Your Pantry, Your Planet: Extreme Factors Set the Stage for Global Farm and Food Summit

by Steven McFadden
You may imagine that your involvement with the food system begins and ends with your refrigerator, your pantry, your local supermarket, and your backyard garden, if you are lucky enough to have one. But that fantasy would be tragically misleading.

The inescapable facts: at this passionate, volatile, hotly contested moment of history, your breakfast, lunch, and dinner are in almost all cases intimately, irrevocably enmeshed in the matrix of the global food system. Outside of radical self-sufficiency, which is not what most people are capable of, there’s no escaping that matrix.

As it happens there’s a great debate underway about that system—about the people, values, politics, and profits that influence our farms, our people in the fields and packing houses, our farm animals, and ultimately our food and our health. That debate will reach a crescendo this coming October at the UN’s global Food Systems Summit 2021.

The crescendo will arrive in the context of two extreme factors: the global pandemic, and global climate change. Those factors are at work forcefully on our one and only planet, and consequently on most everyone’s plate. Like it or not, your pantry is in play.

Zooming Toward the Summit
Thanks to Zoom, I had the chance on February 11 to sit before my computer screen in Nebraska, and to watch a pre-summit debate on food systems among a host of learned observers from around the world. The online session—really more a discussion than a debate—was presented in partnership by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, Agroecology Fund, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), the Dominican Republic, the UN Committee on World Food Security, and the SDG2 Advocacy Hub.

The discussion was one of many official, online pre-summit events. On this particular panel, participants discussed what they see as necessary for resilient, renewable, equitable, healthy, and diverse food systems. That’s the vision of agroecology, a vision devoutly to be wished. And when that vision is inspirited, it’s deep agroecology.

As the Zoom panelists explained, a key element for the upcoming global Food Systems Summit was established five years ago when the UN unanimously approved the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With a deadline of 2030—just nine quick years from now—the SDGs address a range of critical global/local issues from hunger to climate chaos, poverty, education, vanishing ecosystems, and more.

The basic idea of the October summit is to choose and to empower ways and means to help meet the SDGs through farm and food systems. Collectively, the existing systems have a colossal impact on the natural environment, and on human health.

Political Economy
This summit will mark not just a moment in time, but also a turning point. Our local, national, and global food systems require big changes. That’s evident in the pervasive chemical pollution, the dead zones in our seas, the vast animal misery of our factory farms (CAFOs), the starkly unjust circumstances of our essential farm and food workers, the persistent widespread hunger around the world, in epidemics of chronic, diet-related diseases, and in many other facets of the ways we draw sustenance from our finite planet.

This constellation of massive, systemic predicaments serves as a marker of the old order. That order is flailing forward in the subterranean pits of depleted resources, and wallowing in its own foul waste lagoons. The dreadful facts of the matter signal that the extant mechanical industrial chemical food systems are not in integrity with nature, and consequently out of integrity with the directions humanity must pursue to reckon with current extremes, and to evolve forward to living in respect of the circle of life, and the next Seven Generations.

Farm and food systems are the foundation of just about everything else in the modern world. Now that the necessity of change is inevitable, what will the changes be? Who will decide? Who will benefit? There are 7.8 billion people with an essential stake in the decisions.

Over the last many decades the mechanisms of governance for farm and food systems have been increasingly influenced and dominated by corporations with primary allegiance to investor profit. Pre-summit panel member Sofia Monsalve, Secretary General of FIAN International, made explicit note of this.

She said that marginalized participants in the food systems are in fact marginalized as well in the upcoming global summit. She also made note of the ongoing “corporate capture” of food systems, a controlling reality that plays out not just in farm and food enterprises, but also around the world in many corporately captured government regulatory agencies.

The central drive for efficiency and profit in farm and food systems has, perhaps inevitably, implicated the industrial-chemical models in a torrent of critical issues: human rights, land rights, water depletion, chronic disease, climate chaos, pollution, and more. Unrelenting “efficiency” and “cheap food” have extreme costs.

The participants in this pre-summit debate were well aware of these harsh realities. In making a relevant point about the situation, Olivier De Schutter—co-chair of IPES-Food, and also the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights—used the term political economy,. “Issues of power and accountability,” De Schutter said, “must be at the heart of the UN summit.”

Billions of Voices
Political economy refers to the reality of how a country—or in this case the world—is managed or governed, taking into account political, economic, and (at least ideally) social, and ethical factors.

As outlined in a conversation between professors Philip H. Howard and Mary Hendrickson, the phenomenon of corporate capture, or concentration, is a clear, present, and aggressive factor for our farms and food, and ultimately for our pantries.

“In our view,” the professors write, “a resilient food system that feeds everyone can be achieved only through a more equitable distribution of power. This in turn will require action in areas ranging from contract law and antitrust policy to workers’ rights and economic development. Farmers, workers, elected officials and communities will have to work together to fashion alternatives and change policies.”

Broadly speaking—and in distinction from the structures of governments and corporations—the farmers, smallholders, peasants, food workers, non-profit organizations, co-ops, consumers, and communities constitute civil society. Civil society in one sense strives to speak for the global community of human beings, all 7.8 billion of us, especially those human beings who historically have not had a voice.

Civil society refers to the billons of voices, and thousands upon thousands of local, community-based food initiatives in the USA, Canada, Mexico, and around the world, certainly including the transnational agrarian movement, La Via Campesina.

After building global webs of relationship over recent decades, the peoples and organizations of civil society are coming forward strategically to seek not just a voice at the global summit, but true, meaningful, results-oriented respect.

The voices of civil society are wholeheartedly advocating for true, just, wise agroecological farm and food systems.

True Agroecology
As several pre-summit panelists expressed, the true ideals of agroecology—farm and food systems that are clean, sustainable, socially just, and respectfully inclusive of indigenous knowings—are often given lip service, but at present the vision they represent is not really on the agenda.

Unlike the mechanistic approaches of corporate oligarchies with their technocratic chemical industrial approaches to farms and animals, in the vision of agroecology people around the world recognize an umbrella concept that—via farms and food—synthesizes the needs of human beings with the needs of the natural world. In beauty, with wisdom, this can be done.

Agroecological approaches to farms food follow not one fixed model, but rather are diverse according to the basic nature of their circumstances. They are clean, sustainable, climate-stabilizing through the sequestration of carbon and the building of topsoil, socially just, animal humane, and egalitarian.

Agroecology encompasses systems such as organics, biodynamics, regenerative, permaculture, cooperative, and so forth, and thereby represents an inspirational and pragmatic vision of what is necessary and possible as we strive to re-organize the food web. In response to the pandemic, to pollution, to climate breakdown, to social injustice, and the intensifying hegemony of multinational chemical, drug, and ag corporations.

Agroecology represents practical, purposeful, and realistic hope. It’s a global vision that has been dreamed and then acted upon by millions of people around the world—civil society. Corporations and governments have often resisted agroecology, or tried to co-opt the concept and related language, seeing agroecology as a threat to their entrenched, industrialized operations, to their market shares, and to their profits.

As the big corporations of agriculture, chemicals, genetics, and finance continue to flex their muscle, and to employ their resources to control regulatory and subsidy outcomes, civil society’s critical moment at center stage is, for all intents and purposes, fast approaching.

The Global Food Systems Summit in October is where these matters will attain a critical mass.

Zoom Globally, Act Locally
In a multitude of places and ways around the globe—and in the context of extreme factors such climate chaos, COVID, and environmental deterioration—millions of people are working toward the fundamental, democratic, egalitarian, and healing impulses of agroecology.

Even though you are likely far removed from the UN’s Global Food Systems Summit and its critical discussions and decisions, you can be involved. As I did, you can Zoom into pre-summit meetings and other events. Find out what is going on. Information is power. Ignorance is folly.

The “global food system” is in fact a system of systems. And a basic tenet of systems theory is that changing one part of a system affects the entire system. With all that’s going on globally, you still have your own pantry as your principal point of influence in the food system. I encourage you: do not underestimate the power of your pantry.

This time-worn saying holds true: every dollar you spend on food is a vote for the kind of food system you have and will have. Your investment in clean, local, just farm and food initiatives adds energy and momentum for agroecology on a petite scale. But networked together in a web of action with the millions of initiatives around the planet, it’s agroecology on a grand scale: the scale we need to reckon with the extremes.

Your pantry—and consequently your breakfast, lunch dinner, and planet—have a date with destiny at the Global Food Systems Summit later this year.

Ginawaydaganuc 2021: from UN Code Red to Deep Agroecology

by Steven McFadden
As yet another United Nations Code Red warning flashes around the world, I join with those who propose that ginawaydaganuc is an essential and realistic mind set, and who encourage general, wholehearted embrace of all that it denotes and connotes.

What in our vast, entangled cosmos is this thing called ginawaydaganuc? Suffice for the moment to say that it’s a word from one of the original languages of North America, Omàmiwininìmowin(Algonquin). That language has been extant on North America for many thousands of years – a vital vernacular. 

This Algonquin word is easier to say than you might at first imagine. It’s pronounced with a soft ‘g’: gee-na-way-dag-a-nook. Try speaking the word aloud phonetically, and experience how the sound feels in your head, heart, and soul. Ginawaydaganuc denotes the fundamental reality that we are all related–with each other, with the natural world, with the cosmos.

There’s more to say. But before contemplating the ramifications of ginawaydaganuc, take a moment to breathe, and to absorb the full impact of one of the latest Code Red warnings. This one comes from the UN’s 2020 report, The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene.

Unprecedented Moment of Human History

“We are at an unprecedented moment in the history of humankind and in the history of our planet,” the report says. Under relentless pressure from climate chaos, species loss, inequality, natural destruction, and COVID-19, our planetary and social warning lights are “flashing red”…

My complete blog post is live now at Mother Earth News.

Food, Farms, and Our Future – A video conversation about Deep Agroecology

My video conversation with Brooke Medicine Eagle about The Call of the Land and the accompanying slide show, is freely available now. To learn more about deep agroecology and the possibilities for our food and farms, follow this link.

American Ag Ambassador attacks agroecology

By Steven McFadden
The U.S. Ambassador to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been using his public office to denounce the clean, sustainable, and socially just initiatives of agroecology while defending the toxic chemicals and processes of industrial agriculture

As detailed in The Hagstrom Report, during a speech last February at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum, FAO Ambassador Kip E. Tom complained about the agroecology movement for rejecting synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and also genetically modified organisms (GMOs)…

…He’s correct about agroecology not sharing his core values and assumptions. The production and profit values of multinational ag and chemical corporations have contributed to profound imbalances in the environment, in world climate, and in the health and welfare of human beings and farmed animals.  The corporate industrial ag food system that Tom defends has remained determinedly oblivious to the ruination of the sources, and to the chaos of the climate…

The rest of the story is at Mother Earth News.

Deep Agroecology wins top national Indie Excellence Award

I’m pleased to share this press release from my publisher (and wife), Liz Wolf of Light and Sound Press:

Lincoln, Nebraska, October 8, 2020—Independent journalist Steven McFadden was named a winner of the 2020 National Indie Excellence Awards (NIEA) for Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and Our Future.

WinnerCover.1Deep Agroecology won the top honor in NIEA’s Environmental category and was named a finalist in the Green Living category. The book, the author’s fifteenth, was published in 2019 by Light and Sound Press.

NIEA was established in 2005 to promote excellence in independent and small-press publishing. Award entrants are judged by book industry experts on the basis of superior content and presentation in the final published product.

“Farms and food are foundational for human society,” McFadden notes. “Right now our civilization is undergoing massive upheaval—from climate chaos and environmental destruction to social injustice, economic uncertainty, and a global pandemic. We must build a new foundation, and that imperative task requires a vision.”

The book offers a vision that weaves together the insights of agrarian science, social justice, indigenous wisdom, quantum physics, and ancient spiritual traditions.

The term “agroecology,” used widely internationally, refers to ecological farming and food processing systems such as organics, biodynamics, and regenerative systems. McFadden’s “deep agroecology” also acknowledges subtle dimensions of light, energy, and spirit.

McFadden writes: “When we are respectfully aware and cooperating intelligently with both gross and subtle life forces to provide food, fiber, and beauty, we are practicing deep agroecology.”

Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet and cofounder of Food First, wrote of the book: “Thank you, Steven McFadden, for rich and moving clarity as you weave for us the many threads of deep agroecology. The vision you capture is not a choice, for in this dire moment for our Earth, it is life’s only possibility forward.”

The New England native is a graduate of Boston University’s journalism program. A lifelong champion of organic and regenerative agriculture, McFadden has written about farming, food, the environment, and North American wisdom teachings for over 40 years as a journalist, author, and blogger.

He is the co-author, with the late Trauger Groh, of the first two books on CSA (community-supported agriculture): Farms of Tomorrow (1990) and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited (1998). He is the author of The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century; Odyssey of the 8th Fire, an online chronicle of a 1995 pilgrimage across the U.S.; and over a dozen other nonfiction titles.

As Climate Chaos intensifies, agroecology stands as an essential response

by Steven McFadden
Based on political talking points, many people kiss off the reality of climate change. They go on with their lives as if there is no threat to be concerned about at all.

But climate change (now more accurately spoken of as climate chaos) is severely real. with raging fires, roaring hurricanes, and parching drought, it’s impacting farms, food, and millions of lives. The population of environmental refugees is swelling around the globe. This is factual way beyond politics or propaganda.

A recent survey by Stanford University, however, found that when people are directly impacted by climate change, political divisions evaporate. The impacted people immediately begin to take the intensifying reality of climate change seriously. How could they do otherwise?

The USDA’s landmark report Climate Change, Global Food Security, and U.S. Food System concluded that climate change is going to impact global, regional, and local food security. It will drive an overall increase in food prices, and also disrupt food availability.

That’s a grim outlook. But the USDA report also states emphatically that adaptation can make a positive difference. That’s where households and communities of all sizes and constellations need to place their attention and their energy: effective adaptation. And that is one of the key reasons why I wrote Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and Our Future.

Climate chaos is here. It’s not coming at some future date. Embracing agroecological responses now, while it is possible, is wise, worthwhile, and essential.

Toward positive, proactive responses, I strongly recommend the new film Kiss the Ground. It’s available now on Netflix, and via DVD.

Deep Agroecology earns a five-star review

This five-star book review just in. The review is by Kimberlee J Benart for Readers’ Favorite:

If you’re interested in integrating modern sustainable agriculture with ancient native wisdom to meet our future food needs while regenerating our planet, Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and Our Future by Steven McFadden is for you.

The term “agroecology” has been used since 1928 to refer to the merger of agronomy and ecology, but it’s now a growing international movement with broader goals.

“Deep agroecology” is “our next natural, intelligent, and necessary evolutionary step” for a better, cleaner, healthier, more just world through the transformation of agriculture from an industrialized and chemicalized agribusiness model to a holistic approach which supports a culture of respect for the earth and all life on it; a culture in which farmers are our heroes. An extensive list of resources is included and a subject index is provided.

In Deep Agroecology, Steven McFadden gives us an impressive and impassioned in-depth treatment on one of the most important topics of our day: caring for our earth so we can feed the people who live on it. Add the issue of water resources management, which is interconnected with agriculture, and we survive or we perish on the direction we take.

While in today’s world we’re accustomed to turning to technology to find our solutions, McFadden reminds us that we have deep cultural roots which need to be brought to bear as well: the wisdom, clarity, integrity, and spirit-centeredness of indigenous peoples.

With the skill of a seasoned journalist, McFadden ties together topics of agrarian science, economics, and ancient spirituality in an approachable style that gives the reader not only food for thought but inspiration for action.

Highly recommended.

High Agroecology: Sunflower Style

SuperSunflower

Photo by Liz Wolf

by Steven McFadden
While Deep Agroecology is a serious subject, and also the title of my award-winning book, High Agroecology, on the other hand, is the lighthearted name I am giving to my stupendously tall sunflower.

Over the years I’ve grown many a sunflower, but the specimen in this photograph, taken August 10, 2020, is by far the tallest. I reckon it is 15 feet tall, give or take. The secret? Just a normal application of compost, but extraordinary, all-natural biodynamic compost from Common Good Farm in Raymond, Nebraska. Thank you, Evrett Lundquist and Ruthie Goodfarmer for your compost and for all you do.

Since our county fair is an iffy proposition this year, I took the liberty of awarding myself a blue ribbon, fashioned from a blue t-shirt and a red tomato.

CSA 2020: It’s not just about food

by Steven McFadden
Among the cascade of changes the coronavirus pandemic has unleashed is a wave of interest in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). In a time of insecurity, people like knowing where their food comes from. It’s basic…

…With this wave of interest and energy pouring to into CSA and various food-box schemes, questions arise. Where will the energy go? Will new CSAs follow a business model as many people advocate? With the desperate poverty and hunger now afflicting the nation and the world, that emphasis could become more challenging than usual.

Or will CSAs continue to develop as a range of creative community models? Will CSAs draw in, employ, and maintain the support of local communities so the farm keeps going even as the world turns upside down? Many people are now beginning to recognize the imperative value CSA farms can have in an era of global sickness, economic calamity, and climate catastrophe…

< The full blog post is at Mother Earth News >

Towards deep agroecology (The Ecologist)

by Steven McFadden
The world’s leading environmental platform, The Ecologist, has published my essay, Towards deep agroecology. The essay gets the story across concisely in about 900 words. Here are the introductory paragraphs:

“Agroecology presents an inspirational and pragmatic vision of what is necessary and possible as we strive to re-organize our food chain in response to this pandemic, and to pollution, climate breakdown, and the intensifying hegemony of multinational chemical, drug, and industrial corporations.

“Agroecology is an expression of practical, purposeful, and realistic hope. It’s a global vision that has been dreamed and then acted upon by millions of people around the world. But many millions more human beings, billions more actually, are needed to take up and follow the vision now…”

The full essay in The Ecologist is here.