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The Prying Mantis

No Justice, No Peace – reflections on organic farming, CSA and domestic fair trade.

Local, Organic, And Fair: We Want the Whole Loaf!

 

By Elizabeth Henderson

With the financial recovery looking more like the Great Recession, people are turning to the real goods and services of the earth economy.  As stock prices rise and the top 1% bloats with wealth, for many in the 99% incomes are eroding and job security is a quaint concept from the past. A stream of books by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Bill McKibben, Barbara Kingsolver, and others have put local food at the top of the best-seller list. And deeper, systemic analyses (Wayne Roberts’ No Nonsense Guide to World Food, Wenonah Hauter’s  Foodopoly) are helping us understand why the hard times are failing to evaporate and how small local actions can add up to transformative change. Stressed families are eating out less and planting gardens.  Small seed companies are experiencing double digit growth. The number of CSAs all over the country has tripled over the past ten years. Downsized bankers and PhDs are signing up with the spreading network of new farmer programs. And more people are turning to local farms for the ingredients essential to their newly recognized priorities of health and self-reliance.

The pundits tell us that local trumps organic and for many people a certified organic label from a farm 3,000 miles away does not provide the reassurance they seek.  But will they be satisfied when they realize that the farms within 100 miles of home use toxic chemicals, underpay their workers, and can barely manage to stay in business? Maybe there is more that people need from farms than comforting proximity.

Becoming a locavore follows from a deeper change in consciousness. Going local provides many benefits at the same time.

* Your money is circulating in your own community: family-scale farms are independent businesses that tend to support other local businesses.  Some corporation is not siphoning your dollars off to line its coffers or pay its stockholders.

* If ever there were “green” jobs, employment in local sustainable agriculture meets the definition.

* Economically viable farms preserve open space and beautiful working landscapes.

* And finally, eating local food saves energy. David Pimentel, Professor of Insect Ecology at Cornell University, has calculated that modern industrial agriculture expends 10 calories for each food-calorie produced. Many of those excess calories are burned up in transportation, packaging, and marketing. Continue reading “Local, Organic, And Fair: We Want the Whole Loaf!”

Justice for Family-Scale Farmers and All Food Workers

Keynote speech by Elizabeth Henderson at the Future Harvest CASA’s “Cultivate the Chesapeake Foodshed” conference, January 14, 2017 

All the people of the land – farmers as well as farmworkers – have the human right to live in dignity and respect with a secure supply of the foods of their choice produced in harmony with the natural environment, and to live in a healthy, rich natural environment in a world in peace.

Greetings! It is an honor to be asked to share my thoughts on justice for farmers and how this relates to justice for farmworkers and workers in other kinds of food enterprises as well as people with low-incomes. I just attended the new farmer session. It is so exciting that there are 65 people in this program!

The promise of industrialized agriculture has been that it would feed the world with plentiful, inexpensive and safe food.  That promise has not been kept. Food insecurity and food access are still heavy burdens– in your region, the Maryland Food Bank alone supplies 120,000 meals a day. In the Future Harvest states, over 19% of the children live in food insecure households and the figure reaches a shameful 30% in DC.   Continue reading “Justice for Family-Scale Farmers and All Food Workers”

Draft Charter for CSAs in the USA and Canada

 

Members buy directly from the farm or group of farms. There is no middleman.

Members respect the connection with the land upon which the CSA grows their food.

Members commit to cooperation with the community of members.

The farm provides access to high quality, fresh and preserved, healthy, nutrient-dense, local and low fossil-fuel food or fiber, filling the share primarily with produce grown on the farm or, if purchased from other farms, clearly identified as to origin.

The farmers consult with members and take their preferences into account in deciding what crops to grow.

Farmers and members commit to continuous development of mutual trust and understanding, and to solidarity and responsibility for one another as co-producers.

Shared risk: members commit to the CSA, signing a contract or agreement with the CSA and paying some part of the fee in advance.

Members support the farm through both good and poor harvests, and are flexible about accepting what the farm harvests each week.

The farm nurtures biodiversity through healthy production that is adapted to the rhythm of the seasons and is respectful of the environment, natural and cultural heritage, and that build healthy soils, restoring soil carbon, conserving water and minimizing pollution of soil, air and water.

The farm commits to using locally adapted seeds and breeds to the greatest extent possible.

The CSA commits to growing the CSA movement through increasing the number of CSAs and collaboration among them.

CSA prices reflect a fair balance between the farmers’ needs to cover costs of production and pay living wages to themselves and all farm workers so that they can live in a dignified manner, and members’ needs for food that is accessible and affordable.

CSAs seek paths to social inclusiveness to enable the less well-off to access high quality food.

It is up to each CSA farm and its community to build a model which suits them best and to mutually ensure that the CSA upholds the principles of this charter.

Northeast Gathering on Domestic Fair Trade

Friday, August 12, 2016, UMASS Amherst

By Elizabeth Henderson and Louis H. Battalen

The Northeast Gathering on Domestic Fair Trade, held during NOFA’s Summer Conference, was a great chance to renew networking from last summer’s Gathering and to engage in a multi-stakeholder assessment of current programs that aim to improve conditions for farmworkers.  Participants included farmers, farmworkers, advocates for both groups, not-for-profit and coop staffers, and academics studying the issues. The major focus of the meeting identified various certification and worker models and explored ways to strengthen the movement through collaboration and mutual support. An intensive go-around of introductions of attendees and their work, provided the space and time to engage full participation by all attendees and served as a preface to the presentations on the various certification and standards approaches and to domestic fair trade.

ne-dft-8-12-2016
Alyssa Bauer, Audi Gonzalez, Jess Culley, Gabriella della Croce, Martin Dagoberto, Diana Robinson, Gideon Burdick and David Arnold at the August 12 gathering

Following a warm welcoming greeting by NOFA Domestic Fair Trade Committee member Louis Battalen, Elizabeth Henderson, organic farmer and NOFA-NY Board member, gave context to the morning’s proceedings with her introductory remarks, suggesting that because it is still in its infancy, domestic fair trade in the Northeast is a history yet to be written.  The people who are working for change, she said, are “making the path as we go forward.” (The power point slides from this presentation are available upon request.) As an organic farmer who has been involved with organic certification for decades, Liz has observed that there is general agreement in this country and abroad on what organic certification covers but no such understanding exists for ‘fair trade.’ Continue reading “Northeast Gathering on Domestic Fair Trade”

Urban Farming in Buffalo with Food Justice Flavoring

AT 7 am on Saturday, September 17, Jack and I headed to Buffalo to take part in the annual Tour de Farms, a fundraiser for the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP).  Since Jack’s brother wanted to come to, we decided to go on the urban farm tour instead of the “classic” which goes all the way to the Oles Farm in Alden.  As fate would have it, a sinus attack kept Jack’s brother at home, but I am glad we took the urban route to visit six farms on the west and east sides of Buffalo.  West Buffalo is low income and struggling.  East Buffalo contends with Detroit in numbers of abandoned houses and vast empty spaces where houses once stood.

The six farms on this tour share a commitment to providing healthier food to their mainly low-income neighbors.  By farming in these blighted areas of the city, the farmers take a definite cut in one of the greatest benefits of farming – a.g. (aesthetic gluttony). But they make that up in social returns, the satisfaction that comes from getting to know your customers, providing fresh and nutritious food to people who really appreciate it and teaching young people to be self-reliant, active and make healthy food choices.

Initiated in 1992, MAP has grown slowly but steadily, providing jobs for neighborhood youth with training in growing and selling food, understanding the connections between diet and health, learning to have a voice in food system policy, and providing fresh organic produce for food apartheid neighborhoods.  MAP is fortunate to have Diane Piccard as Director – she has been with them since 1997 and initiated the Growing Green Program in 2003.

With rain storms in the forecast for early afternoon, 80 or so of us mounted our bicycles at Rich Products on Niagara Street and followed our guides from GoBike Buffalo.  First stop – the MAP Youth Garden, one of 13 sites where youngsters learn to grow food using organic practices. Claire Collie, one of the MAP farm educators, greeted us.

img_20160917_102418453 Continue reading “Urban Farming in Buffalo with Food Justice Flavoring”

NYS Organic Farmers’ Letter to Cornell: Evict “Alliance for Science” from Campus

September 22, 2016

Dean Kathryn J. Boor
Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Ithaca, New York   14850

Trustees of Cornell University, Robert S. Harrison, Chair
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York  14850
Dear Dean Boor and Trustees of the University:

As New York State organic farmers, we object to the presence of the “Alliance for Science” on the Cornell campus (http://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/).  This advocacy group for the highly controversial agricultural genetic engineering industry, funded almost entirely by the Gates Foundation, has no place at a Land Grant university.

Cornell’s mission is to conduct objective research and education whereas the “Alliance for Science” has as its stated purpose to “help foster more constructive policies about biotechnology as a useful tool in the toolbox of food security and sustainability” and to spread it around the world.

This biased presence impedes objective discussion of biotechnology on campus.

Cornell is making valuable contributions to the long-term sustainability of agriculture.  Please remove this unscientific impediment to such contributions.

Respectfully yours,

Elizabeth Henderson, Peacework Farm, Newark

Rafael Aponte, Rocky Acres Community Farm, Freeville

Kathie Arnold, Twin Oaks Dairy LLC, Truxton

Lisa Barker, Seedfolks Urban Farm, Rochester

Erin Bullock, Wild Hill Farm, Bloomfield

Krys Cail, Robinia Redux, Ithaca

Brian (’86) and Jenny Caldwell, Hemlock Grove Farm, West Danby

Bill Carini and Chrys Gardener, TreeHouse Farm, Newfield

Janet Cawley and David Stern, Rose Valley Farm, Rose

Chaw Chang and Lucy Garrison (’04), Stick and Stone Farm, Ithaca

Scott Chaskey, Quail Hill Farm, Amagansett

Ammie Chickering and Greg Palmer, Peacework Farm, Newark

Jean-Paul Courtens, Roxbury Farm, Kinderhook

Sean Dembrosky, Edible Acres, Trumansberg

Willy Denner and Claudia Kenny, Little Seeds Gardens, Chatham

Mark Dunau and Lisa Wujnovich, Mountain Dell Farm, Delhi

Lisa and Kevin Engelbert, Engelbert Farms, LLC, Nichols

Andy Fellenz, Fellenz Family Farm, Phelps

Kurt Forman, Clearview Farm, Palmyra

Stephanie and John Funicello, Stonefall Farm, Sharon Springs

Amy Garbincus, Hemlock Grove Farm, West Danby

Steve Gilman and Renata Grec, homesteaders, Saratoga

Michael Glos, Kingbird Farm, Berkshire

Nancy Grove, Old Path Farm, Sauquoit

Tom Hoag and Mary Boite, Hoag Farm, Richmond

Donn Hewes and Maryrose Livingston, Northland Sheep Dairy, Marathon

Lou Johns, Blue Heron Farm, Lodi

Nancy Kasper, Earth Eden Organic Farm and Sanctuary, North Rose

Karen Kerney, Pompey Gold Vineyards, Jamesville

Maureen and Paul Knapp, Cobblestone Valley Farm, Preble

David-Josiah Krause, Seedfolks Urban Farm, Rochester

Lou Lego, Elderberry Pond Farm, Auburn

Melissa Madden and Garrett Miller, Good Life Farm, Interlaken

Stuart McCarty and Lynn Thor, Whistle-Stop Gardens, Colesville

Lauren and Kevin McKinzey, Black Pearl Creamery, Town of Ulysses

Surik Mehrabyan, Hill Side Farm, Ithaca

Pam and Rob Moore, Moore Farms, Nichols

Thor Oechsner, Oechsner Farm, Newfield

Robert Perry, Maple Slope Farm, Homer

Ryan Platte, Burning Bush Gardens, Churchville

Mr. and Mrs. John Saeli, Saeli Farms, Geneva

Michael Saeli, Saeli Farms, Butler

Anne and Steve Sierigk, Hawk Meadow Farm, Trumansburg

Jean Siracusa, Happy Bee Heirloom Farm, Cayuga

Akiva Silver, Twisted Tree Nursery, Spencer

Nathaniel Thompson, Remembrance Farm, Trumansburg

Olga Tsogas, Smugtown Mushrooms, Rochester

Devon Van Noble, Van Noble Farm, Enfield

Bob Walker, Katchkie Farm, Kinderhook

 

National Charter for US CSAs?

CSA farmers and members!

Inspired by the examples of CSA networks in other countries, I have a suggestion that may help us reinvigorate our movement, encourage new people to join CSAs, and win the support of wellness programs.

Here is my proposal: Let’s create a CSA charter or pledge that all CSAs can use in an energetic publicity and educational campaign to grow our share of the pie of eaters. If we can agree on language, sometime early this winter, after the election frenzy recedes, we can print this in all the CSA member newsletters, in all the state and regional network publications – Fair Share Coalition, CAFF, Just Food, the NOFAs, PASA, Small Farm Central, etc. and get a lot of public attention. Having a clear (though not too detailed) definition, will give us greater weight in advocating with wellness programs and insurance companies to get their support. It will also help us differentiate farm-based CSAs from the aggregators, even the well-intentioned ones, that sell weekly bags of produce that look like CSA shares, although the farmers are paid just as though they sold to any wholesale market.

As has been noted in the NYTimes and by people closer to CSA – Simon Huntley, of Small Farm Central, and Steven McFadden, author of Farms of Tomorrow Revisited – many CSAs all over the country have been having trouble recruiting and retaining members.  Farms that had waiting lists no longer even have as many members as they would like. Based on interviews with former CSA members, Simon Huntley has some good ideas for making CSAs more “customer-centric” while retaining the essentials of CSA. He advises improving member retention through asking members what they need, offering more choices and continually educating them about the food (“CSA: We have a Problem,” 8/17/2016). While Huntley is fine tuning business as usual, Steven McFadden admonishes the public to wake up and recognize the transformative potential of CSA as an emergency response to climate change (“Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones,” see * quote below). Continue reading “National Charter for US CSAs?”

A Draft Program for All People of the Land

 “From the beginning, organic regulations set a high bar for advancing cultural and social values in agricultural production. We propose a return to this foundation by rededicating organic to an ethical food and agriculture system that honors the values of fairness and basic rights. Fairness includes fair trade; fair pricing (and contracts); fair access to land (and credit), and fair access to quality, organic food and seeds. These basic rights also encompass the rights of all people to follow their own cultural and traditional knowledge systems and the rights of farmers and farmworkers to have an empowered voice in the continued improvement of an ethical food system. This should apply directly to both domestic and foreign agricultural policies with the recognition of organic agriculture’s contributions to local food security and the alleviation of hunger both nationally and internationally.” From the National Organic Action Plan – On “Social and Cultural Change” (p. 32) 

By Elizabeth Henderson

I call upon fellow organic farmers and all friends who want to put the above statement into action to help develop a program that will take us in the direction of the highest ideals of the organic movement for local, just and clean food for all.

Despite the impressive growth in organic markets – organic products are widely available in conventional groceries– the farmers I know are not having an easier time economically and farms continue to go out of business, especially dairies. Conventional farms are going out of business too.  When the NOFA-NY Board made a public statement in support of raising the minimum wage, carefully balanced though the statement was with the need to raise the farmer share of the food dollar, farmers called into the office to complain of the hardship this will cause for their farm businesses.

These next few years will build towards the next farm bill.  I invite others to join me in projecting where we would really like to go. Instead of limiting ourselves to incremental adjustments even to very good programs, let’s put together an integrated program of policies and cultural changes that will lead to a more radical transformation towards organic, biodynamic and agroecological farming, in support of carbon farming, fair labor and pricing practices, renegotiating power relations in supply chains, and an end to industrial agriculture. I realize that many of these proposals are not “realistic.” The majority of the US Congress will not vote for them at this time.  The full realization of this program will happen together with other radical changes in power when Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Bernie people, the labor movement, the Greens, merge into a determined movement for social change.  In the meantime, let’s be sure the eater members of this movement know what the people who work the land – farmers with and without land and farmworkers – need so that we can thrive and create a food system worth sustaining. Continue reading “A Draft Program for All People of the Land”

Berries: Support the Union or Take the Locavore Way

By Elizabeth Henderson

IMG_8046
The berry patch at Jack’s house.

 

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, service berries, elderberries, jostaberries – some of the tastiest and most healthful foods that Nature provides.  I am an avid berry picker.  To be a good picker, you have to switch your awareness to berry-mode.  You stand near the bush or crouch near the plants and focus on the color of ripe berry – red with no white spots for strawberries, deep blue with no green showing for blueberries.  Then your hands dart out and grab them – ever so gently. You can only cradle a few in your palm or you crush them.  You disregard the stabs from thorns, the stain of dark juice on your skin.  Your hands dart back and forth from bush to basket.

You fill it till just before the berries are about to cascade to the ground. Then you grab another container. This is fun for an hour and not too tiring for half a day.  But it’s very different if you have to keep picking for 12 – 14 hours, day after day. When you do this for a living, payment is by the pound or the pint – piece work that puts you under pressure to pick as fast as you can without taking a break. Legally, even a slow picker must be paid minimum wage per hour, but an unethical employer can find many ways to underpay. Continue reading “Berries: Support the Union or Take the Locavore Way”

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