Friday, October 17, 2008

Realizing the importance of local farms providing local foods

I listened to a good interview on Democracy Now!, 10-17-08, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed Raj Patel (writer/activist) and Ben Burkett (National Family Farm Coalition) to talk about World Food Day and how our national trade policies affect farms. They also talked about the importance of small local farms to provide food for the local community. Sustainability in action.

I liked Raj's comment about how much more sustainable and environmentally friendly small family farms can be.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what will that mean in terms of increasing numbers of people leaving the farms and moving to cities or to other countries?

RAJ PATEL: Well, there’s been a long trend in international policy, particularly authored by organizations like the World Bank, to turf farmers off their land. Small farmers, sustainable farmers are considered inefficient. And so, under the rubric of bringing efficiency to agriculture, they’ve been kicked off the land and have been ushered into urban areas, where, increasingly now, there’s going to be unemployment. Now, the tragedy is that small sustainable and independent family farms, as Ben can well attest, are much more efficient, they’re much more in harmony with the environment, and they’re able to actually provide work and healthy—healthy, organic, sustainable produce to a much larger population than these big megafarms.

I heard Haiti was devasted after the last hurricane, but a food crisis also. Holy shit, can that really happen here also? I'm very thankful for our local farms but they could not supply the entire county's food need alone.

AMY GOODMAN: Raj Patel, what has to happen now? And what can people in the United States and the government of the United States—what do you think it needs to do? Last year, we saw food riots around the world. Many people died. We saw riots in Nigeria and Haiti.

RAJ PATEL: Well, and those riots are still going on, even though the mainstream media won’t cover that. As recently as last month, there was another—a food riot or food rebellion in Haiti, for example.

Now, if you look at Haiti and see how—what it is that people are rioting over, people are rioting over grains of rice—I’m sorry, bags of rice that have the American flag on them and the words “gift of the people of the United States.” And that should point out, I think, that underlying these food riots is a sort of long-term problem with trade agreements and with this aggressive pushing of agriculture as a weapon of US trade policy, and foreign policy, as well.

But also, I think we need to rein in the power of agribusiness over our leaders. I mean, John McCain, for example, was aggressively—is on record as saying that he very much wants US trade policy to be—to be in favor of American farmers, because the world is a market waiting for American products. Now—and even Obama, with his—you know, his sort of qualified support of the Peruvian Free Trade Agreement, is still nonetheless in support of these agreements.

Now, who benefits from that? Well, if you think about who exports, it’s not farmers like—it’s not farmers like Ben; it’s Archer Daniels Midland, it’s Cargill, it’s the big grain companies. We need to shift our food priorities away from sponsoring agribusiness and these billion-dollar subsidies to the megafarms and to agribusiness, and to move towards sustainable agriculture that small, independent family farms, both here and in developing countries, are well placed to take advantage of.

Here is a link to the full transcript:

When you stop and think about it, we really have lost control of the most basic means for sustainability- local farm food production. Our security has been sold away to agribusiness in the interest of higher yields that produce inferior foods and have hidden environmental costs that we all end up paying.

Daniel Quinn talks about this in his book "My Ishmael" using the metaphor of people dancing and losing their ability to produce their own food and control their future through buying into a system where you rely 100% on everything being produced, shipped, and comodified so you have to work to buy things that you could previously produce yourself. Daniel Quinn's trilogy about Ishmael the gorilla are some of my favorite books. You should check out his web page for more info about his books and the community of people moved by them.

I'm looking forward to how we can expand our gardens next spring to transform more useless lawn into vegetable producing goodness.


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