In the mid-1970s, I was a member of the Detroit-based Pan-African Congress, USA. Inspired by the South African political party, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the PAC-USA, asserted that “land is the basis of power.” Of course, this slogan echoed the words of Malcolm X and countless other Black activists before him. It embodied the understanding that it is from the land that we get the food that sustains our lives. It is from the land that we get the materials needed for housing, and clothing. It is from the land that we get mineral resources that feed economies and generate wealth. It is on the land that we build, grow and create community. As we struggle to foster food security, food justice and food sovereignty, the question of land, who “owns” it, who controls it and who benefits from it, must be in the forefront of our discussions.
In mid-June, beginning farmer and former IATP staff member Dayna Burtness was delivering her farm’s vegetables to clients in Minneapolis when she got the call: the rain that had started at mid-day had not let up for hours. Things were looking bad back at Laughing Loon Farm.
Dayna rushed back to Northfield to find a river of floodwater rushing through her fields. “It was terrible,” she remembered.
The downpour dumped more than eight inches of rain in several hours, and the water in a ditch bordering Dayna’s fields overflowed, following the path of a creek that had been diverted off of the property many years ago. A 40-foot-wide rushing river of floodwater wiped out a third of Dayna’s crops, in addition to transplant seedlings, equipment and materials.
The destructive weather didn’t stop there. Just as she was assessing which crops had escaped this first onslaught, severe storms struck again a few nights later.
“Golf ball– to Roma tomato–sized hail severely damaged the rest of the crops that hadn’t been washed away. It completely wiped out the rest of our sugar snap pea production, which was just starting to hit its stride. It snapped most of our tomato plants in half. It bashed up our fields of cucumbers, squash and winter squash, and it also snapped off many of the tops of the peppers and eggplants.” Neighbors of Laughing Loon were shocked at the devastation on Dayna’s farm, and even long-time residents can’t remember seeing such destructive flooding.
In today's edition of Radio Sustain, IATP program associate and long-time community activist LaDonna Redmond discusses food justice, and IATP's upcoming national conference, Food + Justice = Democracy.
Learn more about the conference, extensive list of speakers and registration at iatp.org/food-justice.
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Steve Ells is doing a great thing. It’s not just the Chipotle founder and CEO’s decision to buy organic, or local, or avoid antibiotics in animal products. It’s not even his focus on ethically raised meat. No, his greatest contribution is one of omission. While nationwide protests urge Mr. Ells to sign a labor agreement with farm workers, the mainstream press (most recently Time magazine) has chosen to focus on the eco-friendly practices of the Chipotle fast food chain. They call this “sustainability,” but it’s not; and this is what Mr. Ells has given us—an opportunity to redefine sustainability.
Most people think of sustainability as environmentalism for the business owner, but this is a narrow redefinition of a broad, inclusive term. To sustain is to keep something going, to endure. A sustainable system is one in which the elements are used only to the point where they can regenerate, where resources are not simply used up and disposed of. In this more comprehensive and accurate sense, a food system that exploits workers is not sustainable.
An article in Politico yesterday suggested that the introduction of more than 200 amendments to the Farm Bill on the Senate floor was part of a conservative strategy to “bait Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) into a confrontation that will ultimately kill the bill.” Aside from potentially upsetting Reid, the avalanche of amendments also makes it extremely difficult for citizens to track and weigh in on the type of Farm Bill they want. And maybe that’s another part of the amendment bomb strategy.
Senate leaders are working to winnow down the amendments to something manageable, and still hope to complete the bill by their July break. Last week, IATP sent a letter to Minnesota Senators outlining our priority amendments, including those focused on: a packer ban to restore competition in livestock markets, linking conservation to crop insurance, public research focused on crop diversity, rural development programs, and support for Beginning and Disadvantaged farmers.
IATP's Jim Kleinschmit was recently interviewed by ARC2020, a multi-stakeholder platform, of over 150 organisations within 22 EU Member States working for reform the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They asked about his work, and the links between the U.S. Farm Bill and the CAP. Learn more about ARC2020 at www.arc2020.eu or read the interview below:
Last month, we received a visit from Jim Kleinschmit, Rural Communities Program Director at the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, USA. We took the opportunity to ask him about his work, his organisation and the links between the US Farm Bill and Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy…
1. Can you tell us how you came to be involved in your work and what are the strongest images and/or influences that have been accompanying you?
I was fortunate to be raised on a farm in Northeast Nebraska by parents involved in the U.S. family farm and sustainable agriculture movement. Over the last twenty five years, my family has transitioned our farm from conventional dairy, livestock and crop production to organic crop and grass-fed beef production. Throughout our childhood and even today, my parents instilled in me and my siblings the importance of farming in society, the responsibility farmers have to protect and enhance soil and other natural resources, and the fact that our current farm policies are not working for farmers, the environment or society.
Many of us on staff at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy enjoy an occasional Chipotle burrito. Compared to other casual dining options, the company has done an outstanding job of sourcing antibiotic-free meat from farmers committed to the humane treatment of animals. We applaud its efforts to provide “food with integrity” and, of course, the touching “Back to the Start” video that depicts the life of a family farmer.
Yet despite these admirable efforts, we are disappointed by Chipotle’s blind spot when it comes to farmworkers. As mentioned in a previous post and illustrated in a video by IATP Food and Community Fellow Shalini Kantayya, the treatment of workers in Florida’s tomato fields is atrocious. Tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece, and the average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 TONS of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday—nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago, when the rate was 40 cents per bucket.
Effectively addressing this crisis is not easy. Federal labor policy has overtly ignored the plights of farmworkers, and any individual grower would price himself/herself out of business if they tried to institute better labor standards as an individual business.
Earlier this week, The Guardian reported on a study that looked at rising sea levels from a new angle. The study found that efforts to meet increasing freshwater demand by harnessing “fossil” groundwater [groundwater that cannot be replenished for millennia under current climate conditions] contributes more to rising sea levels than melting glaciers. Since there it cannot be replenished, tapping groundwater results in land subsidence (downward-shifting of ground surface) and a one-way transfer of water into the oceans. Researchers involved concluded that the deep tube-well drilling for water has contributed to sea level increases by an average of a millimeter every year since 1961. Neither the climate community nor the water community had paid attention to this aspect of tube-well drilling before.
The issue of food waste is a hot topic these days. Everyone from the Food Network to the Environmental Protection Agency is talking about it and trying to get people thinking about the fact that throwing away food really is a waste. Here at IATP, where we strive to ensure fair and sustainable systems, we can’t overlook the ways in which throwing away food is neither fair nor sustainable for people or the planet.
I recently had a chance to attend the 26th Annual BioCycle West Coast Conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference brings together experts and leaders on compost, anaerobic digestion, bioplastics, biogas and organic waste management to discuss science, regulation, innovation and a whole gamut of related issues. Focused not only on identifying the problems, the BioCycle gathering strives to challenge conventional thinking about how we use resources, and offer solutions which make our communities more sustainable, while providing economic opportunities for business.
One of the most widely shared opinions among attendees is that we must make the idea of “organic waste” an oxymoron. Dennis McLerran, US EPA Region 10, reminded us in his keynote that approximately 40 percent of the food we produce in the United States ends up wasted, and that only 3 percent is recovered for compost. While we obviously need to address front-end ways to prevent waste in the first place, we cannot keep thinking of food, or any organic materials for that matter, as waste. As one speaker put it, we’ve got to adopt a “waste-to-worth” attitude.
Earlier this month as the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development was hosting one of the last meetings to bring out a final draft for the negotiations in Rio de Janeiro, I came across a flurry of reports issued by various entities, including the one by UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), entitled Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21) Report for Rio+20, which will serve as a roadmap during the Rio+20 conference this June. (In all fairness, I should mention that IATP contributed to the component of this report entitled, “Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability.”) While all of these reports focus on sustainability, the call for sustainability in the agricultural sector is worth our attention for the simple reason that it is where one of the most crucial fights for world’s resources is taking place.