But though the need for seed banks is often associated with more stereotypically environmental, even futuristic, cataclysms (climate change; disease; pesticide-resistant insects) their history is inextricably tied up with something more banal and present-day—war.
…virtually no conflict has gone by without a devastating loss of seeds, often mitigated by a heroic rescue or underscored by a tragic attempt. Afghani mujahideen destroyed Kabul’s national seed collection in 1992. (Local scientists managed to smuggle some seeds into the basement of a few city houses, but by the time they returned to check on them a decade later, looters had dumped them on the floor in order to steal the storage jars.) During the Georgian civil unrest of 1993, just before the country’s Sukhumi Seed Station was destroyed, an 83-year-old botanist named Alexey Fogel escaped into the Caucasus Mountains with its entire lemon collection. Scientist Alexis Rumaziminsi, now known as the “bean boffin of Rwanda,” protected the many varieties of beans in his research plots during 1994’s civil war and genocide. The US-led invasion of Iraq resulted in the razing of the country’s national seed bank in Abu Ghraib—not to mention the implementation of American-style seed laws, which mean that if Iraqis want to buy new seeds, they will have to pay for yearly usage licenses.
USDA is funding projects in 26 states for up to 4 years, using funds from FY2014 and FY2015. USDA will issue a separate request for applications in FY16, and in subsequent years. Fiscal year 2014 and 2015 awards are:
Pilot projects (up to $100,000, not to exceed 1 year):
Yolo County Department of Employment and Social Services, Woodland, Calif., $100,000
Heritage Ranch, Inc., Honaunau, Hawaii, $100,000
Backyard Harvest, Inc., Moscow, Idaho, $10,695
City of Aurora, Aurora, Ill., $30,000
Forsyth Farmers’ Market, Inc., Savannah, Ga., $50,000
Blue Grass Community Foundation, Lexington, Ky., $47,250
Lower Phalen Creek Project, Saint Paul, Minn., $45,230
Vermont Farm-to-School, Inc., Newport, V.T., $93,750
New Mexico Farmers Marketing Association, Santa Fe, N.M., $99,999
Santa Fe Community Foundation, Santa Fe, N.M., $100,000
Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services, Greensboro, N.C., $99,987
Chester County Food Bank, Exton, Pa., $76,543
Nurture Nature Center, Easton, Pa., $56,918
Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pa., $46,442
Rhode Island Public Health Institute, Providence, R.I., $100,000
San Antonio Food Bank, San Antonio, Texas, $100,000
Multi-year community-based projects (up to $500,000, not to exceed 4 years):
Mandela Marketplace, Inc., Oakland, Calif., $422,500
Market Umbrella, New Orleans, La., $378,326
Maine Farmland Trust, Belfast, Maine, $249,816
Farmers Market Fund, Portland, Ore., $499,172
The Food Trust, Philadelphia, Pa., $500,000
Utahns Against Hunger, Salt Lake City, Utah, $247,038
Opportunity Council, Bellingham, Wash., $301,658
Multi-year large-scale projects ($500,000 or greater, not to exceed 4 years):
Ecology Center, Berkeley, Calif., $3,704,287
Wholesome Wave Foundation Charitable Ventures, Inc., Bridgeport, Conn., $3,775,700
AARP Foundation, Washington, D.C., $3,306,224
Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Gainesville, Fla., $1,937,179
Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, Boston, Mass., $3,401,384
Fair Food Network, Ann Arbor, Mich., $5,171,779
International Rescue Committee, Inc., New York, N.Y., $564,231
Washington State Department of Health, Tumwater, Wash., $5,859,307
Descriptions of the funded projects are available on the NIFA website.
This is an excellent snapshot of some of Canada’s work to deal with food insecurity as well as a short list of some great actions being taken to expand past emergency food to assert food sovereignty and skills such as seed-saving, foraging and many others. Glad to see Food Share and The Stop in here- two Ontario groups that I admire greatly and watch closely for ideas to bring to the U.S.
Eight stories that will give you food for thought
Food insecurity, which has only been measured specifically and consistently on the Canadian Community Health Survey since 2005, can mean a sliding scale from worrying about next week’s grocery budget, to buying mostly canned goods instead of pricier milk and vegetables, to skipping meals entirely. All three scenarios are a problem; the latter two have significant health consequences.
As we move into another year of organizing around regional food and public health in the US, we are facing opposition that has become stronger and more agile at pointing out our weaknesses and adding barriers to those that we already have to erase. That opposition can be found in our towns, at the state legislature, in Congress and even among our fellow citizens who haven’t seen the benefits of healthy local food for themselves yet.
That opposition uses arguments of affordability without measuring that fairly against seasonality or production costs, adds up the energy to get food to local markets while ignoring the huge benefits of farming small plots sustainably, shrugs its shoulders at stories of small victories, pointing past them to large stores taking up space next to off ramps and asks isn’t bigger better for everyone?
Why the opposition to local producers offering their goods to their neighbors, their schools and stores? What would happen to the society as a whole if our projects were allowed to exist and to flourish alongside of the larger industrial system?
I would suggest that very little would change, at least at first. Later on-if we continue to grow our work-it may be another matter and this fear of later is at the core of the opposition. That fear has to do with the day that democratic systems become the norm and necessary information is in the hands of eaters, farmers and organizers. And so we need to address and keep on addressing the divide that keeps that from happening.
The truth that we all know is that there is already two systems-one for the top percent and another for the rest. Writer George Packer gave his framework for this very argument in an eloquent essay written in 2011 called “The Broken Contract.” Packer argues that the divide in America began to take hold in 1978 with the passage of new laws that allowed organized money to influence elected officials in ways not seen before.
Packer points out that the access to Congress meant that labor and owners were not sitting down and working together any longer. That large corporations stopped caring about being good citizens and of supporting the social institutions and turned their entire attention to buying access in Congress and growing their profits and systems beyond any normal levels.
“The surface of life has greatly improved, at least for educated, reasonably comfortable people—say, the top 20 percent, socioeconomically. Yet the deeper structures, the institutions that underpin a healthy democratic society, have fallen into a state of decadence. We have all the information in the universe at our fingertips, while our most basic problems go unsolved year after year: climate change, income inequality, wage stagnation, national debt, immigration, falling educational achievement, deteriorating infrastructure, declining news standards. All around, we see dazzling technological change, but no progress…
…We can upgrade our iPhones, but we can’t fix our roads and bridges. We invented broadband, but we can’t extend it to 35 percent of the public. We can get 300 television channels on the iPad, but in the past decade 20 newspapers closed down all their foreign bureaus. We have touch-screen voting machines, but last year just 40 percent of registered voters turned out, and our political system is more polarized, more choked with its own bile, than at any time since the Civil War.
…when did this start to happen? Any time frame has an element of arbitrariness, and also contains the beginning of a theory. Mine goes back to that shabby, forgettable year of 1978. It is surprising to say that in or around 1978, American life changed—and changed dramatically. It was, like this moment, a time of widespread pessimism—high inflation, high unemployment, high gas prices. And the country reacted to its sense of decline by moving away from the social arrangement that had been in place since the 1930s and 1940s.
What was that arrangement? It is sometimes called “the mixed economy”; the term I prefer is “middle-class democracy.” It was an unwritten social contract among labor, business, and government— between the elites and the masses. It guaranteed that the benefits of the economic growth following World War II were distributed more widely, and with more shared prosperity, than at any time in human history…
…The persistence of this trend toward greater inequality over the past 30 years suggests a kind of feedback loop that cannot be broken by the usual political means. The more wealth accumulates in a few hands at the top, the more influence and favor the well-connected rich acquire, which makes it easier for them and their political allies to cast off restraint without paying a social price. That, in turn, frees them up to amass more money, until cause and effect become impossible to distinguish. Nothing seems to slow this process down—not wars, not technology, not a recession, not a historic election.
The economic divide and the lack of information about it hurts our movement since many still see us as either too small or too elitist and so delays our work getting to more people that need it. I urge everyone to find a copy of this entire essay and share it and discuss it widely.
Increasingly,suburbia must be considered when food system organizers consider locations for projects: Not only are we seeing an increase in the diversity of those living there but unfortunately also an increase in levels of poverty in suburbia:
From 2000 to 2012 Kneebone says, “The number of poor residents living in suburban communities in major metros grew by 65 percent. That was more than twice the pace of growth in the major cities that anchor those regions, and with that rapid change we actually passed a tipping point for the first time. There are now more poor residents in suburbs than in cities.”
The possibilities for markets to bring healthy food to more people increase if we pay attention to this shift and utilize not only our cities and rural communities for markets but suburbs too.
This month we gather around the topic of food—a subject everyone loves. Food is the great convenor, the global common denominator, the alchemical substance that pulls parties into the kitchen, makes friends out of strangers, puts flesh on our bones and smiles on our faces.
But all is not well in food land, despite the colorful array of products on U.S. grocery store shelves. One third of Americans are overweight; diet-related diseases are skyrocketing; our food is being designed to addict, rather than nourish; bees are dying; biodiversity is being lost; and modern agriculture is based on massive inputs of petroleum—a finite resource.