Category Archives: food security

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

QUIZ: What’s your LFQ? (Local Food Quotient)

by Steven McFadden
People often talk about IQ, the Intelligence Quotient, and certainly that can be important. But what about your LFQ, your Local Food Quotient? With all the changes taking place in the world, especially in the critical farm and food scene, that can be important as well.

As I define it for this non-scientific quiz, your LFQ is an informal indicator of how aware you are of the bountiful benefits of buying and eating locally grown fresh food. It also yields a glimpse of how engaged you are in supporting local growers and fresh food for your own health, for your family’s health, and for the health of your community and your natural environment.

To calculate your LFQ, answer these yes or no questions. Give yourself three carrots for every yes answer, and one empty basket for every no answer. Then forget about the empty baskets. Add up your carrots, and see where you fit on the LFQ scoreboard.

  • Have you ever grown any of your own food?
  • Do you know what a food desert is?
  • Do you have a neighbor you talk with who has a vegetable garden?
  • Have you ever picked wild berries, or any other wild food?
  • Have you ever enjoyed an outing to a u-pick berry farm?
  • Have you ever eaten eggs laid by a hen that you have personally seen (or heard cluck)?
  • Have you ever said hello to a local farmer and shaken his or her hand?
  • Have you ever picked vegetables in a garden or field?
  • Do you know where most of your food comes from?
  • Does the supermarket you shop at stock any food from local growers or producers?
  • Do you think they would if you asked them?
  • Have you ever enjoyed a tomato from a grower in the county where you live?
  • Have you ever enjoyed an apple pie made with apples grown in your county or state?
  • Do you know about any local farmers growing food for the community where you live?
  • Do you have a plan to grow more food, or purchase more local food, in 2020?

FIGURE IT OUT
Perfect score:  45 carrots
Your score:       ?

SCOREBOARD RANKINGS
0              carrots             Missing Out
3 to 12     carrots             Nibbler
12 to 24   carrots             Muncher
24-36      carrots             Provider
36-45      carrots             Community Chow Champion

N.B. I originally created this quiz for, and in collaboration with, Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska. BFBLN decided to print a shorter, edited version in their 2020 annual guide, so I thought I’d roll this version out on my Deep Agroecology blog. – Steven McFadden

Affirmative Agroecological Responses to Coronavirus

Driven by the shuttered economies and supply chain disruptions provoked by the Coronavirus, and our basic human survival instincts, people have churned up a tsunami of affirmative agroecological activity toward securing garden seeds, growing food cooperatively, and otherwise connecting with local farms.

Good thing. Pay attention. On March 26 the Director General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu, stated “the COVID19 pandemic is affecting food systems and all dimensions of food security across the world…”

It’s not just the pandemic that’s making things dicey. Tough restrictions at the US-Mexico border have observers suspecting that skilled farmworkers may be in short supply, undermining the capacity of farms to be productive. Shocks to the food system are possible.

But thanks to the work of a wide network of agroecological enterprises, there are many pathways for people to help develop and accelerate a wave of affirmative agroecological farm-and-food responses for enhanced food security…

The rest of my blog post is at Mother Earth News.

Engage the heart of the earth with deep agroecology

We will define our destiny by the ways we farm, and the ways we eat.

Back in the 1980s, perhaps earlier, Trauger Groh articulated that foundational idea. An agrarian adept and a CSA farm pioneer, Trauger (1932-2016) was my coauthor for both Farms of Tomorrow, and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited. His ideas made an enduring impression on me, and many others.

I felt then and I feel today that the point is irrefutable. Farms and food are the foundation of our corrupted present. They also embody the practical promise of a wholly balanced and healthy destiny on earth for human beings, animals, and plants.

Because we are at a critical stage of our group life on Earth, I wanted to emphasize this foundational idea again. That’s one key reason that motivated me to write another book, Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and Our Future.

After over 40 years of engagement with farms, food, and the escalating climate crisis, I regard agroecology as our best set of tools for tending land and animals, for feeding ourselves wisely, and for making an intelligent, strategic effort to stabilize the deteriorating environment…

The rest of my blog is live at Mother Earth News.

Deep Agroecology 2020: Wise, Noble, Gallant

“Agroecology is the future of farming, and its principles cannot be practiced soon enough. Agroecology is a major global force or movement that’s going to be gaining recognition and increasing credibility.”  —John Ikerd, agricultural economist

As I came to appreciate while learning about agroecology, the subject has depth, breadth, and sophistication. Agroecology offers a penetrating critique of the status quo for farms and food, and also a far-reaching, environmentally enlightened, justice-based vision of better ways to care for land, plants, animals, and people.

Rather than a mechanistic formula for domination of nature to produce profits for a small group of investors, the core ideas of agroecology arise naturally from living, rhythmic, biological appreciation of the world and the life that inhabits the world. Consequently, the global movement toward agroecology has the capacity to recognize and to employ systems that bring human needs into right relation with the needs of the natural world.

As University of Nebraska–Lincoln Professor Charles A Francis noted in Agroecology: The Ecology of Food Systems, food systems are vast and fragile. They exist in the multiple and interacting matrices of our increasingly complex national and global cultures.

Agroecology recognizes farms as ecosystems embedded in broader landscapes and social settings, with which they interact continually and significantly.

By way of introduction, Francis writes: “We define agroecology as the integrative study of the ecology of the entire food system, encompassing ecological, economic, and social dimensions.”

In consilience (or convergence) these many disciplines yield vantage points for studying the food system, for developing a broader set of criteria for evaluation beyond monetary profitability, and for transforming the farm and food system in a manifestly healthy way.

Agroecology is an umbrella concept that has been refined in recent decades, developed, and made ready for wide global implementation. Now is the time. Agroecology embraces organics, biodynamics, permaculture, urban ag, and a host of other sustainable, forward-looking initiatives grounded in justice for people, animals, and the land from which we all draw our sustenance.

Image by M Ameen from Pixabay

This is new territory for many, but it’s natural territory. Farmers cannot enter this territory successfully alone, though. They must be accompanied in various purposeful ways by the communities and households who receive their bounty and who take it into their bodies.

My intention in writing a new book on the topic — Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and Our Future — is to explain to a general audience and to students what agroecology already is, and to embed the concepts and practices more purposefully in the public mind. At the same time I saw an opportunity in writing to reach deep into our native roots in the Americas, as well as to add emphasis to subtle dimensions of agroecology, realms of critical mystery.

Another motivation for writing Deep Agroecology was to again make available, as many communicators have done through the millennia, a reminder that inspiriting yourself and then caring actively for the Earth, the sustenance we derive from it, and the communities we are part of, is a high, noble, and heroic calling. It’s especially gallant at this juncture of time and circumstance.