported agriculture." And what does it mean to help farmers get their food to market before it gets to your fork. Below is an excerpt from the article and for the complete article click here.

“Farm-to-Table” has recently become a buzzy catchphrase. It has done a wonderful job of promoting the harvests of small-scale farms and helping people conceptualize a local food system. But before food can go from farm-to-table, it has to get to market. And that can be a huge step for a lot of small-scale farmers.

Many farmers have great business and marketing skills but all lack time; the time to get their food to market. It takes a lot of energy and money to cultivate and maintain retail relationships, develop and disseminate promotional materials for direct-to-consumer programs, not to mention the travel required to attend farmers’ markets. Infrastructure needs to be established to help small-scale farmers get over this hurdle. And food hubs provide this opportunity. They not only help farmers get over the farm-to-market hurdle but help the sustainable food movement get over the proverbial Big Ag hurdle.

For the complete article go to Handpicked Nation...


 
 
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I just received my California Voter Information Guide. It is a tremendous resource outlining candidate platforms and arguments for and against different ballot propositions. I lean on it heavily when wanting to make an informed decision at the polls. But should I? I've been following Proposition 37 for months. It advocates to have genetically modified foods labeled. I know what's at stake with a yes/no vote. In reading the voter guide, however, a less informed voter could easily be swayed or confused. It makes me wonder..."Which way does my vote swing on issues for which I'm less educated and rely on this document. Hhm?

With National Food Day On Wednesday, October 24th...it seemed like a good time to step on the soapbox and clarify what I see as the shades of gray in the voter's guide and its review of Proposition 37.

YES on Proposition 37 gives consumers the "Right To Know" what's in their food. It's not a fluffy statute. It's been proposed for a reason...because BIG Ag doesn't want us to know what is in our food. 90% of all corn & soybeans are genetically engineered crops (GE) and close to 70% of all foods in the grocery store contain GE ingredients. By keeping consumers in the dark, it promotes a climate of "don't ask don't tell." If we don't know, or the facts are withheld, its like its not true and we can continue to live in our disconnected food bubble and consume what we want thinking it is fine. It's not enough to tell people that GMO's  (genetically modified organisms) basically dominate the grocery stores shelves thinking that they will avoid these foods if they know how ubiquitous they are. A label gives the consumer knowledge, As we know, "knowledge is power." Consumers who starting asking questions pose a threat to our food industrial complex which will prompt real change to our broken food system and how food is produced and distributed.

Labeling GMO's takes the nutrition label one step further. It informs the eater in this bio-technical age which foods have been genetically engineered to withstand ginormous loads of synthetic pesticides. When food is scientifically modified in a petri dish, it changes its chemical make-up which is foreign to our gastrointestinal system and the way our body knows to digest food.

Opponents of Prop 37 claim that more than 400 scientific studies have shown that GE ingredients are safe for consumption. What they don't tell you is...those studies were performed by the manufacturers themselves, i.e. Monsanto, Cargill, etc. Federal law does not require the regulation of GE Foods and 3rd party research. As a result, 3rd party researchers are not given access to the GE Foods because the manufacturers are not obligated to by the USDA. Despite these barriers, organizations like American Academy of Environmental Medicine have been able to perform some tests on GMO's which demonstrate reproductive problems, intestinal issues, links to autism, as well as disruption in our immune system.

Opponents of Proposition 37 take issue with...

1. Dairy, meat, alcohol and foreign foods being exempt.





2. The cost associated with a GMO label, i.e. higher food prices from new labels and more expensive ingredients as well as fining those producers who fail to comply.







3. The economic impact on family farmers and food companies. 




4. The deception that a GMO label represents.
My response in favor of Proposition 37...

1. It seems they would be okay with this but if not, I say...we have to start somewhere. Better we use a phased implementation plan than try and take on the whole system all at once. Livestock may eat GMO corn and soybut they themselves are not genetically engineered. thank goodness.

2. Food companies regularly reprint labels so the price hike won't come there. And companies will have a reasonable grace period to find substitute ingredients before being fined. But yes, food prices may increase as Big Ag moves towards more sustainable farming methods to avoid the GMO label. It is a reminder that food is not cheap and to treat the earth, our bodies and the farmer fairly, we need to pay a little more for our food and less for our cars, clothes and electronics. We need re-prioritize!

3. It's not small farms that will be affected. It will be mega farms under the grip of Monsanto who will be affected. And hopefully, the label will pressure Monsanto to adjust their business model and help their farmers transition to more ecological growing practices.

5. Opponents don't elaborate on what is exactly deceptive but what is deceptive is what Big Ag doesn't want their consumers to know.  A YES vote will require that GMO foods remove words like "natural" from their packaging. If those are the words they've chosen up till now, who's calling who deceptive?
In closing, something I found really interesting in reading the voter's guide is who are the contributors to the argument for and rebuttal against. Those "for" are focused on health, food safety and small farms. Those "against" are biotech, science and organizations well funded by Big Ag.
NO on Proposition 37:
1. Farm Bureau Federation
2. Biotech Office of Food & Drug Administration
3. California Taxpayer Protection Committee
4. National Academy of Sciences
5. California Small Business Association
6. California Family Farmer
YES on Proposition 37
1. Center for Food Safety
2. Pediatrician
3. Pesticide Action Network
4. Consumer Watchdog
5. Small berry farmer
Oh, one last fun fact...40 other nations around the world enforce a GMO label. Food for thought!
 
 
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The Slow Food snail
I pulled out my wooden, travel utensils; opened my reusable container; and began eating my seasonal, organic broccoli and asparagus tossed in pasta and olive oil. Admittedly, I sat smugly enjoying  my pack lunch and the cacophony of crunching that filled my head. When I looked up, my green balloon quickly deflated. The man sitting across from me in the airport waiting area at Gate B16 wore a polo shirt with the Monsanto logo emblazoned in the upper left-hand corner…the enemy! I smirked at the irony. I looked down and admired my version of a happy meal and kept eating. My neighbor to my right was reading a newspaper. The headline read, “Fast Food on the Rise.” I looked to my left thinking I was maybe on candid camera. But instead, I saw a heavyset man hand his overweight mother a large, Ziploc bag full of prescriptions. She was slouched in a wheelchair. Her skin gray and sunken and dark bags hung heavily from her eyes. She fumbled with the bag. With shaky hands, she gave the bag back to her son and in exchange, he gave her a 6-Piece Chicken McNuggets.

She was dressed nicely in blue capris and a tailored, jean jacket. Her red Mary-Jane shoes matched her red cap and her white blouse stood in bright contrast. I lowered my fork and slowed my chewing. They didn’t notice my anthropologetic stare (I made that word up). But the social commentary was flashing in neon lights…Taking pills for the poison she is about to consume. Really?

It is hard to believe she doesn’t see the irony in her actions or make the connection between her health and nutrition. Is it apathy, education, denial, economic status? Comparing her outfit to her health, it is obvious that being treated for a disease seems to be more socially acceptable than not sporting a fashionable style. People will spend $100 for a pair of jeans but spend only $2.22 for a sandwich. Where are the priorities? A healthy meal will help you live a long life, a nice outfit will get you to the next season.

The real irony is…I was headed to the Slow Food National Congress in Louisville, Kentucky (pronounced Loul-ville). It was this past weekend.

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Going through airport security on the way home, this sign made us chuckle.
Slow Food is an international organization which advocates for "good, clean and fair food;" and the systems we need to fulfill that vision. Slow Food celebrates the pleasure of the table, community and the responsibility that comes with being an informed eater. Essentially, it is the opposite of fast food as depicted in the photo to the right. The movement got started in Italy in 1989 when the founder, Carlo Petrini, was appalled to see a McDonald's at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

There are Slow Food chapters in over 150 countries and roughly 2000 members in the United Sates alone. The National Congress is an opportunity for elected delegates from U.S. chapters, typically board members, to gather, share ideas, learn new organizing skills, vote on amendments and pull from our collective power to be successful back at home in our shared pursuits.

Slow Food is seen by many to be an elitist, affluent group of foodies looking more like a scene out of Sunset Magazine than an engaged group of activists seeking fundamental change in the food system. I knew my own chapter was a progressive group of go-getters who saw the potential of a national organization to give a voice to food justice in our small, mountain community. But what I found is that the feeling is mutual and universal among all chapters. I discovered genuine, motivated people inspired by Slow Food's mission to restore the connection we share with our food. The conference reinforced that Slow Food is an organization focused on serious issues aimed at fixing our broken food economy from pushing legislation in the 2012 Farm Bill and protecting SNAP benefits for food insecure populations to petitioning to get GMO foods labeled, educating children about good nutrition and unveiling the true cost of food.

All assembled, there were 150 delegates united and dedicated to making ecologically grown food a right not a privilege. It makes sense that Slow Food is comprised of grassroots activists. Otherwise, we would be just as disconnected from our food system as the ones we hope to transform. Sauteing Swiss chard, having a developed palette and postering over the latest issue of Food & Wine does not make a person better than someone who does not share or know these interests. Having the knowledge is one thing. Doing something with it is another and that is what Slow Food is all about; channeling that passion to make a difference.

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a blurr of swing dancing to Kentucky bluegrass the night of our barn dinner
During closing remarks on the last day, the floor was open to comments. A gal named Eve from Chicago raised her arm and was handed the mic. She stood up and shared a story about meeting the hotel's parking lot attendant earlier that day. The employee asked what conference they were attending. The gave a concise description of Slow Food not expecting it to resonate. Quite the contrary. His eyes lite up and demonstrated that he understood the basic issues, "That's good work! You're helping to make food healthier with less chemical pesticides and fertilizers, right?"

It proved that people get it! They know! They know that much of the food out there is bad for us and the environment. It affirmed the good work they are doing and that all the volunteer hours are worth it because they are fighting for people like that employee of the hotel. Eve finished with this simple and profound statement. I think it is my favorite from the weekend, "Change is hard, but the need is universal!"

Executive Director, Josh Viertel, closed the conference reminding us to celebrate! Celebrate food with music and friends. Without, our work is meaningless! We need both both the pleasure and the responsibility to have balance and be effective.

It reminded me of one of the first potlucks I attended after college. During college I took food for granted and after graduation, I didn't want to spend the money. That all changed the night I was invited to a dinner party by my friend Mel. It was at the house of Byron and Shalley. People I did not know, yet! I was greeted by the wafting smells of salmon being smoked on the back deck as I arrived. The meal was an explosion of flavors I had never tasted. I remember we started calling Byron's food Byranian because it was so unique; a fusion of Asian, Thai and Hawaiian. We still reference that moniker to this day. As the dishes piled up in the sink, an array of instruments started emerging from cases and behind chairs. A 3-hour jam session ensued. I had never experienced anything like it before, twenty or more people making music on the fly just feeding off the energy and direction of their fellow players. I have no musical talent but i played a pretty good set of wood sticks. I struck the wood sticks to the beat smiling from ear to ear. I was so happy to be apart of this gathering, this celebration and new friends! I didn't know it at the time but it was when I first learned about Slow Food!

 
 
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I handed the postmaster my yellow slip and he returned with a package from Amazon. I hadn't ordered anything so while he processed my other mail, I opened the box to find the book, Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter. I started flipping through it and was immediately enthralled turning the book so the postman could see the color glossy images of the cutest small homes, I'd ever seen. Some were made from earth, mud and other natural materials sourced on site. While others were made out of recycled scraps, repurposed materials, backyard sheds as well as old trailers, buses and gypsy wagons.

On the drive home, I was wondering how this book came to be in my possession. Perhaps it was from a publisher for whom I was doing a book review and they had sent me the book by mistake. It would have been such a coincidence to send this book, of all books, to me...I've had a fascination with cottages for as long as I can remember starting when I was eleven years old with Julie Andrews' book, Mandy. The reply from the publisher read, "no, they had not sent me the book," I rustled through the box that was now in the recycling bin to find a wee slip of paper that said, "From your brother-in-law, Mike." A smile grew across my face. So cool! I had forgotten our conversation from a few months earlier where I had told him how I wanted to build a simple, 500 sq. ft. cabin on a lovely piece of land and call it home. He, however, had remembered our chat and when he saw this book, sent it along for inspiration. Those are the best presents of all!

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Later that week, I was attending the first day of a permaculture course with Northern Nevada Permaculture and Urban Roots Garden Classrooms in Reno. The whole premise of permaculture is to create land-use systems which utilize resources in a sustainable way. Nature is permanent agriculture so in permaculture you are basically mimicking nature's design to grow food,  harness energy and live in connection to place. It is more than sustainable it is regenerative because a large part of permaculture is stacking functions which create cycles to reuse energy like the sun and water. 

People are a part of nature so in permaculture, they live in more ecological structures. When our instructor started flipping through examples of "tiny homes, simple shelters," I was even more amazed by the timing of this book in my life.

For a long time now, I've realized my life choices may never make me millions and I will more than likely have to work well past retirement age. But my life choices could be my social security! And a small, energy efficient, sustainably sourced, off-the-grid home could not only provide me a simpler life in later years but be kind to the environment as well. These homes are as beautiful as they are unique and their ingenuity is intoxicating. We talk about reducing our carbon footprint. Perhaps it starts with literally reducing the footprint upon which we live. The costs associated with eco-homes can be expensive but when scaled for smaller structures and when supplemented with natural cycles to capture energy, it can be affordable. Granted, not everyone is going to move to the country and go Daniel Boone but it does give pause for reflection. But for me, my financial future just got a whole lot brighter with this as a possibility.

 
 
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Over coffee the other day, my friend, Dan Smith with the Genesa Living Foundation, posed the question, "How do we create more farmers?" It was like throwing me a ball of catnip.

First, let's define what having more farmers will provide the United Sates...a low unemployment rate and smaller farms. Because the more people we have farming, the more farms there will be. We won't need as many large-scale farms because farmers will have been brought back onto the land. We'll have put people to work and begun repairing the acres of land devastated by conventional practices. It's a trifecta...social, economic and environmental success! As Barbara Damrosch of the Washington Post said in an article advocating for small farms, "We feed the world, fight poverty and address climate change!

But how do we get more farmers? I immediately think of the phrase, "If we build it, they will come." In other words, create an environment that supports farmers and small-scale production. Just like plants, farmers need the right conditions to grow. We need to make it conducive to farm. In doing so, farming will be more attractive and less of an alternative but more of legitimate option. It's not surprising that the environment is lacking. Less than 1% of the population is farming and big ag lobbyists keep whittling it down further. Just as chemical toxins kill plants in the fields, toxic energy in the business is killing the agricultural field. In the early 20th Century, nearly half the workforce in the US were in agriculture. It was not only a way to make a living but to provide for your family. People want the same two, basic things today.. .    

The biggest barrier to more people farming is the lack of infrastructure. If there was a legitimate support network for small-scale farming like we have in other careers and public works projects such as utilities, roads, law enforcement and health care, farming would be considered a viable career and job opportunity. 

To build that infrastructure, we need a jobs program to train new farmers coupled with a grants system and a land bank. In a survey of 1,000 US farmers by the National Young Farmers' Coalition, "access to capital, access to land and health insurance present the largest obstacles for beginners." USDA grants exist but it is hard to qualify and bottom line there just aren't enough grants. Owning land is expensive and leasing land can be hard to find. Organizations like Farm Link and Farmland Trust do a great job of connecting farmers with available land but there is still lots of available land that could be acquired or repurposed to get more farmers farming.

Until that dream state arrives, there are grassroots efforts available that we can leverage to get more people farming...mentoring programs and public education. One is a short-term goal and the other a long-term goal. Apprenticeships, workshops and incubator programs exist around the country. ALBA Organics in Salinas, CA is an example. It's a 100 acre farm where graduates can lease land on a sliding scale. They pay 20% the market value for 1/2-acre and over time will pay 100% for up to 7 acres. Farmers work side-by-side learning from each other with continued education from ALBA's trainers. Business support is available for small entrepreneurs or farmers can sell produce to the organization's private label brand which is sells to Whole Foods and other grocers. Land trusts could help establish more programs like ALBA or regular people with land of their own or capital to buy, could create a center like ALBA that supports farmers through the entire process.

Public education on the other hand sets us up for the long term. At the elementary school level, class-based curriculum and from-scratch lunch programs will plant the seed for tomorrow in younger generations instilling a value for food and the hard work it takes to produce it. Food has become so convenient that we are not only disconnected from where it comes from but almost how to feed ourselves. At higher-levels of education, land-grant universities all need to embrace sustainable agriculture programs making it not just a degree but a school of thought. The later has a bit more red tape to get through which is why our youth are our best hope for change. Concerned parents can pressure school districts and integrate lunch plans that are healthy and made from whole foods ideally from local sources.

In an interview with Michael Pollan, he said government driven agricultural reform will not happen till there is stronger leadership and a national organization for the food movement. But in places like Venezuela, the government under President Hugo Chávez, are helping the people acquire farm land. Venezuela realizes that their people not only have an ancestral right to work the land but that economic prosperity and food security are result of an equitable society. A society where people take pride in being able to provide and be a contributing member of the community. It's a reminder that  food justice is a social movement. If the US government saw food through a larger lens they would realize too that the groundswell they are waiting for already exists.

The current political climate doesn't indicate that change will be happening anytime soon especially with $15 billion in cuts to the USDA budget for the 2012 Farm Bill. Progressive, conservation bills are at stake like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Act. And whatever happened to Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack's, 2010 proposal for 100,000 new farmers in the next few years? His plan outlined the infrastructure necessary to make it happen. Guess that's my next assignment!

Parting thought from Barbara Damrosch's earlier mentioned article, "let's bring a livelihood to the farmers, not just to the companies selling them products or trying to commandeer their lands."

Here is a short 4min video from one of my favorite filmmakers, Joaquin Baldwin. Whimsical in nature but hopeful in its message, the video demonstrators the power of farmers to provide whether it be food or in this case...renewable energy! Enjoy!

 
 
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In the wake of Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, resigning and a new Italian government on the horizon, it makes you wonder, "is it really that easy?" Out with the old government and in with the new? All of a sudden, some of my more radical ideas started to seem not so extreme. So I dug through my archives and pulled out a piece that I wrote a couple years ago when I first started dabbling in food thought. I had this idea for a farmer led food revolution. It is pretty idealistic. But sometimes you just have to ask, "What If?"


THE UPRISING
Change in the food system can come from consumers voting with their fork or government passing progressive policy. Neither is moving very fast. What if the change came from farmers? After all, they grow the food! Without them, we would have no food. From that perspective, they hold a lot of power. The number of organic farmers is growing but we need more. Could we get enough conventional farms to transition to sustainable methods before consumer demand and government support turn the tide?

How many conventional farmers would it take to create a farm revolution in Big Ag? If that number banned together in solidarity for better farm practices, it could create a tipping point leading to a cascade of agricultural reforms. But how do we convince this critical mass?

Big Ag has lobbied government to consolidate and centralize taking the farmer out of the equation. It has driven the percentage of registered career farmers down from 20% seventy years ago to just 1%. 1% leaves the agricultural industry vulnerable. A significant disruption like a flood, drought or plight could paralyze the food economy. An organized guerilla effort could give that 1% a lot of power.

THE MOVEMENT
I like to believe that all farmers have an innate love for the land. And if given the chance, conventional farmers would unanimously return to a management style that built integrity not only back into the soil but into their craft. In the root cellars of these tradesmen exist basic guiding principles of land stewardship. Farmers are in many ways the first conservationists; learning from nature on how to grow food and provide. If food insurgents help them recover this lost art, we can reclaim the land and reestablish a sensible, food system.

How about a movement that paid farmers to quit farming conventionally? Farmers would participate in a program where they would be paid from private funds to transition their farms over to organic. Contracts with Monsanto, Cargill and the like would need to be cancelled. Land would begin to heal and diverse farming ecosystems would once again populate the country. A training program would assist farmers in the conversion process giving them the necessary skills as well as a business plan for marketing their products.

If enough farmers participated in the program, the supply of organic food would eventually surpass the supply of conventionally grown food or at least give organic a competitive edge.

THE EFFORT
To convince conventional farmers, a coalition of organic growers would launch a ground effort to talk farmer to farmer. With enough farmers on board, conventional farming would begin to wane and perhaps be extinguished altogether.

The money to fund this project would come from individual donors - celebrities, business men/women, private parties, foundations, etc. Basically, anyone interested in seeing a change. It would require huge capitol. Billions of dollars would be needed to cover all costs associated with the project from paying farmers and training programs to the project’s steering team made up of fundraisers, farmers and administrators.

The proposed revolution would focus on large-scale producers. To truly fix our food economy, we need address the large tracts of land designated for industrial farming and ranching namely the Central Valley and the Bread Basket. The question then becomes...Do we help these farmers improve their practice at their current size or do we encourage them to down-size dividing their land into smaller plots to be bought and sold to new farmers? Smaller farms create jobs and smaller farms can more readily mimic natural ecosystems. Better for the land, better for the economy, better for the community.

Farming is an untapped job market which could significantly reduce unemployment. If we could get just 5% of the population farming again, it would make a huge impact economically, culturally and environmentally. It would help achieve Food Sovereignty where by "the people" define their food system and agricultural policy. Now is the time! The average age of farmers is getting older. We need young, enthusiastic farmers entering the market. If we don't get more people farming now, the ag giants will only get bigger as the gobble up the land of these aging farmers. Rise your scythe!

 
 
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A global map of Occupy movements on 10/15: http://map.15october.net/
Whether you are still uncertain about the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations or you want to better understand it's scope and share its message, read this article by Chip Ward on TomDispatch.com. It does a great job of drawing the parallels between the economic and the environmental concerns of the 99% campaign. Here's a synopsis...

The Occupy Movement  has the potential to embody any issue where the needs of markets and corporations are put above the needs of the people and the planet. Chip's article shows how  "environmental quality and economic inequality are joined at the hip." He points to our economy's "bottom-line, quarterly-report fixation on profitability." "When there's money to be made, both workers and the environment are expendable," he exclaims! He describes the consequential ecological and social injustices that are encountered as "the price of doing business." Perhaps if "the barons of the chemical and nuclear industries lived next to the radioactive or toxic-waste dumps that their corporations create," things would be different. Chip goes on to say, "Polluters routinely walk away from the ground they poison and expect taxpayers to clean up after them. By 'externalizing' such costs, profits are increased."

Our capitalistic society can be both a blessing and a curse. Chip talks about the underpin of our economy, growth..."The fundamental contradiction of our time is this: We have built an all-encompassing economic engine that requires unending growth." He concludes by saying, "It's hard to imagine how we'll address our converging ecological crises without first addressing the way accumulating wealth and power has captured the political system."

Thanks Chip for your voice!

 
 
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Till last week, I'd kept a peripheral view of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. As satellite protests popped up around the country and the world, I began paying closer attention to the declaration of these activists. Having outgrown its address, the movement is now being referred to as the NYC General Assembly. The uprising is on the coat tails of the Tar Sands Action's XL Pipeline protest in Washington D.C. outside the White House. My first thought was, "Could Occupy Wall Street overshadow the Tar Sands Action?" Seemed counter productive to have two, critical movements happening at the same time. Till...they joined forces! Then the food movement jumped on board. All of a sudden, it became clear. The size and scope of the Occupy Wall Street initiative could represent much more than just the 99%. It could become the umbrella for many of the concerns facing our planet, our people and our economy unifying many campaigns in solidarity around the world. Strength in numbers!

Inclusivity is intrinsic to Occupy Wall Street's principles. Unlike a politician who pushes their own agenda. OWS works collaboratively within working groups to come to consensus to build an agenda. Demonstrators in NYC's Zuccotti Park participate in these sessions vetting all the issues presented in order to create an strategic plan of action. By building consensus, the General Assembly can be sure that they are inclusive of everyone's voice. In other words, they are shaping a democracy. Sound familiar? Watch out OWS! History has shown it could be a slippery slope! The movement has received respect for how well it has organized itself but received low marks for not being clear on its demands. There is contention within the OWS on how to reach these demands, straight consensus or 2/3 majority? We'll have to wait and see. Perhaps OWS is slow to deliver because they encompass more than just a few bullet points but rather a new decision making process altogether.

Running parallel to Occupy Wall Street are the injustices in the food system. It is easy to see how the two movements are connected. In drastic comparison to the 1%, are the one in five Americans on food stamps. A few powerful corporations dominate the food industry as wells as the government which is intended to control them. And food is traded on Wall Street as a commodity making it vulnerable to market fluctuations. In recent years, grain prices increased and had a ripple effect around the world. Good for farmers, bad for people. Then when the prices drop, the farmers are the at the other end. Some say that Wall Street is responsible. Looking for a new investments after the housing bubble, financial institutions capitalized on the looser regulations governing the trade of agricultural commodities. Hoping to make a quick buck, Wall Street gambled with our food.

The Occupy Wall Street demonstration has the critical mass to bring the food movement into the social movement spotlight.

 
 
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Oran Hesterman of the Fair Food Network and me
Over the past month, I've quoted and commented from the book, Fair Food, by Dr. Oran Hesterman PhD. On Monday, I had the unique opportunity to drive with Oran from Ann Arbor to Detroit to attend the Fighting Hunger Summit hosted by United Way of Southeastern Michigan at the Gleaners Food Bank.

Oran's book offers insight, case studies and strategies for "growing a healthy, sustainable food system." A sustainable food system is fair. It's fair to the earth, the animals and the people. Our current system is not exactly fair. It is built on profit instead of equity. Both can lead to economic vitality but a profit-based system leaves a wake of inequities in its path. Those marginalized, however, can bring value to the system celebrating the cultural, biological and economic diversity of our planet and our society. Oran reminds us...Diversity on the farm and diversity in the marketplace builds resilient, equitable, local economies.

My 50-minutes of car time gave me the opportunity to soundboard ideas that have been collecting along my food journey. His book germinated all kinds of new ideas and our conversation gave me the straight talk I needed to steady my course.

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Gleaners Food Bank - Detroit, MI
Arriving at the summit, Oran headed on to keynote, speaker duties and I made my way around to all the organizations tabling during the breakfast reception. I quickly filled a bag of brochures and handouts. I was ready to learn from a city of people who have been fighting hunger since the conception of the food stamp. Detroit was one of 40 counties nationwide in the 1961 pilot program before the act was later established in 1964. By holding the summit at a food bank, the conference grounded people to the issue. No fancy, banquet hall to separate attendees from the job in front of us all...food justice.

Detroit is quickly shifting its spotlight away from depressed, former-boom town to the new face of urban living. At the heart, is Detroit's vibrant community garden program. And at the helm, is The Greening of Detroit who supports over 1000 gardens as well other educational and advocacy programs to green Detroit like their tree planting initiative. Not only does Detroit know the pains of hunger but the victories of rising up. A battalion of other organizations sit side-by-side The Greening of Detroit in their effort to make Detroit a more prosperous and equitable city like Forgotten Harvest, Detroit Food Policy Council, Double-Up Food Bucks, etc.

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"Fair Food" proudly displayed on the shelf at the Ann Arbor Whole Foods store
The summit convened. The objectives were clear...the United Way of Southeastern Michigan wanted to better understand the barriers to food access. By calling together the area's food leaders, they would be able to glean the necessary items to build a strategy for improvement. Breakout sessions on five, different barriers would pave the way. As each group presented their findings, a trend emerged...better collaboration between community non-profits working on food related issues. My recommendation...United Way should do an assessment of all the organizations in Southeast Michigan and evaluate where their is duplication, low-lying fruits and missed opportunities. Create a coordinator position which audits these actions and develops a communication system to leverage these efforts and build relationships. Through this process, United Way will shift from being an just agent of "social services to social change." **

** Credit for this quote goes to my table-mate, Shane Bernardo, who works across the street from the Gleaners Food Bank at Earthworks Urban Farm as the Outreach Coordinator.

 

Jump In!

08/21/2011

0 Comments

 
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If your not already involved in the local, food movement, but want to be, it can feel a little like playing double-dutch jump rope...your on the sidelines wanting to play but something is holding you back. It's hard sometimes to know when to stop watching and just jump into the mix. And if you are involved in the local, food movement then Food Policy Councils want you too..."What? How did we go from jump rope to food policy?" Well, if i just started spewing about food policy, I would have lost people at hello. Put the word "policy" in anything and watch people scatter. But it doesn't need to be that way. The picture to the left looks like any kitchen table gathering but it's actually a food policy meeting. Anyone one of us could picture ourselves at this table.

A food policy council often is initiated by local government but can also start at the grassroots level by concerned citizens. No matter who lite the match, the igniter then invites a cross-section of the community's food system starting with representatives from the five main sectors: production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste recycling. That means people like farmers, chefs, grocers and consumers. The goal is simple...1) identify and propose innovative solutions to improve the local food system. 2) be a catalyst for economic development. And 3) make a local food system more environmentally sustainable and socially just.** Sensitive issues will be addressed and toes will get stepped on in these meetings but common ground can be reached because the end goal is for everyone's betterment...a resilient food system that provides jobs and access to quality, healthy food for all!

I'm touting their praises because food policy councils are exactly the type of conversations we need to be having with our neighbors, area businesses and municipal leaders in order to give a voice to the problems in our food system and build bridges between policy makers and the public. Just as people are disconnected from where their food comes from, government can get disconnected from the food justice issues of its people. In the same turn, farmers can get too focused on just staying in business and disregard the long term impacts of their conventional, farming practices.

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A couple weeks ago, I was talking to those involved in establishing a council in Northern Nevada and last week, I attended a meeting in Oberlin for establishing one here in Lorain County by a community learning center. I was energized by the enthusiasm as well as the hunger for such an initiative. It demonstrated that food policy councils are a great way for regular, concerned citizens to get involved in the local food movement and work with those who are involved and those driving legislation. Food policy councils are popping up all over the country and have been since the early 80's. It might be as easy as asking around for one to join or starting a council where one does not exist. Either way, it's like jump rope...you just have to jump in the game if you want to play. If you are interested in finding out more about establishing a food policy council, here are some resources from whom I gathered much of my own information for this blog: Food First** and Community Food Security Coalition**. And for a successful case study, check out Roots of Change. They are busy building roundtables like this all over the state of California.