Global Forces Rile Farm and Food Realities

Colossal forces—social, financial, technical, environmental, governmental, and climatological—are whirling emphatically this year, directly engaging, disengaging, and impacting our farms and food. Each human being on Earth has a stake in how it all settles out. It’s that basic.

Among the forces: climate extremes, environmental breakdowns, food security threats, the Covid-19 pandemic, all accompanied by a burgeoning corporate involvement in the realm, including big finance and the advance guard of data-driven AI technologies.

Those forces are met with the soul-yearnings of millions of human beings of all colors, faiths, and nations. They hunger and thirst for a planet-wide realization, a spiritual awakening that results in a sincere, whole-hearted, justice-based reckoning with the critical, foundational matters of our farms and food.

This is no time for co-opted or fake measures, no junk agroecology. Things are real.

The consequential vectors—big money, big tech, big GMO, big chemical, the human beings, and the poisoned politics of our times—are engaged for a defining moment, a moment likely reaching a crescendo in September, in New York, at the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 #UNFSS.

A classic yang-yin polarity thus emerges in sharp relief as we move through
critical points on the pathway to the future not just of farms and food, but also of all that rests upon the foundation that farms and food constitute. Mechanical, material, technical efficiency and profit reside in a yang zone, while the yin realm is home to the basic, upwelling needs of every human being for dignity, respect, justice, adequate clean food, a beautiful, sustainable world to live in, and a dynamic active vision that includes the full circle of life…

The rest of this blog post is at Mother Earth News…

The roots of our human relationship with the land

Here’s a link to the full review of my book, Deep Agroecology.

An elevated perspective on farms, food, and our future: Deep Agroecology slideshow

by Steven McFadden

Thanks to an invitation from Ubiquity University, I had an opportunity to coalesce some thoughts about farms, food, and our future, and then to present them in a Zoom seminar this week,

Even without the soundtrack, the slides I used for the presentation tell the story with power and resonance. The slideshow, now freely  available via Youtube, takes less than four minutes.  I invite you to check it out.

Click here to watch the Deep Agroecology slide show on Youtube.

CSA Farms: Exploration and Activation

This is a link to a Youtube recording of slides I created for an online seminar presented to a large group for KAIL (Kuncup Padang Ilalang) in Indonesia, Earth Day 2021. I invite you to check it out. The slides tell this important story in a concise, colorful way.

Although the first audience for this presentation is the people of Indonesia, the points I share about the context, purpose, and promise of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) are important, and universally relevant. The full 1.5 hour seminar, including both the slides and voice recording, is also available via this link on Youtube.

 

For just a moment, focus your attention on the abstract of this new paper from the FAO: “The impact of disasters and crises on agriculture and food security: 2021”

Colossal change is well underway locally and globally. If your eyes open then of course you recognize the forces and patterns of upheaval fully at work in uncountable ways. The paper cited below from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sends this message resoundingly and with yet more data.

In response to the global reality we share, the challenge for all is to create and sustain life systems that not only survive the storm of changes, but also establish an array of models for stable, healthy, spiritually uplifted local and global cultures. Farms and food are the foundation of our relationship with Earth.

The ways we farm and the ways we eat will determine the destiny of life on Earth. That insight is what the pathways of agroecology recognize, and what they engage with manifold healthy environmental and social responses. My efforts through the book and the blog for Deep Agroecology are to help show these ways, and to suggest how they can be inspirited.

Abstract: “On top of a decade of exacerbated disaster loss, exceptional global heat, retreating ice and rising sea levels, humanity and our food security face a range of new and unprecedented hazards, such as megafires, extreme weather events, desert locust swarms of magnitudes previously unseen, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Agriculture underpins the livelihoods of over 2.5 billion people – most of them in low-income developing countries – and remains a key driver of development.

“At no other point in history has agriculture been faced with such an array of familiar and unfamiliar risks, interacting in a hyperconnected world and a precipitously changing landscape. And agriculture continues to absorb a disproportionate share of the damage and loss wrought by disasters. Their growing frequency and intensity, along with the systemic nature of risk, are upending people’s lives, devastating livelihoods, and jeopardizing our entire food system.

“This report makes a powerful case for investing in resilience and disaster risk reduction – especially data gathering and analysis for evidence informed action – to ensure agriculture’s crucial role in achieving the future we want.”

FAO. 2021. The impact of disasters and crises on agriculture and food security: 2021. Rome.
https://doi.org/10.4060/cb3673en

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A Vision for Nebraska: Build a Cornhuskers monument

My wife Elizabeth and I are on our way out of Nebraska, work having summoned us once again to the southwest. In parting from this stalwart state, I want to share a vision.

The Lincoln Journal-Star, the paper of record for the state’s capital city, recently published an article about the intention of some local developers to establish an “iconic” building in Lincoln’s Haymarket district. That article prompted me to recall an iconic vision I had nearly a decade ago when I first moved to this Cornhusker State.

At that time my office window had a direct view of the Nebraska State Capitol, a 400-foot tall building graced at the top with an iconic image of The Sower—a universal and greathearted figure hard at work, purposefully sowing seeds across the land that we might have the food and fiber that sustains us all.

The Sower is an indisputably handsome and worthy icon for an agrarian state. I was always inspired looking out my window and up at his powerful figure. But then I began to think: Nebraska is The Cornhusker State, not The Cornsower State. Where was a statue depicting The Huskers: the people who husked, or harvested, the crops rising from the seeds?

With memory of that vision activated, I wrote a “comment”—basically a digital letter to the editor—and posted my comment at the end of the Journal Star story.

Here’s an updated version of my comment:

“Here’s my idea for an icon they can put on the roof of the proposed Haymarket building: a monumental statue of The Huskers. By that I mean a 20-25 foot high sculpture in the style of The Sower, using similar materials.

“Sculpt The Huskers as a man, woman, daughter, and son working their way (husking) through a field of sculptural corn 20′ or more high. Build the monument so that the four figures are universal human beings (as The Sower appears to be) bringing in the goodness of what The Sower has sown. Build the monument so that it’s facing The Sower, and is a pubic attraction with its own access and egress, so as not to disturb the businesses in the building.

“A monument like that would bring honest pride, dignity, and joy for all Nebraskans (and visitors) as they might walk among the sculptured people and their giant sculptural corn field. The two monuments (Sower and Huskers) would tell children and adults in a glance the story of the plains and the grains and the people. Such an epic sculpture of The Huskers would express the heart of the state, and thus would be ICONIC indeed.

“I’ve always felt that such a monument would be fitting for the north end of Lincoln’s Centennial Mall, but the Haymarket would also be fitting in many ways.

“The Cornhuskers” monument could complete what might be thought of as a sculptural yin and yang, bringing a visual and energetic dynamic into perpetual play. The moral lesson would be both implicit and explicit: you reap what you sow.”

A monument for The Huskers in combination with The Sower would distinguish Nebraska in a way the Gateway Arch marks St. Louis, the Statue of Liberty accents New York, and the Golden Gate Bridge signifies San Francisco.

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

by Steven McFadden – (published 2.17.21 – updated 3.4.21)

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 Summit has been convened to restructure the regulatory environment for farms and food. That’s a immensely consequential responsibility.

The crescendo of the debate will arrive in the context of at least three extreme factors: the global pandemic, global climate change, and widespread social discontent with the status quo. 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, the 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, climate-stabilizing, 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 tremendous 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 pits of depleted resources, and wallowing in its own foul waste lagoons. The dreadful facts of the matter signal that existing global, 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 UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, has noted alarmingly  (article) that human rights have been dropped from the Summit’s agenda in favor of corporate-friendly language. Fakhri wrote to the head of the summit, Agnes Kalibata, in January stating that the global food crisis was “chronic, urgent, and set to intensify” and yet the summit is focused on science and technology, money and markets, and does not address “fundamental questions of inequality, accountability, and governance.”

Participants in this pre-summit debate were well aware of these 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 said, “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—farmers, smallholders, peasants, food workers, non-profit organizations, co-ops, consumers, and communities constitute civil society. In one sense civil society 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.

In this case civil society refers in particular to the billions 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 (LVC).

After building global webs of relationship over recent decades, the many peoples and organizations of civil society have generally recognized that the trajectory of the global Food Systems Summit is heading in a direction they cannot support.

A Reminder
About month after watching the February 11 pre-summit debate online, I was reminded via an email from Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau of ActionAid USA that civil society organizations are definitely not on board with the developing spirit and form of the upcoming Food Systems Summit.

In 2020 over 500 civil society organizations sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General outlining their alarm about corporate capture of the summit, and the likelihood that the summit will serve as a forum for advancement of corporate aims and greenwashing, meanwhile glossing over the essential earth-and-justice respecting ways and means of true agroecology.

After sending their letter to the Secretary General, and seeing that their principal concerns were going to remain unaddressed, many of the civil society organizations publicly expressed disappointment in the summit’s plan, and declined to be involved. Of note, LVC—the largest social movement in the world—denounced the Food Systems Summit, and declared that it would not participate.

An LVC position paper on the Summit states that the governance of the event is utterly undemocratic, and that it remains firmly in control of “a handful of large international corporations…The current trajectory of the Summit’s build-up process allows the global power elites, and especially the private sector, to once again legitimize themselves as architects of the future of our food system, using its transnational corporate arms to continue to accumulate capital and destroy the planet.”

LVC holds another vision, one of food sovereignty: comprehensive, democratic local food systems that are diverse, agroecological, informed by indigenous knowledge, and developed and managed justly by people with full respect for human rights.

True Agroecology
As several the 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 and food follow not one fixed model, but rather are diverse according to the basic nature of their circumstances, and right relationship with the circle of life. 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.

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 observe what is happening. 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.