Watch this video from MSN about Maverick farms hosted by Anna Lappé of the Small Planet Institute

 

Maverick Farms is an educational non-profit farm dedicated to family farming as a community resource and reconnecting local food networks.

Maverick Farms formed in spring 2004 to preserve a small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, an area under intense pressure from development. It operates as an open laboratory, experimenting with human-scale farming techniques and traditional food preparation.

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Maverick Farms works to reclaim the pleasures of eating and sharing meals in a culture overrun by industrial agriculture and flavorless food. The project arose out of Springhouse Farm, which for 30 years sold hand-picked vegetables to local restaurants. Maverick Farms is continuing with that tradition while embarking on new education and outreach projects to connect local food producers and consumers.

They just started a new program that they call Farm Incubator and Grower Program (FIG) on mentoring aspiring young farmers and teaching them over the course of two years all that great stuff you need to know about planning crop rotations and balancing farm budgets, and running a CSA and restaurant supply business.  On successful completion of the training, Maverick works with the young farmers gain access to land, financing, equipment, and a ready-made markets to launch their own farm enterprises.  The program will hopefully help to reestablish local food sources in the area.  Because viable local food systems are often constrained by a lack of both land under cultivation and new farmers, FIG will collaborate with local landowners, land trusts, and town and county governments to identify land that could be rented at below-market rates or deeded as common agricultural property.

I found Maverick Farms from this Grist article.  Grist is great for all environmental news!

“Carrots!” says this young intern from FoodShare, a Toronto non profit urban agriculture program
FoodShare is an organization that take a broad look at the entire food system – how food is produced, distributed and consumed.
How people get their food is also important. Food distribution systems that involve communities and help to create neighborhood leaders have a great potential to enhance individual and community empowerment, by leading people to feel that they have some control over this very basic part of their lives. Again, because of its material, cultural and social importance, food is special in its power to mobilize people to action. All our programs are based on this community building principle.
FoodShare tries to take a multifaceted, innovative and long-term approach to hunger and food issues. This means that we’re involved in diverse actions: grassroots program delivery, advocacy for social assistance reform, job creation and training, nutrition education, farmland preservation and campaigns for comprehensive food labelling are just a few examples of the areas we work in.
FoodShare was started in 1985 by the Mayor of Toronto and many citizens concerned about the growing hunger issues of the city. Since then, they have been actively involved in tons of projects all over the city, it is part of the school system, the farmers markets, and food banks of the city as well as host a hunger hotline, cooking classes, gardens and garden education, and healthy food choices classes. 
The Field to Table Urban Agriculture Project, founded by Annex Organics, has been home to a sprouting business, a rooftop greenhouse and garden, living machines, and a composting system. It now also includes honey bee hives and, off site, the Sunshine Garden, a 6000 sq ft market garden. Click here for a flier about the Sunshine Garden.
They also have a program called Good Food Boxes started in 1994, which runs similarly to a large buying club. The project distributes boxes of fresh (and often local) food throughout the city for either $12 or $32 depending of the version they choose.

Professional evaluation of The Good Food Box shows that participating in the program helps people access a more nutritious diet. It is now thought that up to 70% of deaths result from diseases that have a diet-related dimension, and there is mounting evidence that eating enough fruit and vegetables is key to preventing disease. Not only is it a matter of justice that everyone should have access to the food they need to keep them healthy- it also makes sense because of the enormous costs to the health care system that result from treating these diseases.

The Good Food Box makes top-quality, fresh food available in a way that does not stigmatize people, fosters community development and promotes healthy eating.

 

The Salad Bar program is a Farm to School program aimed at getting fresh vegetables to school children in Toronto.  Modeled after salad bar programs from the US, this program aims to get kids excited about fresh, local food.  Click here to see what kids said about the Salad Bar at their school.

Written for The Nation on May 15, 2008

by WALDEN BELLO

When tens of thousands of people staged demonstrations in Mexico last year to protest a 60 percent increase in the price of tortillas, many analysts pointed to biofuel as the culprit. Because of US government subsidies, American farmers were devoting more and more acreage to corn for ethanol than for food, which sparked a steep rise in corn prices. The diversion of corn from tortillas to biofuel was certainly one cause of skyrocketing prices, though speculation on biofuel demand by transnational middlemen may have played a bigger role. However, an intriguing question escaped many observers: how on earth did Mexicans, who live in the land where corn was domesticated, become dependent on US imports in the first place?

The Mexican food crisis cannot be fully understood without taking into account the fact that in the years preceding the tortilla crisis, the homeland of corn had been converted to a corn-importing economy by “free market” policies promoted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and Washington. The process began with the early 1980s debt crisis. One of the two largest developing-country debtors, Mexico was forced to beg for money from the Bank and IMF to service its debt to international commercial banks. The quid pro quo for a multibillion-dollar bailout was what a member of the World Bank executive board described as “unprecedented thoroughgoing interventionism” designed to eliminate high tariffs, state regulations and government support institutions, which neoliberal doctrine identified as barriers to economic efficiency. 

Interest payments rose from 19 percent of total government expenditures in 1982 to 57 percent in 1988, while capital expenditures dropped from an already low 19.3 percent to 4.4 percent. The contraction of government spending translated into the dismantling of state credit, government-subsidized agricultural inputs, price supports, state marketing boards and extension services. Unilateral liberalization of agricultural trade pushed by the IMF and World Bank also contributed to the destabilization of peasant producers.

This blow to peasant agriculture was followed by an even larger one in 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. Although NAFTA had a fifteen-year phaseout of tariff protection for agricultural products, including corn, highly subsidized US corn quickly flooded in, reducing prices by half and plunging the corn sector into chronic crisis. Largely as a result of this agreement, Mexico’s status as a net food importer has now been firmly established.

With the shutting down of the state marketing agency for corn, distribution of US corn imports and Mexican grain has come to be monopolized by a few transnational traders, like US-owned Cargill and partly US-owned Maseca, operating on both sides of the border. This has given them tremendous power to speculate on trade trends, so that movements in biofuel demand can be manipulated and magnified many times over. At the same time, monopoly control of domestic trade has ensured that a rise in international corn prices does not translate into significantly higher prices paid to small producers.

It has become increasingly difficult for Mexican corn farmers to avoid the fate of many of their fellow corn cultivators and other smallholders in sectors such as rice, beef, poultry and pork, who have gone under because of the advantages conferred by NAFTA on subsidized US producers. According to a 2003 Carnegie Endowment report, imports of US agricultural products threw at least 1.3 million farmers out of work–many of whom have since found their way to the United States.

Prospects are not good, since the Mexican government continues to be controlled by neoliberals who are systematically dismantling the peasant support system, a key legacy of the Mexican Revolution. As Food First executive director Eric Holt-Giménez sees it, “It will take time and effort to recover smallholder capacity, and there does not appear to be any political will for this–to say nothing of the fact that NAFTA would have to be renegotiated.”

Creating a Rice Crisis in the Philippines

That the global food crisis stems mainly from free-market restructuring of agriculture is clearer in the case of rice. Unlike corn, less than 10 percent of world rice production is traded. Moreover, there has been no diversion of rice from food consumption to biofuels. Yet this year alone, prices nearly tripled, from $380 a ton in January to more than $1,000 in April. Undoubtedly the inflation stems partly from speculation by wholesaler cartels at a time of tightening supplies. However, as with Mexico and corn, the big puzzle is why a number of formerly self-sufficient rice-consuming countries have become severely dependent on imports.

The Philippines provides a grim example of how neoliberal economic restructuring transforms a country from a net food exporter to a net food importer. The Philippines is the world’s largest importer of rice. Manila’s desperate effort to secure supplies at any price has become front-page news, and pictures of soldiers providing security for rice distribution in poor communities have become emblematic of the global crisis.

The broad contours of the Philippines story are similar to those of Mexico. Dictator Ferdinand Marcos was guilty of many crimes and misdeeds, including failure to follow through on land reform, but one thing he cannot be accused of is starving the agricultural sector. To head off peasant discontent, the regime provided farmers with subsidized fertilizer and seeds, launched credit plans and built rural infrastructure. When Marcos fled the country in 1986, there were 900,000 metric tons of rice in government warehouses.

Paradoxically, the next few years under the new democratic dispensation saw the gutting of government investment capacity. As in Mexico the World Bank and IMF, working on behalf of international creditors, pressured the Corazon Aquino administration to make repayment of the $26 billion foreign debt a priority. Aquino acquiesced, though she was warned by the country’s top economists that the “search for a recovery program that is consistent with a debt repayment schedule determined by our creditors is a futile one.” Between 1986 and 1993 8 percent to 10 percent of GDP left the Philippines yearly in debt-service payments–roughly the same proportion as in Mexico. Interest payments as a percentage of expenditures rose from 7 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1994; capital expenditures plunged from 26 percent to 16 percent. In short, debt servicing became the national budgetary priority.

Spending on agriculture fell by more than half. The World Bank and its local acolytes were not worried, however, since one purpose of the belt-tightening was to get the private sector to energize the countryside. But agricultural capacity quickly eroded. Irrigation stagnated, and by the end of the 1990s only 17 percent of the Philippines’ road network was paved, compared with 82 percent in Thailand and 75 percent in Malaysia. Crop yields were generally anemic, with the average rice yield way below those in China, Vietnam and Thailand, where governments actively promoted rural production. The post-Marcos agrarian reform program shriveled, deprived of funding for support services, which had been the key to successful reforms in Taiwan and South Korea. As in Mexico Filipino peasants were confronted with full-scale retreat of the state as provider of comprehensive support–a role they had come to depend on.

And the cutback in agricultural programs was followed by trade liberalization, with the Philippines’ 1995 entry into the World Trade Organization having the same effect as Mexico’s joining NAFTA. WTO membership required the Philippines to eliminate quotas on all agricultural imports except rice and allow a certain amount of each commodity to enter at low tariff rates. While the country was allowed to maintain a quota on rice imports, it nevertheless had to admit the equivalent of 1 to 4 percent of domestic consumption over the next ten years. In fact, because of gravely weakened production resulting from lack of state support, the government imported much more than that to make up for shortfalls. The massive imports depressed the price of rice, discouraging farmers and keeping growth in production at a rate far below that of the country’s two top suppliers, Thailand and Vietnam.

The consequences of the Philippines’ joining the WTO barreled through the rest of its agriculture like a super-typhoon. Swamped by cheap corn imports–much of it subsidized US grain–farmers reduced land devoted to corn from 3.1 million hectares in 1993 to 2.5 million in 2000. Massive importation of chicken parts nearly killed that industry, while surges in imports destabilized the poultry, hog and vegetable industries.

During the 1994 campaign to ratify WTO membership, government economists, coached by their World Bank handlers, promised that losses in corn and other traditional crops would be more than compensated for by the new export industry of “high-value-added” crops like cut flowers, asparagus and broccoli. Little of this materialized. Nor did many of the 500,000 agricultural jobs that were supposed to be created yearly by the magic of the market; instead, agricultural employment dropped from 11.2 million in 1994 to 10.8 million in 2001.

The one-two punch of IMF-imposed adjustment and WTO-imposed trade liberalization swiftly transformed a largely self-sufficient agricultural economy into an import-dependent one as it steadily marginalized farmers. It was a wrenching process, the pain of which was captured by a Filipino government negotiator during a WTO session in Geneva. “Our small producers,” he said, “are being slaughtered by the gross unfairness of the international trading environment.”

The Great Transformation

The experience of Mexico and the Philippines was paralleled in one country after another subjected to the ministrations of the IMF and the WTO. A study of fourteen countries by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization found that the levels of food imports in 1995-98 exceeded those in 1990-94. This was not surprising, since one of the main goals of the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture was to open up markets in developing countries so they could absorb surplus production in the North. As then-US Agriculture Secretary John Block put it in 1986, “The idea that developing countries should feed themselves is an anachronism from a bygone era. They could better ensure their food security by relying on US agricultural products, which are available in most cases at lower cost.”

What Block did not say was that the lower cost of US products stemmed from subsidies, which became more massive with each passing year despite the fact that the WTO was supposed to phase them out. From $367 billion in 1995, the total amount of agricultural subsidies provided by developed-country governments rose to $388 billion in 2004. Since the late 1990s subsidies have accounted for 40 percent of the value of agricultural production in the European Union and 25 percent in the United States.

The apostles of the free market and the defenders of dumping may seem to be at different ends of the spectrum, but the policies they advocate are bringing about the same result: a globalized capitalist industrial agriculture. Developing countries are being integrated into a system where export-oriented production of meat and grain is dominated by large industrial farms like those run by the Thai multinational CP and where technology is continually upgraded by advances in genetic engineering from firms like Monsanto. And the elimination of tariff and nontariff barriers is facilitating a global agricultural supermarket of elite and middle-class consumers serviced by grain-trading corporations like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland and transnational food retailers like the British-owned Tesco and the French-owned Carrefour.

There is little room for the hundreds of millions of rural and urban poor in this integrated global market. They are confined to giant suburban favelas, where they contend with food prices that are often much higher than the supermarket prices, or to rural reservations, where they are trapped in marginal agricultural activities and increasingly vulnerable to hunger. Indeed, within the same country, famine in the marginalized sector sometimes coexists with prosperity in the globalized sector.

This is not simply the erosion of national food self-sufficiency or food security but what Africanist Deborah Bryceson of Oxford calls “de-peasantization”–the phasing out of a mode of production to make the countryside a more congenial site for intensive capital accumulation. This transformation is a traumatic one for hundreds of millions of people, since peasant production is not simply an economic activity. It is an ancient way of life, a culture, which is one reason displaced or marginalized peasants in India have taken to committing suicide. In the state of Andhra Pradesh, farmer suicides rose from 233 in 1998 to 2,600 in 2002; in Maharashtra, suicides more than tripled, from 1,083 in 1995 to 3,926 in 2005. One estimate is that some 150,000 Indian farmers have taken their lives. Collapse of prices from trade liberalization and loss of control over seeds to biotech firms is part of a comprehensive problem, says global justice activist Vandana Shiva: “Under globalization, the farmer is losing her/his social, cultural, economic identity as a producer. A farmer is now a ‘consumer’ of costly seeds and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations through powerful landlords and money lenders locally.”

African Agriculture: From Compliance to Defiance

De-peasantization is at an advanced state in Latin America and Asia. And if the World Bank has its way, Africa will travel in the same direction. As Bryceson and her colleagues correctly point out in a recent article, the World Development Report for 2008, which touches extensively on agriculture in Africa, is practically a blueprint for the transformation of the continent’s peasant-based agriculture into large-scale commercial farming. However, as in many other places today, the Bank’s wards are moving from sullen resentment to outright defiance.

At the time of decolonization, in the 1960s, Africa was actually a net food exporter. Today the continent imports 25 percent of its food; almost every country is a net importer. Hunger and famine have become recurrent phenomena, with the past three years alone seeing food emergencies break out in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and Southern and Central Africa.

Agriculture in Africa is in deep crisis, and the causes range from wars to bad governance, lack of agricultural technology and the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, as in Mexico and the Philippines, an important part of the explanation is the phasing out of government controls and support mechanisms under the IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs imposed as the price for assistance in servicing external debt.

Structural adjustment brought about declining investment, increased unemployment, reduced social spending, reduced consumption and low output. Lifting price controls on fertilizers while simultaneously cutting back on agricultural credit systems simply led to reduced fertilizer use, lower yields and lower investment. Moreover, reality refused to conform to the doctrinal expectation that withdrawal of the state would pave the way for the market to dynamize agriculture. Instead, the private sector, which correctly saw reduced state expenditures as creating more risk, failed to step into the breach. In country after country, the departure of the state “crowded out” rather than “crowded in” private investment. Where private traders did replace the state, noted an Oxfam report, “they have sometimes done so on highly unfavorable terms for poor farmers,” leaving “farmers more food insecure, and governments reliant on unpredictable international aid flows.” The usually pro-private sector Economist agreed, admitting that “many of the private firms brought in to replace state researchers turned out to be rent-seeking monopolists.”

The support that African governments were allowed to muster was channeled by the World Bank toward export agriculture to generate foreign exchange, which states needed to service debt. But, as in Ethiopia during the 1980s famine, this led to the dedication of good land to export crops, with food crops forced into less suitable soil, thus exacerbating food insecurity. Moreover, the World Bank’s encouragement of several economies to focus on the same export crops often led to overproduction, triggering price collapses in international markets. For instance, the very success of Ghana’s expansion of cocoa production triggered a 48 percent drop in the international price between 1986 and 1989. In 2002-03 a collapse in coffee prices contributed to another food emergency in Ethiopia.

As in Mexico and the Philippines, structural adjustment in Africa was not simply about underinvestment but state divestment. But there was one major difference. In Africa the World Bank and IMF micromanaged, making decisions on how fast subsidies should be phased out, how many civil servants had to be fired and even, as in the case of Malawi, how much of the country’s grain reserve should be sold and to whom.

Compounding the negative impact of adjustment were unfair EU and US trade practices. Liberalization allowed subsidized EU beef to drive many West African and South African cattle raisers to ruin. With their subsidies legitimized by the WTO, US growers offloaded cotton on world markets at 20 percent to 55 percent of production cost, thereby bankrupting West and Central African farmers.

According to Oxfam, the number of sub-Saharan Africans living on less than a dollar a day almost doubled, to 313 million, between 1981 and 2001–46 percent of the whole continent. The role of structural adjustment in creating poverty was hard to deny. As the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa admitted, “We did not think that the human costs of these programs could be so great, and the economic gains would be so slow in coming.”

In 1999 the government of Malawi initiated a program to give each smallholder family a starter pack of free fertilizers and seeds. The result was a national surplus of corn. What came after is a story that should be enshrined as a classic case study of one of the greatest blunders of neoliberal economics. The World Bank and other aid donors forced the scaling down and eventual scrapping of the program, arguing that the subsidy distorted trade. Without the free packs, output plummeted. In the meantime, the IMF insisted that the government sell off a large portion of its grain reserves to enable the food reserve agency to settle its commercial debts. The government complied. When the food crisis turned into a famine in 2001-02, there were hardly any reserves left. About 1,500 people perished. The IMF was unrepentant; in fact, it suspended its disbursements on an adjustment program on the grounds that “the parastatal sector will continue to pose risks to the successful implementation of the 2002/03 budget. Government interventions in the food and other agricultural markets… [are] crowding out more productive spending.”

By the time an even worse food crisis developed in 2005, the government had had enough of World Bank/IMF stupidity. A new president reintroduced the fertilizer subsidy, enabling 2 million households to buy it at a third of the retail price and seeds at a discount. The result: bumper harvests for two years, a million-ton maize surplus and the country transformed into a supplier of corn to Southern Africa.

Malawi’s defiance of the World Bank would probably have been an act of heroic but futile resistance a decade ago. The environment is different today, since structural adjustment has been discredited throughout Africa. Even some donor governments and NGOs that used to subscribe to it have distanced themselves from the Bank. Perhaps the motivation is to prevent their influence in the continent from being further eroded by association with a failed approach and unpopular institutions when Chinese aid is emerging as an alternative to World Bank, IMF and Western government aid programs.

Food Sovereignty: An Alternative Paradigm?

It is not only defiance from governments like Malawi and dissent from their erstwhile allies that are undermining the IMF and the World Bank. Peasant organizations around the world have become increasingly militant in their resistance to the globalization of industrial agriculture. Indeed, it is because of pressure from farmers’ groups that the governments of the South have refused to grant wider access to their agricultural markets and demanded a massive slashing of US and EU agricultural subsidies, which brought the WTO’s Doha Round of negotiations to a standstill.

Farmers’ groups have networked internationally; one of the most dynamic to emerge is Via Campesina (Peasant’s Path). Via not only seeks to get “WTO out of agriculture” and opposes the paradigm of a globalized capitalist industrial agriculture; it also proposes an alternative–food sovereignty. Food sovereignty means, first of all, the right of a country to determine its production and consumption of food and the exemption of agriculture from global trade regimes like that of the WTO. It also means consolidation of a smallholder-centered agriculture via protection of the domestic market from low-priced imports; remunerative prices for farmers and fisherfolk; abolition of all direct and indirect export subsidies; and the phasing out of domestic subsidies that promote unsustainable agriculture. Via’s platform also calls for an end to the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights regime, or TRIPs, which allows corporations to patent plant seeds; opposes agro-technology based on genetic engineering; and demands land reform. In contrast to an integrated global monoculture, Via offers the vision of an international agricultural economy composed of diverse national agricultural economies trading with one another but focused primarily on domestic production.

Once regarded as relics of the pre-industrial era, peasants are now leading the opposition to a capitalist industrial agriculture that would consign them to the dustbin of history. They have become what Karl Marx described as a politically conscious “class for itself,” contradicting his predictions about their demise. With the global food crisis, they are moving to center stage–and they have allies and supporters. For as peasants refuse to go gently into that good night and fight de-peasantization, developments in the twenty-first century are revealing the panacea of globalized capitalist industrial agriculture to be a nightmare. With environmental crises multiplying, the social dysfunctions of urban-industrial life piling up and industrialized agriculture creating greater food insecurity, the farmers’ movement increasingly has relevance not only to peasants but to everyone threatened by the catastrophic consequences of global capital’s vision for organizing production, community and life itself. 

 

Other Nation articles on the subject…

 

  • Haiti on the ‘Death Plan’ 

    REED LINDSAY: Protesters decry high food prices–and the savage cost of “free trade” agreements.

  • The World Food Crisis

    JOHN NICHOLS: We must rein in the global food giants who reap profits at the expense of the planet and the poor.

  • Milk Wars 

    DAVID E. GUMPERT: As struggling dairy farmers seek profits by responding to rising consumer demand for raw milk, regulators are taking a hard line.

  • Banana Kings 

    EMILY BIUSO: The history of banana cultivation is rife with labor and environmental abuse, corporate skulduggery and genetic experiments gone awry.

  • The Big Yam 

    JOHN FEFFER: Chinese hearts, minds and pocketbooks get a lot of attention from the Eastern and Western consumer markets.

 

Published on 17 May 2008 by Energy Bulletin. Archived on 17 May 2008.by Shepherd Bliss

Petroleum supplies slowly dwindle as demand rapidly soars. So the prices of gasoline and oil that supply modern societies with their industrial production of food will go up, up, and away. A radically different future than the oil-energized twentieth century is dawning.

Let’s face it: our world has become increasingly maddening. Bad news mounts each day: unending wars, financial crises, earthquakes, hurricanes and cyclones killing thousands, chaotic climate change, vanishing pollinating bees and polar bears, rising oceans, thinning forests and a host of human-created or –worsened threats. We live in uncertain times with an even more uncertain future. We face unprecedented, unpredictable converging threats. What can one do to remain somewhat sane? The ostrich approach of denial by burying one’s head in the sand will not be effective or life-enhancing.

It is a good time for an increasing number of people to return to the multiple benefits and pleasures of growing at least part of their own food by gardening and farming. In addition to satisfying the need to eat and drink, farming can also help deal with depression, passivity, and other forms of psychological suffering. It can help treat both the body and the soul. 

One of the many good things that farms based on nature’s patterns can do is help balance people. Much psychological suffering and even mental illnesses have to do with imbalances, which characterize modern society. Before turning to drugs, one can at least trying visiting farms and perhaps volunteering to work there. Or one can connect with farms in collaboration with another treatment program.

Farming can be done in ways that preserve the Earth and put humans in direct contact with it. “Small farms are the most productive on earth,” according to the May 11 “New York Times” article “Change We Can Stomach” by farmer and chef Dan Barber. “A four-acre farm in the United States nets, on average, $1,400 per acre; a 1,364-acre farm nets $39 an acre,” he writes. “Farming has the potential to go through the greatest upheaval since the Green Revolution, bringing harvests that are more meaningful, sustainable, and, yes, even more flavorful,” Barber contends.

Since growing one’s own food is not possible for everyone, it is also a good time to establish direct relationships with local farmers and shop more at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and by subscribing to Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). Urban agriculture, farms on the urban fringe, and rooftop gardening are becoming increasingly popular. The large city of Havana, Cuba, grows 70% of its own food. Necessity will change how people get their food in the near future.

Many Americans take their food sources for granted, assuming that super-markets will be able to always supply them with what they need. Having lived in Hawai’i when delivery disruptions and the lack of transportation across the ocean left bare shelves in food stores, I know the panic this can cause.

The “Silent Tsunami,” “Misery Index,” and Mud Cakes

A “silent tsunami” of hunger sweeps the globe, reports the head of the United Nation’s World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, speaking in late April at a food summit in London. The heightened hunger threat endangers 20 million of the world’s poorest children and is pushing 100 million people into poverty. 

“This is the new face of hunger—the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” Sheeran reports. “The world’s misery index is rising.”

During 2008 food riots broke out in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. “You are seeing the return of the food riot, one of the oldest forms of collective action,” commented Raj Patel in an April 25San Francisco Chronicle article. The University of California at Berkeley scholar wrote the new book “Stuffed and Starved: Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System.”

The World Bank estimates that food prices have risen 83% in three years; other estimates are in the 60 and 70 percent range. Even in the wealthy United States we have recently seen rationing of rice and other staples by food giants such as Costco and Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Clubs, the two biggest warehouse retail chains. Such trends are likely to continue and are creating stockpiling and hoarding.

“In the poorest districts (of Haiti), there is now a brisk trade in mud cakes,” writes Patel in an article titled “The Troubles with Food,”. “Mothers feed the biscuits, made with water, salt, margarine and clay, to their children. The cake puts a dampener on hunger, at least for a couple of hours, but leaves your mouth dry and bitter for several hours more,” he continues. 

Industrial agriculture will be one of the many aspects of human life on the planet hit by the dwindle/demand oil trend and the related peaks of other fossil fuels, such as natural gas. Industrial agriculture depends upon petroleum in many ways—to run tractors and other machines, to make chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and to fuel the trucks that transport food an average of 1500 miles from field to fork. Oil is the most important ingredient in most of conventional food. As the dwindle/demand rate intensifies, food will be less available and more expensive. Famine is likely.

Survival will require that more people return to an earlier energy supply— muscle power. As someone who made a transition in the early 1990’s (while in my late 40s) from a livelihood based on college teaching and related intellectual activities to one based on farming, I can report that there are many advantages to such a change. I feel better as a result of living on the land, growing some of my own food, and sharing that organic food and the farm itself with others. 

I have found my local place. In 2003 I accepted a great job offer in Hawai’i, but after a couple of wonderful years, I felt so homesick that I returned to my farm.

So this will be a report from the farm front, which will focus on some of the psychological benefits of farming.

The multiple consequences of a diminishing supply of humanity’s major energy source at this point in history will include hardships, stress, and suffering. There are many ways of dealing psychologically with such matters, including with family, friends and professional counselors. This article will explore what I have come to describe as agropsychology and agrotherapy.

I was trained to be a counselor. Quite frankly, I was not good at delivering individual therapy. I got too emotional and involved. I did not adequately develop the necessary professional armor and shield. I did not take enough distance from the people I was working with or have enough “impulse control.” So I shifted more to teaching, group work, and writing. In the time since my more conventional psychological training some forty years ago, self-disclosure and emotional men have become more acceptable as sex roles and professional codes have evolved.

Ecopsychology and Ecotherapy

Sierra Club Books published “Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind” in l996. The term refers to the emerging synthesis of the psychological and the ecological. The book’s editor, Theodore Roszak, writes that “ecology needs psychology, psychology needs ecology.” Roszak reports on a l990 conference entitled “Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered.”

The Sierra Club plans to publish the book’s sequel “Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind” in March of 2009. My chapter “Farming, Sweet Darkness, Poetry, and Healing” is scheduled to be part of that book. After finishing my contribution I began to realize that what I was writing about could be called agrotherapy, which is the practice of agropsychology, which are sub-sets of ecopsychology and ecotherapy. Farms have historically been healing places, for both those who live and work there and those who visit. Farm tours and even overnight farm stays are becoming increasingly popular as examples of ecotourism. The Small Farm Program at the University of California at Davis, Sonoma County Farm Trails, and Daily Acts are among the many groups that promote such tours.

Simply put, by living on a farm and working the land on a regular basis, I have become a healthier person—physically and mentally. In recent years I have been hosting an increasing number of farm tours at Kokopelli Farm in the Sebastopol countryside, Sonoma County, Northern California. Community, school, and religious groups, as well as families and friends, come to the farm, which grows mainly organic berries and fruit and cares for chickens. 

My visitors tend to feel better from their time on this traditional farm; something positive usually happens to them. Being outside in nature can benefit people. People typically loose sight of chronological time. They can fall into berry time or chicken time, which tend to be slower than the human-made clock, and often more fun and stress-reducing. They sometimes lose their restraint and order, wanting to sprint ahead, or go off the path, as if they were animals, which they are.

Chicken Wisdom and Agrotherapy

This year I returned to teaching psychology, part-time, at Sonoma State University. I sometimes take chickens as Teaching Assistants (TAs). For example, I took two sweet silkies on Valentine’s Day; they modeled being love birds as they cooed and cuddled, one even feeling safe enough to lay an egg.

Chickens can teach many things, such as surrender to what is, joy at the dawn, transformation of throwaways into jewels, and love of the Earth within which chickens take their dust baths to help them get rid of parasites. Chickens offer incredible eggs, humor, joy, and beauty. That other two-legged can teach chicken wisdom, that of a prey, to humans, who are predators. It includes, but is not limited to, the following: delight in simple things (like worms), keep dancing, recycle, snuggle into the earth, slow down, combine vulnerability and hardiness. 

Agrotherapy is not therapy-as-usual. It happens mainly in the open, outside an office, a building, a city and without a defined time limit. The freedom to wonder and to meander characterize being outside. One does not enter the same human-made setting each time; farms are seasonal, as humans are, and are constantly changing. The therapists-of-the-outdoors include trees, berries, birds, bees, chickens, the moon and stars, the clouds, crow congresses and others who can help relieve stress, anxiety, suffering, and even sickness.

Tears sometimes come to the eyes of city folk when they sit on the ground beneath the giant redwoods or sprawling oaks at my farm. Something from their personal or collective memory seems to get activated. We listen to the wind and hear various sounds within it. Within just a few minutes I can usually feel a change in my guests. This is not a “talking cure.” It is non-talking, opening to the other senses. There is not therapeutic couch or chair; the forest provides a comforting bed upon which one can relax and reduce their stress.

My presence on such tours is more as a guide who can point things out, including patterns in nature and persons, and pose strategic questions, than as an expert to make book-based diagnoses and human-devised treatments. Farming—like therapy or personal growth–is a process with no clear beginning or end. There are products along the way, but the topsoil, for example, takes thousands of years to make. Perennial trees and berries planted by one family member can endure far beyond his or her lifetime into that of descendents, continuing to provide beauty and healing.

An email I sent to a local online listserve about agropsychology generated the following response from Jennifer York, the owner of the Bamboo Sorcery outside my hometown of Sebastopol:

“I can vouch for what you call “agropsychology.’ It saved me as a youth in my recovery from a traumatic childhood, and now in middle age. I am once again finding great healing, joy, and contentment in growing my own garden and raising my own farm animals (chickens, rabbits, and someday dairy goats, I hope!) for food, fun and deep connection with the cycles of life and death. For me it is a spiritual, as well as a practical avocation. I recommend it. Besides, it may come in very handy someday.

“In the meantime I am having fun, and feel good about sharing the experience with my 6-year-old daughter. I believe it is creating a sound foundation in her for the future. I have great gratitude to my deceased parents who were Back-to-Landers in the late 60’s and 70’s, and who exposed me to this rich and life affirming way of life.

“My husband says he can tell how happy I am by how much dirt is under my finger nails…and it’s true.”

In his book “Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines” Peak Oil theorist Richard Heinberg includes a chapter titled “The Psychology of Peak Oil and Climate Change.” He writes, “The next few decades will be traumatic.” One resource that Heinberg refers to is the work of eco-philosopher Joanna Macy with respect to workshops on “despair and empowerment.” In them people are encouraged to deal with their grief, and thus feel their connection to the Earth.

Ecopsychology and ecotherapy can take many forms, including agropsychology and agrotherapy. These recently conceptualized fields can make a contribution to the larger fields of psychology and psychotherapy and thus to the healing of people and of the nature of which we are an integral part. Humans often seem to battle nature, whereas participation and collaboration with it seem more healthy, which these developing forms can support.

(Dr. Shepherd Bliss, sbliss@hawaii.edu, teaches at Sonoma State University in Northern California and has operated the organic Kokopelli Farm since the early 1990s. He is a member of the Veterans Writing Group (www.vowvop.org), has contributed to two dozen books, and is currently writing “In Praise of Sweet Darkness.”)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Shepherd Bliss is an Energy Bulletin contributor.

James Godsil wrote on Community Food Security Coalition listserve

So here is some federal legislation to work for.

H.R.2364 
Title: To promote expanded economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers through local and regional markets, expand access to healthy food in underserved communities, provide access to locally and regionally grown food for schools, institutions, and consumers, and strengthen rural-urban linkages, and for other purposes. 
Sponsor: Rep Blumenauer, Earl [OR-3] (introduced 5/17/2007)      Cosponsors (20) 
Latest Major Action: 7/17/2007 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities.


 
5/17/2007–Introduced.  

Local Food and Farm Support Act – Amends the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a grant program to support value-added agricultural products which shall include a socially disadvantaged farmer and rancher component and may include a small and individual producer grant component.

Directs the Secretary to establish a Family Rancher and Rancher Viability and Innovation Fund.

Amends the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 to direct the Secretary, through the Agricultural Marketing Service, to: (1) establish a grant program for eligible entities to conduct enterprise feasibility studies, including studies of consumer preference; and (2) provide loans and loan guarantees to eligible entities and individual producers to develop processing, distribution, and information infrastructure for locally or regionally produced food.

Amends the Farmers-to-Consumers Direct Marketing Act of 1976 to direct the Secretary to carry out a direct to consumer marketing assistance program to make grants to eligible entities for projects to establish, expand, and promote farmers’ markets and other farmer to consumer direct marketing opportunities.

Extends: (1) the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) farmers’ market nutrition program; (2) the senior farmers’ market nutrition program; (3) the food stamp community food project program; and (4) the farm-to cafeteria program.

Establishes: (1) the food stamp fruit and vegetable incentive program; and (2) the urban agriculture production program.
H.R.2364 
Title: To promote expanded economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers through local and regional markets, expand access to healthy food in underserved communities, provide access to locally and regionally grown food for schools, institutions, and consumers, and strengthen rural-urban linkages, and for other purposes. 
Sponsor: Rep Blumenauer, Earl [OR-3] (introduced 5/17/2007)      Cosponsors (20) 
Latest Major Action: 7/17/2007 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities.


 by date

 

This is an excerpt from the Agriburbia™ website…

The Agriburbia™ Concept   

http://www.agriburbia.com/  

 

Agriburbia™ is an innovative and growing design movement that integrates aspects of agrarianism with land development.  Agriburbia™ includes characteristics of New Urbanism, modernism and historic preservation, and other environmentally sustainable principles of real estate development.

Agriburbia™ combines the positive social, cultural, physical and financial characteristics from both the urban and rural lifestyles to create an entirely new landuse concept.  Agriburbia™ integrates food production as an integral element in the community design, social network, and financial viability of the neighborhood.

Agriburbia™ promotes and supports the following policies and principles in each mixed-use community:

  • Agricultural Production:  No loss of agricultural value or revenue (“Green Fields” development), or production of 30% of dietary requirements of the project or equivalent cash from sales crops, or combination thereof.

  • Locally Grown Food:  Production of a significant portion (30 to 50%) of dietary requirements grown within or in the immediate surrounding area of the community

  • Conserves and Promotes Natural Resources:  Appropriate and efficient use of natural resources to provide housing, transportation, recreation and fresh food through creative, harmonious land planning and landscape architecture for the community.  This includes use of alternative energy sources as well as land and water.

  • Self Sufficiency:  Provide a commercially viable opportunity for enhanced self- sufficiency for community residents, tenants, and guests.

  • Sustainable Energy Practices :  Integrate solar and geothermal technology to provide sustainable energy sources for the community.
  • Financing:  Incorporate established entities (Metropolitan Districts, HOAs) to finance both traditional infrastructure (streets, water, sewer) and environmentally friendly agricultural infrastructure (drip irrigation)

 

Example Agriburbia Design Project An example of the Agriburbia™ land planning design is this 640-acre parcel in Southern Weld County, Colorado.  It includes for 980 homes, including multi-family town homes to two (2) acre permaculture home sites.     

Each Agriburbia™ mixed-use campus is centered on an agrarian concept where traditional suburban landscaping and open space is replaced with orchards, vineyards, and other perennial crops for the benefit of the neighborhood and surrounding communities. A limited amount of active recreation area is provided. The balance of the open space is designed as productive organic agricultural landscape. These lands will be owned and actively managed by the Home Owner’s Association (HOA) or Metropolitan Districts. Private farm contracts will be awarded for these prime, organic agricultural parcels. It is anticipated thatAgriburbia™ will provide agricultural opportunities within and outside the community.

In addition to this shared resource, each mixed-use campus is designed to have a significant number of home sites capable of useful agricultural production. Infrastructure such as non-potable water will be provided for these privates home sites. The home owner will have the option to participate in the community agriculture production. The positive and productive results of and Agriburbia™ mixed-use campus will be the combination of public and private production of agricultural products for the community and neighboring communities.

 

 

So what do you think about Agriburbia™?

Is this a good thing?  The next step to getting local agriculture to suburban neighborhoods or is this just a good ol’ American quick fix?  I mean, its even two words glued together- American dream style. My instinct tells me anything that’s trademarked probably is corporate, money grabbing, and something I want to stay away from, but I’m interested in this concept.  

I got the Agriburbia™ idea from the awesome community food listserve. Rob Jones, of Loudoun County, VA, responded to the email raising questions about the proposed project.  Is this concept truly trademark-able considering the many, many times that gardens have been planned into communities in the past? What about the water supply for this new community and its farms and gardens.  Would water rights need to be bought?  If so, the community can certainly not be called self-sufficient.  He also wondered about wastewater and the effects of disturbing the native soils, all valid concerns.  Finally, He maintain “A major component in all of this is a government with a balanced, progressive vision, as all of us have surely experienced on some level.”  Bravo Rob, I agree with you entirely.

As for me, I have to wonder about the whole thing.  Agriburbia™ is just a concept to bring agriculture to suburbia, it is a temporary solution. I think that it could have to potential to contribute to suburban sprawl. Suburban neighborhoods are often defined by low population density and a few pedestrian routes.  Wikipedia actually has a pretty good site about suburban sprawla.

I think the main problem is that we Americans are caught up in the idea of suburbia, just as were are in love with the idea of the lawn which I talk about in my article about Fritz Haeg.  What we need is to get away from suburbia and from lawns. We need to stop sprawl, consolidate and use all of the spaces in the urban centers before we continue to grow outward.  One way to do this is to plan urban growth boundaries into cities.  

An urban growth boundary is a regional boundary, set in an attempt to control urbanization by designating the area inside the boundary for higher density urban development and the area outside for lower density rural development. Right now Oregon, Washington, and Tennessee require that their cities create urban growth boundaries.  Thats not very many cities.  Also, Boulder, CO; Twin Cities, MN; Virginia Beach, VA; Lexington, KT; and San Francisco Bay area, CA have urban growth boundaries of one sort or another.

People living in cities have a smaller carbon footprint than those living in the country- they often do no have or use vehicles regularly, their houses are smaller, meaning less heat and electricity per space, and they live in much more tightly packed spaces.  Also, if people were concentrated in urban centers than food distribution (hopefully local) could be more efficient.

Of course, its easy for me to say that people should live in more tightly packed communities, I was privileged enough to grow up on a farm in rural Maryland.  How can I, who grew up with 6 fields, orchards, and a creek, judge people who just want to get out of the city and have a front yard for their children?  Where do we draw the line between happiness and sacrifice for the environment (and our future generations)?  How about healthier and better planned cities!

Check out this PDF about urban growth boundaries in California.

Here’s the website for Greenbelt Alliance of the San Francisco Bay area.

Click here to learn more about the urban growth boundary around Portland, OR.

Portland, OR is pretty amazing in terms of city planning.  I’ve talked with an alum of my school who is an urban planner out there.  She worked on the Diggable City, a planning project that plans urban agriculture into urban communities.  Check it out- its amazing!  It deserves a post of its own when I find out more about it.

Here’s the final report on the Diggable City Project.

 

And here’s some more links about cities, urban planning, carbon footprints, and all the rest.

Cyurbia, an urban planning community.

Urban and Ecological Footprints.

Carbon Footprints.

Ecological Footprint 2.0

 

 

Even the Wall Street Journal is talking about urban agriculture.

Check out this video about Kipp Nash and his yard farms in Boulder, CO (but you gotta be patient and watch an ad first) and the article that goes along with it.  It gives a brief description of start-up costs and profit as well.

 

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