24 April 2012

Sowing justice in the most fertile soils of California’s East Bay

How did you celebrate Earth Day? Did you actively reclaim the last five acres of the most fertile soils in your metropolitan area to utilize it for an agro-ecological demonstration farm for and by the people in the face of a state-corporate partnership to develop it to be able to sell luxury food to the wealthy? No? Well these folks did.

Rallyers marched through North Berkeley and Albany energizing the community around farming and food soveriegnty

I think a lot about food security in Madagascar. About the role of hunting in peoples’ livelihoods; about the different forms that sustainable intensification of rice and other crops can take in order to diminish the necessity to cut the forest for hillside rice; about the benefits the forest provides in terms of soil fertility, water retention, flood mitigation and a safety net to provide resources in the lean months.

But what about here at home? The talk i'm hearing is less around food security and more about food sovereignty. Much of the large tracts of agricultural land in the U.S. has been sucked up by corporate agri-business to plant mono-crops to feed industrial food systems that American consumers are then dependent on for subsistence. Food sovereignty is the idea that we need not be yoked to this system for our right to food, that we can democratically govern our own food systems. A working definition might be the ability of a community to control where its food comes from. Farmer's markets, small family farms, farmland protection, and Community supported agriculture (CSAs) are all essential elements of food sovereignty. Growing Power, out in Milwaukee, WI is showing us one way that communities, can come together to utilize small urban plots to intensively grow quality food where before little was present, and how effective this can be in. The occupy movement is engendering a more radically democratic vision for what food sovereignty can mean. It will be exciting to watch, participate in and learn from this emerging experiment. Raj Patel does a great job making this link over on his blog

Inspired by the Occupy movement, which has built widespread moral support for providing with those who were previously denied – the 99%, East Bay activists held an Earth Day rally and marched to the Gill Tract, in Albany, a piece of experimental farming land owned by UC Berkeley, who has been planning development activities on the land to fill budget shortfalls.  The rhetoric at the rally and march, as well as the organizational structure of the fledgling farm are straight out of Occupy – food for the people, daily community meetings, decentralized management. They are showing us that democracy extends to all our systems and people can take back that which is so primary in our lives: food and the cultural and ecological systems that we derive it from.

The activists are asking the University to protect the land under a permanent agricultural easement. At only 5 acres, if the farm is operated as a CSA it could only support about 250 families, but it could serve thousands as an educational hub for how to run a democratic farm, and millions as a symbol of democracy in action and the principles of food sovereignty.

First acre cleared and planted - at least 4 more to go!

Go to the movements website to see whats happening out at the Gill tract and for opportunities to get involved and support the effort. You can also find them on twitter at @occupyfarm and #occupythefarm. Better yet, head on down and get your hands in the dirt. They have only planted about 1 acre so far and could definitely use more hands.

Info and literature tables are present,  as well as food
and medical stations

Whether Madagascar or the USA, we all have a right to food and should create and maintain the sustainable agro-ecological systems that provide it. In Madagascar, food sovereignty is almost a given since it is mostly subsistence farmers disconnected from the global market, yet food security remains a major concern. Both here and there, though, visions trend toward the same solutions: diverse, democratic institutions to maintain social and ecological resilience amidst rapid global changes.