Monday, December 22, 2008

The Organic Green Revolution

Christopher Bedford from the Center for Economic Security has given one of the best descriptions of our current state of affairs that I've seen in recent times. The Rodale Institute's "Organic Green Revolution" document, seems like a great resource. Here's his message:

Comfoodies and HENs,

What do next? Hank suggests that the change we seek has to rise up from thousands of local food system (let 10,000 flowers bloom) developments that inform, push, demand action from elected officials. I agree with that prescription for change with these substantive additions.

Those of you who have heard me speak know that I am enamored with the Bill McDonough lines, “If you want to go to Canada, but are driving towards Mexico at 100 miles an hour. Slowing down to 30 won’t help. You are still going the wrong direction.”

Many of the suggestions made in these last commentary strings around the appointment of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture are the good intentioned equivalent of “slowing down to 30”.

Sure, it is important to have Obama appoint Under Secretaries of several federal departments who understand our concerns, who share parts or all of our agenda. But absent real change in corporate dominated agriculture and food power relationships in Washington politics, these “friendly appointments” may help us secure some grants for our institutions or some other helpful, marginal actions…but little more. (Not marginal if it is your institution, I know)

The change we are facing is real, profound, and potentially overwhelming because of…

…climate change and its impact on food production,

…the emerging ecological and economic limitations of the global industrial paradigm in agriculture and food production, (want a little melamine with that milk?)

…the growing health crisis produced by poor nutritional policies, (let them eat cheap food so we continue to increase the cost of health care)

…the economic and food security consequences of the rapid decline in petroleum availability for the US food system, (Peak Oil)

…a growing planet population with unequal access to food, energy, capital and information resources, (why would someone become a terrorist, anyway?)

…our continued reliance on new technological practices like GMOs and cloning to solve problems caused our lack of harmony with nature’s systems, (if brute force isn’t working, you aren’t using enough of it!)

…the relentless logic of greed by many in power when faced with future defined by new ecological limitations and scarcity, (the corporate patenting of genes, seeds and, indeed, now whole animals like pigs.)

…the growing use of corporate funded disinformation campaigns to slow the coalescence of voters and consumers around the need for fundamental change in our food and farming systems, (the Corn Processors’ HFCS campaign is just the latest example of a strategy that was first developed by the tobacco industry to slow the regulation of cigarettes.)

…the use of governmental actions and regulations to slow and stop the development of “local food systems and regenerative agriculture in every food shed in the United States” that kind Hank referred to in his earlier emails. (The Monsanto seed laws)

Does anyone on these lists seriously think I have exaggerated the scope and depth of the challenges that I have listed above? If, not, then we have to ask ourselves the question
”what do we really need to do to affect the change we seek?”

If you answer, “lobby Tom Vilsack”, then you should stop reading here. Tom Vilsack is a decent person. His wife, a more aware person, understands the importance of good food to our future. But Tom Vilsack won’t and can’t save us.

We must actually imagine what it means for us to “turn around and go in a new direction.”

Hank suggests that the “ten thousand flowers” of the local food revolution will create this change. I totally agree with him as far as he goes. Urgency is the question on my mind.

We don’t have time to fight a guerrilla war against the global industrial food system. Nature’s and history’s clock is ticking. Although, the local food revolution ultimately will be successful in replacing the global corporate industrial systems now in place, it could be a Pyrrhic victory if we have passed one or more of Nature’s tipping points (when decline is unstoppable) in the process.

I believe we need to demand fundamental change – the change presented in the Rodale Institute document “The Organic Green Revolution”.

In this new organic Green Revolution, industrial, petroleum based agriculture will become the niche (like arsenic sniffers of the 19th Century, a doomed and dying niche) and ecologically intelligent food and farming systems based on organic and permaculture growing principles will be the way we farm.

Now, anyone who speaks regularly to conventional farmers knows that such a suggestion is tantamount to treason. If you want to really make conventional farmers really angry just raise the issues surrounding “organic farming”.

But why such anger? If organic food production is just a niche, why does it arouse such powerful emotions?

The answer is, most farmers know deep in their hearts, that industrial agriculture is dying as an operational, viable paradigm. “Anger” is just one of the five Kubler-Ross stages in acceptance of this death. It is followed by “bargaining” (perhaps IPM and GMOs can be seen in this light) and “depression” (something working farmers are all too familiar with).

The final stage is acceptance, in this case, of a new way to farm, one that has the power to regenerate not just the health of the earth, but farmers’ economic, physical, and emotional health as well.

We must help conventional farmers through this transition and not let their “grieving” dictate the food policy for an entire nation.

Luckily, we have an example, a role model, for what we need to do. The WE Campaign, a project of the Alliance for Climate Protection, seeks “repower America with 100% of its electricity from clean energy sources within 10 years.”

That means no more carbon-based energy to produce electricity within a decade. A remarkable goal. A fundamental change of the same scale we seek.

The WE Campaign makes effective use of media to allow us to visualize this change. Their latest TV commercial depicts a working class guy recharging his pickup truck’s batteries from a wind-powered plug-in station. This is a brilliant commercial at many political levels.

The French anthropologist, Clause Levi-Strauss, says, in most cultures men must dream their children before they can conceive them. I believe this is true of the local food revolution as well.

Michael Pollan’s NY Times “Letter to the Farmer-in-Chief” is an example of creating a clear frame for our dream of regenerative, healthy food future. Every time a local TV station does a story about a chef using local food or a farm operating a CSA, our collective dream, necessary to imagine this change, is enriched.

But I believe we need to do more. We need to use the arguments and principles presented in “The Organic Green Revolution” to develop an effective national media effort to promote the ecologically intelligent values and community-based processes of the local food revolution that Hank wrote about.

In effect, we need our own “We” campaign to change the debate in the public square. In doing so, we will empower those ten thousand flowers of transformation, regeneration, and hope.

Does anyone want to join together to make this happen?

Peace and good food and Merry Christmas,

Chris Bedford

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