Lessons To Learn

(this was a post I ran about 7 years ago, but I wanted to highlight it again as I am having more conversations with food system folks about larger outcomes around food and civic system. I find this promising, as it may mean that we are finally maturing our work to become true system changers…)

 

I ran across this Nicholas Lemann article (linked at the end) about how the 1970s grassroots environmental movement just about sputtered to a standstill by the 1990s. I appreciated this article, since as a 1980s/1990s community organizer I saw that rise and fall and also saw other movements, such as the women’s movement and the peace movement go through it as well.
In retrospect, many of those efforts were designed and based on Alinsky’s organizing methods, seizing on issues such as nearby toxic spills or hulking nuclear power plants being built downstream to gain support from regular folks. Those issues are excellent for devising and winning neighborhood or local campaigns but maybe not the best strategy for achieving national and international long-term social change.

In other words, crisis politics can’t keep the attention of regular people for long, and on the policy level those goals can seem abstract or too controversial for regular folks to be able to support. Anti-nukes, landfills, corporate pollution (protest movements in other words) can just seemed complicated and time-consuming for people to grasp completely or even enough so that they felt they could take a stand when needed.
In their defense, those movements were full of good campaigns, like the early Earth Day events on which the author bases his article. Many may also remember the anti-littering campaign that did a lot of good with a television commercial that ran for a few years with a sorrowful, crying Indian looking at the camera (actually an Italian actor originally from Louisiana); that campaign ran in the early 1970s and is still remembered well. It was successful in educating on a big issue but at the same time, clear as how individuals could make a difference; just don’t litter.

Back then, I did appreciate those movements hard won campaigns and sweeping goals but had a hard time with the lack of diversity in their people and goals. Also, the lack of federated structure mentioned in the article is an important one: most of the NGOs I worked with had local chapters, but all had to drop what they were doing and work on national work (which was almost always legislation with very little chance for passing since we did not have money or enough people organized) whenever the national team decided it was time.
When I joined the community food system movement in 1999/2000, I saw that there was potential for much more effective social change, since a) it struck at the very core of everyone’s lives: what we eat, how we own our own health and how we remain connected to our neighbors and b) it could be effective on many levels. The campaign part of this movement can be seen within the SNAP and incentive work done at markets, with the Real Food Challenge on campuses and guerrilla gardening movements across the world among others. The long-term effect can be seen in the growing awareness of food deserts, as well as fair trade, farmland protection, food sovereignty, worker rights, racial equity, industrial versus alternative agriculture and so on. So, both localized campaigns and important national work happen in this movement which may be one of our greatest assets. (However, we do have to think about how we can better communicate the Farm Bill and other policy needs to our shoppers, neighbors and producers.)

And no question that the community food work is much more decentralized and active at the local and state level than any other movement I’ve ever seen, besides, possibly, the Community Land Trust movement, a movement from which we can learn a lot.
So, while I tip my hat to my fellow enviros from the Billy Bragg days and use daily what I learned from those savvy street organizers, I’m glad that I also get to organize in these food system days…

A quote from Lemann’s article:

To turn concern into action requires politics.

and another:

It defined Earth Day as educational, school-based, widely distributed, locally controlled, and mass-participatory. He draws a contrast with Earth Day 1990, a far better planned, better funded, more elaborately orchestrated anniversary event, which turned out more than a million people in Central Park and two hundred thousand on the Mall in Washington but had far fewer lasting effects. That was because Earth Day 1990 was, Rome says, “more top-down and more directive” than Earth Day 1970, and more attuned to advertising and marketing than to organizing. Earth Day 1990 kept its message simple, because its organizers “sought to ‘enlist’ people in a well-defined movement….

and this, most importantly:

‘The public’ is seen as a kind of background chorus that, hopefully, will sing on key,” as the insiders try to manipulate people with focus-grouped phrases. Instead, she argues, “reformers will have to build organizational networks across the country, and they will need to orchestrate sustained political efforts that stretch far beyond friendly Congressional offices, comfy board rooms, and posh retreats.”

article in The New Yorker

Advertisements

Salud America: Why Your Town Needs a Farmers Market

Why Your Town Needs a Farmers Market

I love this call-to-action piece for Latinx to use markets to organize across multiple impacts. The newest trend in markets is the use of this nimble mechanism by equity and justice organizers to create new outcomes for both sides of the market table.

I must point out though that if 44% match those type of census tracts (see below), then 56% do not; any chance we can highlight THAT fact? Or that it does not mean that markets on the edge of multiple neighborhoods are not welcoming to a cross-section of shoppers from all census tracts. I’d also like to see if there will ever be research on whether there are mitigating factors to total gentrification and if some types of markets are a factor in that anti-gentrification.

But many of these markets are not accessible to Latinos. In fact, a San Diego State University report indicates that 44% of the city’s farmers markets are in census tracts with high levels of gentrification.

Reckoning versus Tokenism: How can markets help?

Anyone who works on farmers markets (hopefully!) understands that one major area that is constantly hampering our effectiveness in creating this new world of community food systems is the lack of reckoning with the institutional racism within the systems that make up our material world.
Or, as Raj Patel said at Slow Food Nations 2018:
“You don’t fix the past with a certain type of tokenism; you fix it with a reckoning. And that reckoning is something the food movement has yet to have.”
To me, the argument among some growers and organizers that there are “too many farmers markets” indicates that the field is in dire need of growing its reach and thinking through re-positioning its outcomes. It seems clear to me that we need to turn back to prioritizing the production side of the equation, supporting growers and other producers more directly and more widely, and increasing purchasers at our thousands of markets by redefining the language of shopping at markets as transformative for the community and nourishing for ones own family even as we continue to make them truly welcoming to all types of people.

So to see the recent strong emergence of the food justice movement, led by people of color, focusing on collaborative production and on innovative messaging on why choosing healthy food is activism at its purest form has been inspiring and humbling at the same time for many white allies. Inspiring to see how the work is imbued with innovation and collaboration at every level (see Dara Cooper’s quote and interview at the end as an example), and humbling because there is so much history around these injustices that many of us still don’t fully comprehend. With the emergence of this chapter, we will gain access to a new set of tools and pilots to learn how to better organize on systemic issues that depress our markets’ and food systems potential. Which means that when market leaders get to the “unconscious competence” level of their market work and build systems, their seasoned staff can join housing boards, mobilize on public transportation systems, work on greenways and environmental degradation hot spots, become a voice on county level policies to incentivize using productive land for food and so on to really grow our market communities.

Another massive contribution that black, native and other writers and organizers of disenfranchised communities are bringing to the food and farming table is a demand for context and disciplined language as seen in the rejection of the “food desert” label. I have long rejected that language, as it implies scarcity rather than the truth: a systemic denial of resources to that community. And often there IS food – sometimes it’s a lot of bad food which is hard to combat when using food desert language to organize, or the structure of food procurement is so informal that it is missed by those defining it (supermarkets are the main indicator of food security which is a pretty weak indicator) or the lines of the supposed desert are drawn in such a way as to not encapsulate actual neighborhoods or assets. This piece is  very helpful to keep in the front of ones mind when discussing this with fellow staff and with the larger community.

The great Karen Washington has said a lot on this subject:
What I would rather say instead of “food desert” is “food apartheid,” because “food apartheid” looks at the whole food system, along with race, geography, faith, and economics. You say “food apartheid” and you get to the root cause of some of the problems around the food system. It brings in hunger and poverty. It brings us to the more important question: What are some of the social inequalities that you see, and what are you doing to erase some of the injustices?

Also vital to think about the language of the “decolonization of food” as Sean Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux nation from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and founder and CEO of The Sioux Chef  is working towards:

We’re trying to raise awareness of the history of the land and on how to live sustainability on what’s around us,”  Sherman notes that much of his work centers on recovering the cuisine that existed among American Indians prior to the arrival of European settlers. On reservations, American Indians were restricted in their rights to hunt, fish, or forage, and thus forced to make do with US Army rations of flour, lard, and salt—which were later replaced by the commodity food program.

Dara Cooper: “We need the ability to feed and nourish our communities, and the repair of the systematic harm that has and continues to be done to Black people,” Cooper says emphatically. To that end, NBFJA is working on a broad campaign in coalition and community with Black-led “Free the Land” focused organizations. We need to shift away from the ways in which capitalism teaches us to have private control over land. We have to move away from extraction of land for a very few, and shift toward land reform that addresses indigenous right to sovereignty and Black people’s right to self-determination in our communities in a collective way.”

Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm / Farming While Black: “Food sovereignty is about who’s in charge … and ultimately what gets to our plates.”

She, The People: Dara Cooper On Food Redlining, Reparations, And Freeing The Land

Listen and understand. Value a grassroots approach. Recognize that movements transcend single issues.

 

great tips for all funders of movement-based work which includes food and farming. Also helpful for all NGOs working in the movement; share widely.

 

 

  • Listen and understand: It’s important to acknowledge the power dynamics between funders and social movements. Funders should listen to and respectfully engage with movements to determine their needs and priorities, including the types of financial and non-financial support they want, and whether they seek external funding at all.
  • Value a grassroots approach: Strong social movements are driven and sustained by grassroots mobilization. Funders that want to engage with social movements should integrate a grant-making approach that values grassroots participation and leadership—particularly by women, youth, LGBTI people, indigenous people and other groups most affected by rights violations—in fostering social change.
  • Recognize that movements transcend single issues: While many funders’ grant-making strategies are developed around a focus on a single issue, social movements sometimes push for a broad set of rights. Funders should avoid supporting movements in ways that promote the funder’s own priorities at the risk of compromising a movement’s autonomy and ability to advance interrelated social justice aims.
  • Provide flexible, long-term funding: Movements are dynamic entities, with strategies and approaches that change as circumstances change. As our peer funder Thousand Currents pointed out in a recent Inside Philanthropy piece, movement-building is a long-term process. Funders can sometimes be quick to support new trends, but they should consider providing long-term, flexible core funding that gives movements greater independence and the means to pursue evolving priorities over time, including the ability to build resilience and swiftly respond when under attack.
  • Think beyond direct funding: While long-term, core grants to movements can support their physical and virtual infrastructure and organizing efforts, sometimes, direct funding can cause more harm than good by corrupting or dividing movements, weakening their political nature, or making them vulnerable to accusations of being foreign agents. Direct funding for core work may also not be a movement’s primary need. Consider indirect forms of support, such as funding for research that supports the movement’s agenda; engaging in advocacy aligned with movement policy priorities; funding legal defense for criminalized movement activists; supporting self-care and wellness for advocates; covering the costs of activists to attend trainings and convenings, or participate in regional and international advocacy. Funders should also be willing to support the economic sustenance of activists. Movements cannot function if activists cannot afford to feed and house themselves and their families.
  • Fund movement-support organizations: Another alternative to direct funding of movements is to make grants to in-country movement-support organizations that specialize in helping them strengthen their skills, approaches and infrastructure. These kinds of organizations often better understand the specific dynamics, needs and contexts of local movements, and can thus better provide flexible and responsive funding. In addition, they are usually registered organizations that have the ability to receive and report on donor funding, which can help insulate social movements from some of the risks related to direct funding.
  • Adapt grantmaking practices: Most funders are structured to support formal CSOs and NGOs, but they should consider funding unregistered groups. While unregistered groups often play important roles within a movement, they may not have the structures in place or meet other funder requirements to receive funding, such as a board of directors, registration certificate, audited financial reports, or staff dedicated to monitoring and reporting on progress. In fact, many informal groups within movements intentionally decide not to register as an act of resistance itself, or to avoid surveillance, oversight and criminalization by governments. While options include providing indirect support to such informal actors or channeling funding to them through movement-support organizations, funders might also consider relaxing or adjusting their funding and reporting requirements to fund these groups directly.

  • Support collective and holistic security: Funders typically provide safety and security funding to individual activists or formalized organizations. However, movements experience different sorts of threats and risks based on their collective nature. Funders can alleviate these threats and strengthen the resiliency of movements by funding more holistic and collective forms of safety and security, such as wellness and self-care for movement activists.
  • Foster solidarity and movement-building: In an increasingly challenging political environment, it’s critical for movements to have resources to build alliances across constituencies and sectors, such as indigenous, peasant and women’s groups, organized labor, journalists and independent media, and activists across national borders. Funders can support movement-building by providing resources for movement activists and allies to come together to share knowledge and develop strategies for advancing common aims.
  • Redefine impact: Human rights funders often define success by the achievement of a policy change in a certain time period. Movements, on the other hand, usually aim to create social change that transcends such measures. For instance, social movements might also work to generate public support to ensure that new policies and laws they advocate for take effect. Also, the very process of building collective action through movements creates stronger, more engaged civil societies and citizens better able to create sustained social change. Funders should rethink what “success” or “impact” means to reflect the wider aims of social movements. The success of conservative funders in supporting the rise of right-wing movements in the U.S. should also challenge us to think about measuring change in longer horizons, perhaps even 10 to 20 years.

 

https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2019/3/18/10-considerations-for-human-rights-funders-engaging-with-social-movements-in-2019

Gulf marine life in great danger from diversion of flood levels of Mississippi River

As an unprecedented amount of floodwater makes its way down the Mississippi River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway at New Orleans for the second time this year.
“The river is changing, that’s not news, and we should pay close attention to what that means for us,” said Mark Davis with the Tulane Bywater Institute.

Corps officials also try and limit spillway openings to minimize the impact of invasive freshwater species entering the Lake Pontchartrain basin. One of those impacts could be harming marine life. A number of dead dolphins have been showing up recently in coastal Louisiana and Mississippi.

St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis says they have documented 26 dolphin deaths in the past two months, and most of the animals had freshwater lesions. Though Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries officials have not made a direct link to the influx of fresh river water, officials in coastal Mississippi have after conducting a number of dolphin necropsies.

For oystermen, the opening of the spillway is always a cause for concern because it leads to plummeting water salinity levels as the freshwater suddenly dilutes the estuary’s brackish waters, which can kill the oysters they harvest.

Still time to submit to present or poster at the 2019 Direct Ag Marketing Summit

The 2018 Summit in Va was energetic, teeming with useful people and valuable information, and the 2019 Summit looks to build on that wave in Chicago from Oct 7-9.

If your poster idea or presentation  is chosen, you get  free registration to the Summit. And you choose the format- it can be a discussion group, a panel, an exercise or whatever you want to do.

If its a poster, they will design and print for you.

Click to submit

Posters: Posters offer the opportunity to showcase a project, program or service during the Summit. Each poster will have sections for an abstract, current projects or programming, partners, goals and a highlight or impact. Posters will be displayed in common areas throughout the conference center. Poster authors will be expected to stand with their posters during two networking breaks over the course of the Summit, providing the opportunity for participants to connect directly with Poster authors. A template for the 24 x 36 inch poster is shown below.  Based on your acceptance for a poster presentation, you will receive an email from Courtney Long, with a word document template to fill in.  In addition, you will be asked to provide images, partner logos, and your organizations logo.  The poster graphics are determined based on your organizational logo. Printing fees are waived, and will be hung up Monday evening.

Presentations: Presentations will take place in breakout sessions 45 minutes in length.  These sessions may be for individual research, panels, updates, etc.  You may request two sessions back to back, if you feel your topic requires 1.5 hours or you would like to offer a more immersive discussion. Please plan to allow some time for questions. Sessions should as be interactive as possible. Slide presentations may be used but are not required. Approved conference breakout session presentations will receive at least 1 FREE registration. Travel scholarships may be provided upon need and request.