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The Prying Mantis

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

Month

July 2016

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”

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Berries: Support the Union or Take the Locavore Way

By Elizabeth Henderson

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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”

CSA in Norway

By Elizabeth Henderson

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New CSA symbol for Andelslandbruk in Norway
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Marte Guttulsrod and Alexandra Devik introduce the new symbol for the Oikos CSA network.

Oikos – Organic Norway paid me the great honor of inviting me to be the keynote speaker for their second annual CSA conference, June 23 in Oslo. The gathering took place in a building called Sentralen that looked like an old (maybe early 19th century) public building, but now serves as a cultural center with spaces for a café, theatrical performances, and workshops. I did not get to explore the many rooms and layers. By 10 am, the 80 or so seats were full of farmers, food activists and a few researchers. Currently in Norway there are 40 CSAs – Andelslandbruk – and 20 more in formation. Most of the 40 are only a year or two old – there were four in 2012. The concept has been catching on quickly. Farmers have initiated only about half of the CSAs. Groups of consumers have started, and continue to run the others, often structuring them as coops and renting land from a farmer who may get more involved after a while. They call the people they hire to do the growing – “gardeners” since the scale of most CSAs so far is pretty small and a few groups do all the work themselves.

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Participants in the CSA conference.

The official policy of the present Norwegian government is to encourage fewer, bigger farms. With only 3% of the land suitable for farming, Norwegian agricultural production is limited and most of the food comes from abroad. In the fjords, there are big salmon farms largely for export, and Norway still has an important fishing fleet. Yet as in other European countries, farms are struggling to stay in business. The statistic Oikos folks quoted was Norway loses 5 farms every day. Continue reading “CSA in Norway”

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