We are preparing for spring in North America: starting seeds in greenhouses, planting fruit trees and making the most of financial resources. The current food system is controlled by what Eric Holt Gimenez of Food First calls food regimes.
These food regimes have been operating through colonization for many generations. They continue to reinvent themselves as corporations compete for control of the market and farm workers demand respect and value for their labor. This system feeds the fast food industry, food service corporations and supermarkets. Supermarkets have profits that surpassed Apple, Inc., and Monsanto.
We all eat. Most of us eat many times a day. When we shop from supermarkets we are the final consumer link in a multi-billion-dollar supply chain. This chain exist because corporations decided to disconnect urban eaters from their food source: the land. Once the large corporate farms were established hundreds of miles away from the developing cities, it allowed for abuse of the workers and created a need for a massive system of distribution and processing. In this industrial model, obscene amounts of fuel, plastic and time are wasted and, at each stop along the way, people are paid who never touch the soil or the plants.
These middle men are assumed to be necessary in this modern food chain. They create inflated positions and salaries for themselves while the farm worker who plants and harvests the food is living below the poverty line, on average earning only $13,000 to $15,000 annually. The film Food Chains offers an in depth exploration of these issues.
From the film Food Chains. Photo by JoVonna Johnason-Cooke at Good Shepherd AgroEcology Center in Atlanta GA.
Urban Agriculture's Role in Local Food Movements
It is time we transition to a food system where producers are involved with creating the standards for food quality as well as labor value. How does the growing local food movement and urban agriculture factor into this equation? How do thousands of undocumented farm workers exercise their self-confidence to voice their concerns to a racist, xenophobic society of corporate colonists?
Solidarity is extremely valuable in this time of transition. As we observe the local food landscape, suburban homesteading and urban agriculture we see that the majority of the people highlighted in these arenas are legal citizens of this country. Often they are urban dwellers of European descent (hipsters), educated and relatively new to the agricultural lifestyle. Their efforts to grow intensive, diverse permaculture systems are viewed as valuable and innovative ideas for sustainability and resilience.
In contrast, the indigenous and African American farm workers are sequestered in rural towns in seasonal housing or on forgotten family farms. These folks produced the majority of Americans food and they are viewed as alien to this land and culture. Why?
Why are food-system advocates working in nonprofits seen as valuable enough to be in salaried positions with health benefits while rural farmers earn an average of $0.02 per pound for their harvest? The same tomatoes will be sold for $3 per pound once they are packaged and trucked to urban supermarket.
We see very similar treatment of urban growers who lead their own enterprises to feed our own communities independent of nonprofit, consumer-driven food organizations. These growers directly serve the people. In a parallel structure to nonprofit organizations, whose expressed mission is to expand food access in the very same communities where our own farms, have begun out of a necessity to feed ourselves.
The local food nonprofit organizations promote food access and education as a means of siphoning foundation and federal funding to serve communities they don't live in. Imagine if we, the self-motivated urban growers, stand in solidarity with groups like CIW or the black rural farmers networks, such as The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, to demand respectful value for the produce while we continue to cultivate food sovereignty where we live.
Fostering Support for Urban Agriculture
The time is now. If we decide to partner with the new popup organizations, we must set forth clear standards for equitable sharing of resources. Some ideas for how the popular nonprofit organizations can work to improve the stability of urban growers are below:
1. Secure land for urban growers either through Land Trust or direct purchase.
2. Stand in solidarity with the fair food movement and similar worker driven political campaigns.
3. Promote agroecology as the method for transitioning away from corporate agricultural systems.
4. Educate consumers on the supermarket profits.
5. Down size nonprofit overhead and salaries.
6. Create a fund for farmers that is fed by a portion of the salary of all full-time workers in local food non-profit organizations.
7. Refocus all strategic planning for programming based on the leadership and input a farmer.
Throughout the history of the farm workers movement and the recent push for food sovereignty by rural and peasant farmers, the growers themselves have always been the thought leaders. It is only here in North America and in recent times where leadership has been monopolized by academics, politicians and activist who often see food issues strictly from a consumer perspective.
The food system must be transformed with direct input from those who produce the food regardless of their legal status within this counterfeit corporate nation. Supermarkets are making tremendously unbalanced financial profits off the genius and physical labor of growers who have been passed down this knowledge for generations.
It began in North America with the enslaving of the indigenous and then the importing of African peoples, and it continues down the line with Chinese, Japanese, Persian and Mexican populations. This ongoing exploitation can be halted when all of these groups access our collective memory and experience and stand in solidarity to become leaders and stop the slavery, once and for all.
Eugene Cooke presents the “Grow Where You Are” workshop series and book in partnership with the organization m.a.m.a. earth. After years of working as an independent contractor supporting urban agriculture organizations, Eugene established Grow Where You Are, LLC, to create a structure for the collaborative efforts of local food heroes to yield tangible results. The main hub for Grow Where You Are is the Good Shepherd Agroecology Center in Southwest Atlanta, Ga., where clean food is grown in a system that preserves the ecology and supports the people. Read all of Eugene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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