From Land Grab to Land Trust

October 25, 2011

Farmland – Photo by Sam Beebe, Ecotrust.

The cost of farmland — and food – continues to spiral upward. The global land grab is in full swing, and the consequences of this grab are just beginning to emerge. In that context, it is important to reconsider the whole basis of the matter: our relationship to land.

I encourage everyone involved with food and farming to weigh the matter carefully, for there is a world to gain from the steady, ongoing establishment of community farm trusts to hold farm land and make it available to qualified farmers with provisions for equity. To me that seems the wisest course of action over the long term for so many of the community agrarian initiatives active now in North America.

Back in 1988-89, when Trauger Groh and I were writing the first book about CSAs (Farms of Tomorrow: Community Supported Farms, Farm Supported Communities) we could not help but recognize the matter of land as a key point.

Land — and the way we relate to it — has been the crucial issue for centuries, and will remain so. From a long discussion in Chapter 2 of the book,  here are a few relevant passages advocating the development of community farms and land trusts in this context:

“For the farms of tomorrow, land cannot be used as a commodity or a tradeable good, like a car or a pair of shoes that are produced, sold, used, resold, and finally used up…the farms of tomorrow must be based on a new approach to land. The land can no longer be used as collateral for debt. It should no longer be mortgaged. It must be free to serve its original purpose: the basis of the physical existence of humanity…

“…The land has to be liberated out of the insight and actions of citizens who recognize the essential need. Specifically, local land suitable for agriculture must be gradually protected by land trusts. To do this, every piece of farmland has to be purchased for the last time, and then, out of the free initiative of local people, be placed into forms of trust that will protect it from ever again being mortgaged or sold for the sake of private profit…”

“Non-profit land trusts may then make the land available to qualified people who want to take it into ecologically sound uses. Such arrangements will give the right of land use to individuals or groups, either for the time they are willing or capable of using it, or in a lifelong contract…

“…This is something that cannot be legislated or otherwise imposed in any way upon humanity. Every step of progress will have to arise out of the insights and the free initiative of the people.”


Cereal Crimes: the Bottom of the Breakfast Bowl

October 18, 2011

Parents, children, anyone who routinely sits down to eat a bowl of breakfast cereal, will want to take a look at the new report on ‘Cereal Crimes‘ released by the Cornucopia Institute.

The report makes plain the sharp and important difference between cereals that are actually grown and produced with clean, sustainable, organic methods and materials, and those cereals marketed with the vague and often misleading label ‘natural.’

The term ‘natural’ on a food product should, at this point, simply raise questions for consumers, who will want to read the product label more carefully. What is really in it?

In the USA there are no restrictions whatsoever for foods labeled “natural.” According to Cornucopia, the term often denotes little more than marketing hype from companies seeking to exploit consumer desire for clean food produced in a genuinely sustainable manner. So called ‘natural’ products may well be grown with chemicals and include genetically engineered grains or other ingredients.

If you eat cereal, or if your children do, you will want to check Cornucopia’s online Cereal Scorecard to see how your favorite brands have been rated.

A Basic Call to Consciousness: Resounding in Year 34

October 7, 2011

Last week Doug George-Kanentiio sent me notice about the recent establishment of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge in New York State, in partnership with Syracuse University. The Institute has just been gifted a historically and spiritually vivid parcel of land for its headquarters. Thus has come about an opportunity for profoundly important old roots to settle back into the land, and to send out new branches.

Doug and his wife Joanne Shenandoah — both serving on the board for The Hiawatha Institute —  have with others long held the vision for such an institution, something that may develop to become an Indigenous University anchored on North America, open to students from all cultures and all parts of the world.

“Our way is to make it possible that people come to a meeting of the good mind,” Doug told me two years ago. “To get there, you need to sit in respect with one another. You have to invite people from all walks of life and viewpoints to share information, and you have to listen to one another.”

In learning about the establishment of the Hiawatha Institute and its mission, I was reminded of a seminal tract of reading that arose from the same native North American wisdom streams some 34 years ago this month: Basic Call to Consciousness. That’s the title of a succinct book that conveys core expressions of the oldest, deepest traditions of North America, and places them with resonant validity in the context of our raucous era.

Basic Call to Consciousness — The Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World — was initially articulated to an array of NGOs at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, October 1977, and then later published in book form by Akwesasne Notes. The work is a classic of informed and elevated political and spiritual philosophy that is acutely relevant now, and that will likely remain relevant for centuries on into the future. The Hiawatha Institute will help make that possible, striving to listen consciously to the call of the land and then to respond from the good mind.

To honor the contribution of Basic Call to world thought, and to resound its notes in this 34th year, here are some selected passages:

“For centuries we have known that each individual’s action creates conditions and situations that affect the world. For centuries we have been careful to avoid any action unless it carried a long-range prospect of promoting harmony and peace in the world. In that context, with our brothers and sisters of the Western Hemisphere, we have journeyed here (UN) to discuss these important matters with the other members of the Family of Man.”

“The way of life known as Western Civilization is on a death path…Our essential message to the world is a basic call to consciousness. The destruction of native cultures and people is the same process which has destroyed and is destroying life on this planet…

“…The principles of righteousness demand that all thoughts of prejudice, privilege or superiority be swept away and that recognition be given to the reality that Creation is intended for the benefit of all equally — even the birds and the animals, the trees and insects, as well as the human beings…”

“We are living in a period of time in which we expect to see great changes in the economy of the colonizers…We will soon see the end of an economy based on the supply of cheap oil, natural gas, and other resources, and that will greatly change the face of the world…”

“…The people who are living on this planet need to break with the narrow concept of human liberation, and begin to see liberation as something which needs to be extended to the whole of the Natural World. What is needed is the liberation of all the things that support Life — the air, the waters, the trees — all the things which support the sacred web of Life…”

You can read the text of Basic Call to Consciousness online here, or purchase a bound copy of the book through the Open Library hub.

Everybody in the Food Pool – Innovative Concept for Neighborhoods

October 6, 2011

Earlier this year Andrew Sigal launched FoodPool, an innovative concept for strengthening and stabilizing neighborhoods while feeding people clean, fresh food in communities of all sizes.

As a new and as of yet unincorporated non-profit, Food Pool’s mission is to create small, local groups to gather backyard garden produce and deliver it to food banks and food pantries. These “FoodPools” are modeled on carpools – neighborhood based, easy to set up, and easy to run. “By creating numerous small, local groups,” the Food Pool website states, “we feed our neighbors while strengthening our communities.”

Food Pool offers a free Guide to Starting a FoodPool in their FoodPool starter kit.

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