Monday, November 18, 2013

Change from the bottom up

We've been on a bit of a sustainable agriculture kick lately.  We've blogged about The Land Institute's work on perennializing grains and grasses, Matt Liebman's work on crop rotation and conservation planting, the implications of this year's World Food Prize being awarded to high tech ag, more realistic economic models, and so on.  These all address the Big Picture, the idea being that current technology-oriented agricultural practices, and economic models that treat natural resources as unlimited are not sustainable in the long run.  Or even the medium run, and that there are changes that can, and must, be made to slow climate change and the economic impact of continuing on the path we're on.

But we can't all perennialize grain.  Yep, think global, act local.  As long as our politicians aren't going to take climate change seriously enough to enact significant controls (cap carbon!), and as long as biotech money is in the pockets of those politicians, the only significant change is going to happen if we the people make it happen.  (If you missed Russell Brand on revolution last week, here he is, forcefully saying much the same thing.  It will inspire either your activism or your scorn.)

Eat Local
But, this isn't new.  The number of farmers' markets in the US, and elsewhere, has been growing for decades, CSAs (farms doing community supported agriculture) as well, colleges are seeing higher demand for degrees in agriculture.  Granted, many of these graduates are snapped up by the biotech industry, but many of them are interested in the local food movement and are growing food and starting CSAs and selling at their local farmers' market.

Ken and I had the opportunity recently to meet a number of people working on issues to do with sensible agriculture, food security and climate change in their local communities. Among them were Tracy Sides, who just won a million dollars from the city of St Paul, Minnesota to rehabilitate an old warehouse and turn it into a food hub.  She is calling this the "Urban Oasis", a centralized facility that will process produce, meat and fish from local farmers for sale in an onsite café and to local schools, hospitals and restaurants, and more.  The University of Minnesota announcement of this U of M alum initiative describes it this way:
The Urban Oasis, or food hub, would be the focal point for local produce, fish, and meat, and would combine a food processing operation with a kitchen, a classroom, a café, and an events center. And it would help transform an abandoned, graffiti-littered building in the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary—on St. Paul’s East Side between I-94 and the Mississippi River—east of the burgeoning Lowertown area and practically in Sides’ own backyard. 
Cassi Johnson in Minnesota works to improve community health by teaching about the connection between good food and good health.  She has been doing similar work for a decade.  Kim Bayer is one of the organizers of the Washtenaw Food Hub in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  She has a long history as a community organizer, and is founder and president of the Great Lakes CSA Coalition, which promotes CSA farms and wellness rebates from insurers.  She is also involved with her local Slow Food chapter as well as other food-related community organizations and issues.

Terra Brockman is a 4th generation farmer in Illinois, a speaker, and founder of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that connects farmers and would-be farmers with land, teaches sustainable farming practices, and educates consumers about sensible food choices.  She is a founding member of The Edible Economy Project, an Illinois food hub this time, with the aim of expanding markets for local farmers as well as expanding local food access for consumers.  She is also the author of a beautiful book, The Seasons of Henry's Farm, about her brother's thriving CSA farm.  It may be Henry's farm, but it takes a multigenerational family, and more, to make it work.

Farmers' Market, Bridgehamton, NY; Wikipedia
Jason Bradford is the founding director of Farmland LP in Corvallis, Oregon, an organization that has bought thousands of acres of farmland in Oregon and California, with the goal of connecting farmers with affordable land farmed with sustainable practices.  Mary Berry is executive director of the Berry Center in Kentucky which she established in 2011 to carry on the work of her grandfather John Berry, her uncle John Berry Jr, and her father, Wendel Berry.  The Center "was established to continue the Berry family's work in culture and agriculture by working on issues of farmer education, consumer education, land use, agricultural policy and urban/rural connectedness."

Kelly Hauser currently works with the international NGO One Acre Fund to bring sustainable agriculture techniques and small-scale economic practices to small farmers in Burundi.  Karen Lehman has been working on food system issues for thirty years, and is currently director of Fresh Taste, an organization dedicated to relocalizing Chicago's food system and addressing issues of equitable access to good food.  Julia Olmstead, an outreach specialist with University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, works with Wisconsin farmers to improve agricultural water systems to improve water quality and make them more resistant to climate change.

Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, works with scientists, politicians, economists and the public on developing a healthy food system based on sustainable farming practices.  He was the first professor to teach a sustainable ag course at a land-grant university, in 1989, and he hasn't stopped teaching and writing about the issues.

This work does not go unremarked.  Alan Guebert for one, who grew up on a farm and now writes about agriculture issues, is bringing the message to students, farmers, people on the ground as well as politicians making the decisions about things like whether corn-based ethanol is a good investment, or the kind of farming this year's Farm Bill should support. Bob Jensen, a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, is passionately interested in sustainable ag and climate change issues, and writes prolifically about them and about activism itself.

These people all have friends, and their friends have friends, and they in turn have friends; it starts to look like a movement. 

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