Wednesday, May 7, 2008

You, me and Farmer McGee

Here I am at my second food conference in 2 weeks. Luckily for me, both were in areas I had not spent any time in-Chandler AZ, and Santa Fe NM. The first was 550 food activists(picture of the living mural done every day):
and the second was for about 75 food people within the 4 Corners region.

Much thought goes into the work in our food movement to have local foods represented at these things and locations that are also picked carefully. For example, the first was in Arizona, namely outskirts of Phoenix, Chandler. Chandler is home to the Pima tribe, which has the sad measure of over 90 percent of their people diagnosed with diabetes. And so they are working feverishly to turn that around, now that they have money as they recently won their 100 year legal battle to reclaim their water. The location of the conference was their new resort where they are recreating the Gila River basin to renew their agricultural traditions, and telling their story. This was a thoughtful conference that attempted to address underlying issues that local food systems need to address as well; racism, education gaps, long term poverty, other isms that have held our society back from being truly successful.

The second was put together with the wonderful folks from Farm to Table in New Mexico who have always inspired me with their work on food access, food culture and food sovereignty. I was asked to participate in 2 workshops around market issues and had the pleasure of listening to my fellow presenters who worked in the 4 corners region. Excellent, talented practitioners.
...and the natural world of Santa Fe. wow.

I came away with a renewed sense of purpose for integrating social justice issues into the food work, and also with a sense of gratitude for the fellow pilgrims on this road. Gratitude for people who have given most of their total energy and time and brain to the salvation of their food system, which will benefit all of us.

One of these folks appeared on the last day of the second workshop; a fellow New Orleanian, who was in town for a related thing; she had been on retreat for many weeks and this was her first re-entry into the serious mechanism of food system organizing. She was shaky after the first afternoon of meetings; physically so, and also seemed a bit taken aback at the swirl of ideas, people and decision.
Her physical reaction was of little surprise to me, as as she tends to be much more reserved and intentional in her life, which interestingly is a tension she and I have as peers as I have almost no patience at all and am about action, action, action, absolutely to a fault.
She is searching for her path within the work and I saw her (as we talked on the wooden stairs of the old hotel lobby that sits at the end of the Santa Fe trail) as if I was standing behind her (with a slightly safer vantage point) on a hillside path, looking over her shoulder at the beautiful deep protected canyon she was unwillingly climbing in to, while I could see my path farther along, skirting the canyon to get to the other side. Funny, how visions come.

I thought I heard concern in the words she voiced; thoughts about the missing pieces of the food organizing and also a bit of weariness as to the scale and bureaucracy that was becoming evident in this field.
I understood it.
I understood it and have wondered too if we could rein the big, fancy words and dazzling conferences in, rein them in while we do attend to the necessary BIG work of literally saving the food system daily, weekly, finding ways to save farmers and fishers and get good food to all, while using the visionary language and fast ideas that seem necessary to build an alternative system that is truly alternative, and still finding time and ways to comfort and cheer each other on in some fashion.
Can we do both?
Can we hold back our national tendencies to ramp up this work too fast to get to the "winning" I guess, and instead fashion a regional movement that would be the first of its kind in our large country? Hold back the glee at being invited to the table and instead insist on staying at the smaller table with more people represented directly- and insisting those decision makers join us there?
Are we brave enough to be truly at "scale" in our ideas and implementations and to have the type of thoughtful yet innovative movement that actually does shift the world. Shift it slightly globally- which is a massive shift locally and regionally, as it should be.
Or can we afford to be slow and deliberate?
What are our principles?
Do we know where to stop; what is too big?
Can we truly learn from each other, or are we all just recreating ideas over and over again within a largely protected white activist world vision?
Does our work always translate to indigenous and immigrant communities or are we just coopting ideas and language to spread outwardly?
is this a frontier of new ideas or a unearthing of old ideas?
What should it be?
And, who should lead? Should anyone?
What is the goal? Better food on its own...
Or a better community without injustice that includes good food for all?
I wish us luck.

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