Wanted: 25 million Grassroots Advocates

Wanted: 25 million grassroots advocates for just and sustainable food systems.

Yes, 25 million.

Not 25,000 or even 250,000. We want millions of Americans from all walks of life who understand the incredible importance of our food and agriculture systems and are willing to fight for good government and policies that serve the land, all the people, and future generations.

Why 25 million?

Well, it will take a whole lot of people to turn around and fix the sinking ship of industrialized agriculture designed by some of world's largest corporations to feed their maximum short-term profit and consolidate their power. We figure we might as well shoot for roughly 10% of the U.S. population.

How do we get there?

That's what we're asking you -- the cooperative grocers of America. How best can we work with you and your members and their friends and neighbors to build the awareness, understanding, and enthusiastic activism we'll need to make the huge, systemic changes we know are not only possible but essential to create a food system that's good for farmers, workers, consumers, and the environment.

How do we/you reach your members?

What images, facts, and examples will wake people up not only to the problems and the household-level difference they've committed to by shopping cooperatively, but also the national changes they can make happen by exercising their democratic freedoms?

The 2002 Farm Bill throws billions of taxpayer dollars into a failed vision of farming and agriculture. But it also contains exciting and needed programs that the sustainable agriculture movement fought for.

This we know:

Federal agriculture policy is never neutral. By choosing who is subsidized and what regulations are enforced, federal policy promotes one means of production or market structure over another. For decades now, misguided public policies have driven our food and agriculture system towards practices that degrade our land, pollute our water, destroy wildlife habitats, and concentrate the control of food production, processing and marketing in the hands of a few global oligopolies.

This we also know:

Agriculture doesn't have to pollute ecosystems and degrade entire communities. We can manage our food production:

  • without harming the environment
  • without bankrupting thousands of family farmers and ranchers
  • without destroying farmer and worker livelihoods and local knowledge systems
  • without destroying the food processing, distribution, and marketing systems that can serve small, moderate, and large-scale family farms and healthier agriculture systems.

The Farm Bill passed this spring enshrines some of the worst agriculture policy in decades and throws billions of taxpayer dollars into a failed vision of farming and agriculture. But this same farm bill also contains some of the most exciting and needed programs the sustainable agriculture movement fought for. It was well-coordinated, unified education, analysis, policy development, and broad-based grassroots action that got these important innovations passed. The biggest win was the Conservation Security Program. The movement also won key Beginning Farmer and Rancher provisions, a Value-Added Market Development program, Organic Certification Cost Share, Mandatory Country of Original Labeling, USDA Equity and Justice Reforms, Food Stamps for Legal Immigrants, Community Food Security programs, and many others (for details visit http://www.sustainableagriculture.net).

These programs are opportunities.

These programs can get money onto farms and into communities and businesses to further economic, environmental, and social justice goals. These programs can help convince people that the government can work and can serve the common good. These programs prove that unified grassroots citizen action can shift policies and power.

But legislation is just the first step.

To ensure that legislation lives up to its full potential, we need to inform and inspire broad-based, consistent public participation in the democratic processes of rulemaking and implementation of sustainable agriculture programs. The potential of the rulemaking process to derail new legislation is best illustrated by our experience with the Organic Rule. You all remember--the first draft Rule would have allowed genetically modified organisms and use of sewage sludge and irradiation in production and processing of foods certified as organic. How a rule is written can determine whether the original intent of legislation is realized or completely lost.

We have to be watchdogs every step of the way.

In addition to organizing public comment on rulemaking, we need to work on program implementation--developing information and materials on what programs are available, who delivers them and how, how priorities are set and who decides, how sustainable agriculture advocates can play a role, how to apply, how to get technical assistance. A huge network of grassroots advocates is needed to support on-farm implementation, and to hold our governmental officials and agencies accountable to our vision of what these programs can produce.

We have proven that with our diverse partners we can translate local solutions into federal policies that truly serve the public interest, protect the environment, and promote of healthy food and farms. Now we have to prove that we can shepherd those policies through to achieve their intended purposes without being co-opted by industry.

We have to prove that millions of people understand their stake in food and agriculture, understand that bad policies helped get us in this mess and good policies can help get us out. We have to prove that people with busy lives are willing to spare a few minutes a week to educate and mobilize themselves in support of common sense policies. We have to combine good old-fashioned organizing with the most powerful new technologies to build the base of 25 million grassroots advocates needed to make and sustain these changes.

Please contact us with your suggestions for how we can work with cooperative grocers and their members across the country:

National Campaign For Sustainable Agriculture
http://www.sustainableagriculture.net
Tel:845.744.8448,
Fax: 845.744.8477.

See other articles from this issue: #102 September - October - 2002