I tried to publish this earlier this morning and the F*#ing computer/internet destroyed more than half my post. I just tired to rewrite it, so here it is. Sorry of the delay on the delay.
Sorry that my contribution is late. I’m in a motel room with Ila on my way to LA.
I will start by saying that I am a big fan of La Via Campesina because they fundamentally connect land, food and power – not just the question of ensuring that everyone eat, but that the fundamental questions around food sovereignty are about ownership, scale, community – basically – the violence of enclosure.
The strategies of La Via are finding there way into the US in a host of different ways. In the case of the work of Saru and ROC – the idea of not just fighting for food chain workers, but recognizing that the conditions for food-chain workers will never fundamentally change unless the nature of ownership changes is a good example. The work to develop COLORS and other attempts at worker ownership in various aspects of the food-chain is in that tradition. Unfortunately, Saru has not had positive things to say about their experience with coop development, and has been very critical of the model based on her (in my opinion) limited experience. That said, she is now working with her partner, Zachary Norris from Ella Baker Center on a food justice, worker justice/ownership project with formerly incarcerated folks, which I’m very excited about. (but I digress, as Chris would say).
I’m interested in us bridging the gap between the immediate justice issues in the food system and the more fundamental issues of Land Reform, ownership and power.
I want to share a few campaign that I know of and have been involved in that I think are helpful illustrations of things we can do – or ways we can build a movement, particularly in the urban context – that can try to do both.
In Oakland, we have an Oakland Climate Action Coalition that was developed to advance an Energy and Climate Action Plan for the city that was rooted in Climate Justice principles. As part of that, we knew that because climate “changes everything,” we could touch so much more than just GHG emissions in our plan. While we didn’t win everything in the plan, we were able to advance significant improvement in municipal zero-waste, transit and food systems.
One thing we fought for on the food side was, “10% of all fruits and vegetables consumed in Oakland be grown in Oakland,” and to justify that claim we used a food-miles analysis to show that it would reduce GHG emission in the city. We also had an elaborate survey of all the arable underutilized public and private land in Oakland to show that we could actually reach a 10% target through primarily non-commercial means (and there are examples of this in other places, such as Havana). We also put forward implementation mechanisms such as blight fine avoidance for private land if the owners give community groups rights to farm the land, models for community use-agreements for access to underutilized public lands; changes to urban ag policy such as giving renters the right to grow food on the land they rent. Again, we didn’t win everything, but putting it forward also gave OCAC the momentum to implement many actions based on the 10% vision. We occupied vacant lands, sometime successfully and sometime not, but always engaging the community in the questions of land, food and power.
I also want to share the story of Occupy the Farm (at the risk of being self-promoting). There’s a documentary called Occupy the Farm about the story, in which I am one of the four characters that drive the narrative, even though in reality there were a whole lot of people behind the actions. I won’t go into the whole story, but I think we can watch the film online now. Basically, we fought against the UC form paving over prime farmland in Berkeley/Albany. They want to turn it into a commercial development. We managed to semi-permanently protect 10 acres for a free public access learning farm that grows food that people can harvest and that goes to food justice projects for poor folks. We are still fighting over the remaining 10 acres, which they want to pave over and rent to Sprouts Market, among others.
I have a few things I want to share about this struggle. Some people were in it for the urban farming, some people were in it for the “occupy,” some were in it to fight the UC (and their cops), but I was in it for the land reform. “What can we do to take control of this land away from the UC –which is one of the most powerful land-holders/developers in the State of CA – and permanently protect it for public benefit?” I advocated (and still do) the use of an Agricultural Easement, which would allow us to restrict forever what the UC could do with the land. The State, by the way, privileges in law the protection of urgan and peri-urban agricultural land, so we even had that on our side.
The struggle continues, but as it is growing, we are making key connections to other folks in food justice fights. As part of the Fight for 15 with fast-food workers, Movement Generation and Occupy the Farm did workshops with fast-food workers on climate, ecology, peak oil, peak soil and exploitation of workers. We heard from fast-food workers about how they had to throw away food into dumpsters, hose it down with hundreds of gallons of water and then lock the dumpsters rather than give away unsold, edible food. They cried as they told us how they feel about what they serve, and they had such inspiring visions of how the food systems should be organized. For the fight for 15 day of action, Occupy the Farm and other urban farmers got together with fast-food workers and made hundreds of organic, veggie breakfast burritos and when we shut down the McDonalds, we have all the people in the drive-through free coffee, burritos and muffins. The burritos were wrapped in Fight for 15 fliers. THEN, the fast food workers and the farmers took a bus to the grand opening of a Sprouts in another town to protest Sprouts Union Busting, to protest their plan to build on the farm and to support the fast food workers. This was a great way to fight for the justice issues (higher wages, better conditions) in an industry that we all know has to go away (fast food) but with a vision of what we really want – and led by the workers in the industry. This was a small thing, but it is the kind of organizing we think we need.
The Food Chain Worker’s Alliance is the national campaign that tires to make those connections – from the farmers to the fast-food workers.
There is a narrative in the predominantly white “back to the land,” movement about how we, as a nation, are experiencing a generational loss of farmers. That most family farmers are aging out and industrial agriculture has taken over more and more of our food production. There are a ton of young, white, well-intentioned farmers buying land and starting these farms. But one thing that I always point out is that we have all the farmers we need, we just call them farm-workers because they are not in control of the land. Of course, running a farm is a much bigger lift than just knowing how to grow, but there is a deep tradition of peasant farmers in the US from other home countries that could be planted in this soil to grow a new food system –but it will take policy and action that changes the way land is held an how land is used. (I fully realize this is the same argument I made in the housing module, but it is the same problem).
Via Campesina has two important slogans. “Small Farmers cool the planet.” “Small Farmers feed the world.” Both are true. Industrial agriculture is just mining for calories, and the calories are subsidized by exploitation, pollution and habitat destruction, all of which lead to greater hunger and a hotter planet.
(this isn’t exactly what I wrote the first time, but here it is!)