Today Travis English, Ashley Fent and Heather Day of CAGJ participated in ‘From People Power to Public Policy: A Gathering of Local and State Food Policy Councils’, our first day in Des Moines, Iowa. We’ve been following the success of Seattle’s Acting Food Policy Council (FPC), and its recent homelessness and limbo, due to budget restraints within the Puget Sound Regional Council, where it was finally supposed to find a home this Fall. Today we learned that Seattle’s troubles are not unique. While there has been an exciting growth of Councils throughout North America, many (a majority?) are volunteer-run and therefore face many challenges. Cindy Torres of Boulder told a particulalry compelling story of her local Council’s first battle, over whether local farmers could grow GMO sugar beets. When they resisted the pressure from GE industry, backed up by supposedly un-biased science, and instead followed their values, they were vilified by the local press, however they are regrouping to continue their work. Torres was one of many organizers at the conference who also take part in state-wide FPC’s. Food First researchers briefly presented their new study, an overview of the varied models, challenges and promise of FPC’s; they interviewed over 40 members of FPCs around the country in an effort to help kickstart the Oakland FPC. A draft of their study can be found on their website, and they are seeking input over the next month before publishing the final report.
In the afternoon CAGJ’s team led an exciting break-out session with others interested in how climate change could be addressed by FPCs, linking our interest in seeing FPC’s connect their usually local or regional policy work with national/global policy like the Farm Bill and Free Trade Agreements. Food Councils can promote the need to shift commodity crops to sustainable agricultural practices to mitigate climate change, but unless US free trade policies are eradicated, we will continue to undermine sustainable agricultural practices in the US and Global South and support the growth of transnational corporations, dwarfing whatever progress we may achieve locally or regionally at home. Once again, we said, we need strong local economies and environments everywhere!
We generally found an analysis of the global context in which Food Policy Councils are working to be missing, especially our concerns about corporate power. We know that this will be coming up more in the next few days. And ultimately the work of Food Policy Councils, in prioritizing local food economies – meaning jobs development, support for local farmers, public health initiatives etc – is indeed confronting corporate exploitation of communities – it just is not always made explicit.
Tomorrow is another exciting day, when the 1st annual Food Sovereignty Prize will be awarded to Via Campesina, whose acceptance speech will surely be a highlight. We’re also looking forward to seeking out Coalition of Imakollee Worker activists to see if they would like to circulate a petition as part of their campaign to pressure Sedexo, one of the sponsors of the conference, who apparently has several representatives present. We hope to send those individuals back to their boss with a strong message from the conference attendees – if you are going to fund this movement, then you must support fair food now!