I met Kevin Morin in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, a town on the outskirts of Montreal, and home to some of the last vestiges of agricultural land on the island metropolis. At the time Kevin was working for the Cooperative farm Tournesol. Recently Keven and Nikaela Lange both won the Beingessner Award for Excellence in Writing for essays outlining hopes for the new farming economy. Below we have reprinted Kevin’s essay with permission from National Farmer’s Union and you can find both texts on the NFU site.
Kevin’s letter poses a question that I think many of us ask each day as we sweat and plant, weed and harvest, email clients, pour over spreadsheets and budgets, then pass out exhausted: is the current system of economic evaluation compatible with ecological agriculture and a sustainable future? This last week I had the good fortune of seeing Dr. Vandana Shiva give the keynote address at NOFA Vermont and once again I was reminded that, like Gandhi’s call for spinning and making clothing by hand, farming is a simple but profoundly revolutionary act.
My Future Vision for Canada’s Farming and Food System
by Kevin Morin
While talking about backyard cereal breeding, an old Cape Breton farmer once told me that the agriculture there was so far back that now they’re ahead. And if you were to have a cereal killer oatmeal stout from the Island’s own Big Spruce Brewing, you may be inclined to believe that.
I dream of a farm of my own someday, cows in the pasture, neat rows of cabbage…. Think of the rainy days spent in the woodshop, the brisk November mornings crouching in the greenhouse, a woodlot to keep me busy over winter and spring. To farm such a mixed enterprise like that of our grandparents is no romance. (more…)
Urban-rural disconnect, elite-working class divide, pancakes vs waffles, oh the ever increasing list of simplistic binaries that are the focus of so much airtime these days! It seems the ‘enemies’, whichever side your on, are pretty clear.
In the after-wake of the Occupy movement many of us were left with questions of how to make actual change happen. It’s still debatable whether Occupy was a ‘success’, but one very important thing we learned from that movement was just how inaccessible and out of touch those in power have become. Given how removed we are from the highest seats of decision making, the traditional forms of political engagement have become, at best, a way to prevent things from getting much worse, a status quo with a downward leaning trajectory. (more…)
Today might have us thinking a little obsessively about some big level tsoris.
But let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the reasons why we choose to get into farming in the first place. Speaking personally, I decided to farm because I felt it was a very concrete way to have some sort of impact on the troubles I perceived in the world. Disillusioned with politics, education and these broad means of change I saw farming as personal direct action.
Through the repetitive act of farming I slowly stopped seeing it as a political statement, and with each year that past, each additional scar on my hand and wrinkle on my face, I began to see the world through the lens of agriculture. I began to see the connections it makes – how good stewardship of land can bring a community together, that it’s about a lot more than vegetables and cows and endless hours- because through this daily act we begin to see ourselves in relation to all of these things. (more…)
According to the FFA website, Monsanto, Pfizer (Monsanto’s pharmaceutical business), Cargill, Dupont and Syngenta donated millions of dollars to the FFA in 2013, and have been awarded “Platinum” and “Gold” sponsorship titles by the organization. In 2012, a press release from the FFA stated that these companies (and some others) had donated 16.8 million dollars to help “create critical educational opportunities for our students as they grow and learn about the science, business and technology of agriculture.” As a blogger for the Greenhorns who is also a farmer in a very rural area, I feel it necessary to briefly step out from my regular veil of anonymity and give a personal account of the trickle-down effect that I feel corporate sponsorship is having on one particular young student in my area.
I mentor a 14 year-old who wants to be a farmer when he gets out of high school. He comes over to my farm and helps me on
weekends and holidays, where we have long one-on-one discussions about what he’s learning in school. In his ag classes (FFA), he has learned about round-up ready corn/soy and how it is going to feed 9 billion people, yet nothing about the negative effects of farmer health when using chemicals or how wind-pollinated patents can take away your right to save seed. Save seed? I’ve slowly been introducing him to that concept. When I talk to him about all of this and many other aspects of my farm life, I can tell he is conflicted. He’s surrounded by a world where alternative or more natural farming methods are seen as “radical” and looked down upon. The future farmer of America who I mentor won’t go and tell his classmates about what he learned on a given day of working with me because he’s risking his precious/precarious place on the 8th grade FFA social ladder, yet he comes back to my farm every weekend to learn more. In my observations as a mentor, it is my opinion that the millions of agribusiness dollars being funneled towards the FFA are helping to rear a future generation of agricultural intolerance towards non-conventional ways of farming.
As future farmers and as greenhorns, we carry the responsibility of cultivating the next generation of food and farmers. Someone once said that the world is run by those who show up. If Big Ag is showing up in the schools, we’ve got to do something in order to introduce these kids to another option in farming. We may not have millions but we do have the ability to connect with younger generations in a way older generations cannot. We’ve got some leverage in just showing up. If a school near you has a local ag program, call them to see how you can get involved. Volunteers are rarely turned away.
The huge outpouring of concern for our orchard trees being hammered by this Canadian/Arctic front was very warming! Last night at least 13 people over and above the usual farm crew came out through the night to keep fires burning, drifting smoke through the trees for hours until the sun came up. The result so far is that the temperatures never went below 23-4 degrees even though it was 20 in Philmont. So community warmth is worth at least 3-4 degrees!
These few degrees make a huge difference: at the stage of our apple and pear buds (“tight cluster”), it can mean the difference between slight damage and a total crop loss. We think that there is a good chance that our work last night has been effective in minimizing damage. (Later on, at full bloom, 28º F means 10% loss, while 25º F means 90% loss, a difference of only three degrees). A few hours earlier, around 9 pm we sprayed our biodynamic valerian preparation, which has saved our crop from damage many times in the past. And we will be out there again tonight, spraying valerian at sunset, and then burning fires from about 2 am through daylight. Should you be moved to come and help, please know that these are the hours when your presence would be needed, to tend the fires as we bring supplies of fuel, and to bring that all important community warmth to our farm.
If these are the days when unexpected weather events threaten our sense of the normal, then the response and concern we have felt is surely the way to go; you have shown us what it means when people think and act from the heart, just because somebody else’s fruit trees and crops are at risk. You warmed up the world last night. Other friends took care of our kids. We can’t thank you enough for your visible and invisible help, the warming thoughts and prayers you sent to us last night.
HARDWORKING COUPLE (28F + 32M)
SEEKS HOMESTEADING APPRENTICESHIP
IN OR AROUND AMHERST MA
We want to know about the feasibility of living off the land. We grew up in rural CT and RI but have lived in NYC for the past 10 years! We are now hoping to leave NYC for good to move back to the country, so we’d like to volunteer or WOOF for older folks with at least 5 years wisdom as homesteaders, small-shack builders, and/or very-small farm cultivators. (more…)
First New Yorker To Serve On Senate Agriculture Committee In Nearly 40 Years – Held Listening Sessions With Local Farmers Across NYS
September 20, 2011
Washington, D.C. – As Congress prepares to write and debate the next Farm Bill, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s first member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, today announced her priorities to make sure the next Farm Bill is a good deal for New York. Senator Gillibrand spent time over the last year visiting farm communities across the state, holding listening sessions to gather input from New York’s own local farms on their needs from the broad and sweeping agriculture legislation. (more…)
Greetings,There has been some discussion expressing concerns about the concept of food sovereignty possibly being used to deny food to those who really need it.
Actually, that would be a fundamental violation of food sovereignty since this concept defends access to healthy, nutritious, culturally appropriate food as a human right, and is opposed to the notion of using food as a weapon or even treating food as a commodity.
If food sovereignty was widely applied, it would also prohibit the current phenomenon of land grabbing and prevent runaway market speculation in food/land which had contributed to the current global food crisis. For instance, it has been estimated that up to 60% of the trading in agricultural commodities at the CME/BOT is now conducted by those who have no stake in agriculture.
Food sovereignty would also stipulate that farmers have the right to produce for their domestic market first, and that all farmers and farmworkers deserve a parity price/living wage. Taxpayer subsidies for certain commodity crops are just another form of welfare for corporate agribusiness and lead to global commodity dumping which undermines domestic food self sufficiency.
Unfortunately, denial of food to the poor and hungry IS implied by the concept of food security as originally popularized by Henry Kissinger before a 1974 FAO conference during the height of the Cold War and later elaborated by Nixon’s “get big or get out” USDA Sec. Earl Butz.
To find out more, check out the “What is Food Sovereignty?” factsheet on the Family Farm Defenders website or visit the website for La Via Campesina (FFD is a member of LVC).
Thanks – John
John E. Peck – Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders
More Oregon greenhorns, keeping a great blog! Here’s a letter from Eric of Wild Garden Seeds.
Wild Garden Seeds grows organic, open pollinated vegetable seeds in Philomath, Oregon, seven miles west of Corvallis. Most of what we grow are various salad crops, including lettuces, mustards, brassicas, chard and beets. The company was started by Frank and Karen Morton, and the land where we do most of our growing is at Gathering Together Farm. Frank is involved in a number of breeding projects, most of which are aimed at developing disease resistance and resilience in open pollinated crops, as well as improving taste, texture, and color. (more…)