CAGJ Members Report-Back from CFSC Conference

With our members’ support, CAGJ was able to help several CAGJ leaders attend the Community Food Security Coalition Conference in October, 2011 in Oakland, CA.  Below are their reports on what they got out of the conference and US Food Sovereignty Alliance Assembly that followed.

Chelsea Eickert, Membership Co-Chair
The 2011 CFSC Conference nicely highlighted how agricultural problems are linked to social problems. The conference also brought its audience under the same spotlight of solidarity. Food organizers and food rebels alike, are agitating the system until food sovereignty is accomplished. We are all about democratizing and reclaiming our food system. We are all addressing issues of ownership in order to attain food security. Because of the food movement’s work, there has been a cultural shift. We have learned that practicing tools of grassroots democracy leads to the most transformative programs. But working in isolation can only get us so far. Now we need to unify and politicize the movement!

Because of the focus on movements, I heard many leaders address a running theme throughout the conference: We are all working in silos. We can accomplish more, and what can really be transformative is, if all networks unify into one movement. Only then can we demonstrate what’s possible if we work together. We are a collective of teachers, and what resonates with everyone is the fact that we all want a successful food system. We also have a deep sense of connection with others:“The truth is we are all one. The reality is, we are all divided.” Divided or unified, this effects our communities. DON’T WORK ON FOOD JUSTICE IN ISOLATION! WORK TOGETHER IN COMMUNITY! We can be stronger together. Rosalinda Guillien, from Community to Community Development, demands, “We must work shoulder to shoulder within our communities.”

We need to have people of color and low-income involved in planning, and include farmer/farm workers in this discussion. My own take away of how to be an effective ally: when you are in the position of privilege/power, you have the power/privilege/choice to change institutional ____isms/ideologies. We need to build a movement, not just policy-work. For decades, we have been asking, What would happen if we took on feeding the world ourselves?And we know the answer: local, indigenous production! The honorees of the Food Sovereignty Prize illustrate the geography of food sovereignty – it’s principles unify but also honor the particularities of each region. What does food sovereignty look like in cities around the world? We also need to have a strong community identity. When it comes to organizing communities, Farmer‘Doc’ Davis, from Mississippi Delta Fresh Farm emphasizes, “Success depends on volunteers.” And, when it comes to democratizing and reclaiming our food system, Joel, from Family Farm Defenders, powerfully required, “WE HAVE TO FIGHT LIKE WE HAVE NEVER FOUGHT BEFORE.”

Chris Iberle, Food Justice Project Co-Chair
Another interesting conference from CFSC, with strong showing of CAGJ members to both spread the word about our work, improve upon it, and bring home new ideas, actions, and connections to Seattle.  For me the conference was part skills-building, part analysis-deepening, part relationship-creating, and all building movement power for food sovereignty.

A few take-aways for CAGJ and the movement of food justice movements emerged for me.  On an organizational level, CAGJ is doing important work connecting small-scale farmer, farmworker, workers’ rights, and food justice struggles locally to similar movements worldwide for food sovereignty.  Making these connections and building solidarity is crucial, and as we work to change our food system and fight corporate control, we must always be educating and mobilizing in solidarity and taking the lead from these people’s movements happening in our own backyard and abroad.

Racism, sexism, and other oppressions within the conventional, current food system, and how they manifest in the alternative food movement was front and center in many discussions at CFSC.  While CAGJ has made good steps to work on our anti-oppression framework and have it influence our work, we must always remind ourselves of our roles (whatever they may be) within the movement for food justice and sovereignty, and take the lead from organizations and communities directly affected and organizing for empowerment, autonomy, and inclusion in the food system of the future.

I think policy could also be referred to as a “refuge of scoundrels” and wonks, especially the process by which its currently crafted.  While perhaps not as exciting, interesting, or fun as urban farms, restructuring local economies, and building our visionary future just food systems, policy and regulations remain a big barrier to the traction and success of those (current) “alternatives”.  As the Super-committee debated the Farm Bill, the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act gains support, and to a lesser extent the recent passage of three new Free Trade Agreements got some attention at the conference at the national level, successfully engaging food justice, alternative food groups, and our supporters in advocating for policy change and better rules is an area for improvement.  An uphill battle, many current policies locally, nationally, and internationally only serve to support corporate and industrial food.

Occupy Wall Street was another common topic of discussion in Oakland, just down the street from Occupy Oakland.  There was wide recognition of shared values in fighting corporate control of politics and specifically corporate control of the food system.  In the very least, OWS was seen as opening the conversation in the mainstream about corporate control of our food and what to do about it.  At best, OWS is being seen as a young movement with a bright future, with lots of opportunities for collaboration, partnership, and allying for a common cause.  Because of some uncertainty around OWS’ future energy & strategy, and potential problems of alienation and lack of inclusion plaguing the movement, many CFSC attendees seemed content to simply be generally supportive of the cause, hopeful, and stay tuned to what will happen next.

The post-CFSC Food Sovereingty Alliance meeting was great as well.  With some wonderful people working to define the actions of this body, made up of food justice, farmworker, food chain workers, small farmers, international solidarity groups and many more organizations that identify with the Food Sovereignty Principles and La Via Campesina, we hope this Alliance will become a powerful coalition to advocate for models, systems, and policies that protect and encourage food sovereignty.  From what I gathered at the meeting, it looks like defining common values and platforms, sharing resources, and educating and mobilizing nationally and how to organize as a part of the alliance locally for food sovereignty (and how to present these ideas to “the public”) could end up being some of the focuses for the Alliance in 2012.

Nina Triffleman, NW Farm Bill Action Group Coordinator
I am really grateful to CAGJ for sending me to the CFSC conference. What a luxury to be able to absorb so much brain-food non-stop! And, it started immediately as David Bacon, Rosalinda Guillen and Joachim gave us a ride to the hotel — the conversation turned to immigration intersecting with the food movement.

During the conference, I tried to combine big-picture-movement-building- with small-steps-skill-building workshops. The workshop, “It takes a movement: Why Social Movements are Key to Food Sovereignty” says it all in the title. The CIW has always inspired me and the MST reps were fiery and knew how to wake up a crowd. What incredible work they have done with little resources! Hearing the Food Sovereignty Prize winners’ talks, as well as attending part of the Food Sovereignty Alliance’s meeting after the conference’s end, was re-energizing, as I remembered that all the small steps we take in our CAGJ work are part of something much bigger. It’s re-vitalizing for me to feel that on the gut level. Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute is a speaker not to be missed; during “Feeding the World, Cooling the Planet” she talked about the Institute’s work exposing a land grab in the works that would displace 160,000 Burundian refugees farming in Tanzania, see “Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa” FAQs on Food Security & Western Investors.

Skill-building steps included hearing stories of group collaboration to eliminate food deserts. The Delta Fresh Food Initiative, and Somos la Semilla are building sustainable local food systems across communities. WhyHunger helps groups connect and has some good resources and links on their website to food justice resources. “Moving a Local Food Agenda through Strategic Messaging” had some good forms to help work out a message as well as presenting an engaging campaign by the Philadelphia Urban Food and Fitness Alliance (PUFFA) where teens design and send texts regularly to encourage each other to eat healthy food and exercise regularly. Check them out– the messages are great and really funny. And John Peck of Family Farm Defenders, is a walking encyclopedia of facts about agribusiness controlling the food system. I have an article he handed out (too long to scan) about food pricing speculation and he will be sending a fact sheet on the largest corporations controlling the US food system.

From CAGJ’s December E-Newsletter:

Food Sovereignty Award Ceremony Honors Black Panthers & AGRA Watch Partner GBIACK – Grow Biointensive Agricultural Centre of Kenya

While attending the CFSC conference in Oakland (see below), and then afterwards in Seattle, CAGJ was very honored to accompany our ally, Samuel Nedritu, whose organization GBIACK – Grow Biointensive Agricultural Centre of Kenya – won the Food Sovereignty Honorable Mention Prize for which we nominated them!  Samuel gave a great speech accepting the prize, dedicating it to the women with whom GBIACK works, who lead the way in the struggle to achieve food sovereignty.  GBIACK and the other honorees, including the MST – Landless Workers Movement, South Central LA Farmers and Movimiento Campesino a Campesino, were awarded beautiful ceramic plates with the slogan “From Panthers to Pitchforks”, as the Black Panthers were recognized for being forerunners of today’s Food Justice Movement.  We greatly appreciated the presentation by David Hilliard, a founding member of the Black Panther Party. Hilliard served as the organization’s Chief of Staff, and played a key role in developing the Panthers’ community service programs, including its Free Breakfast for Children Program. You can watch Hilliard’s presentation here.  Find a link to the remarks of the MST leaders accepting the prize here.

Posted in Agra Watch Blog Posts, Food Justice Blog Posts, Trade Justice Blog Posts.

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