No Alternative to Sustainable Agriculture: How Community-Supported Farms Show the Way to Food Security in an Uncertain World

Lambert here: It will be interesting to see if the “food sovereignty” movement, which had a resurgence during the last Crash, will have another resurgence in this one.

By Gabriel Popham, who studied cultural anthropology at the University of Utrecht, He graduated in 2017 with a project on citizenship engagement and political participation among Remainers in Brexit Britain. He is a member of Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 and conducted research with the DiEM25 London DSC. Originally published at Open Democracy.

The Covid-19 crisis is the biggest test in decades of our preparedness for a planetary disaster. As it turns out, it only took a few weeks to expose the vulnerability and deep-seated fragility of our economic and political systems. One of the areas in which we are least prepared for the many complex challenges surrounding us is in our relationship to food. The UK, for instance, imports almost half the food it consumes, and the home-grown stuff is for the most part reliant on migrant workers from eastern Europe. If labour shortages were already a source of anxiety before coronavirus, the prospect that we might run out of food is now very real indeed. On the consumption side, we will remember the bizarre week of empty shelves when rice and pasta were nowhere to be found. Nothing captures our dysfunctional relationship to food as clearly as the phenomenon of panic-buying, where every one of us is made to feel as if we must desperately fend for ourselves.

A growing trend in the food system is challenging this notion and showing how different our relationship to food could be. Community-supported agriculture (CSA), is an alternative approach based on the core idea that food is social: food expresses how much we rely on each other and on our environment, and it is up to us to make that relationship as resilient and sustainable as possible. CSAs can be social enterprises, member co-operatives, or non-profit organisations, and they often rely on volunteers for growing and distributing their produce. The different approach taken by CSAs is clear from the language that they use: CSAs don't cater to consumers, they have members, and growers and members take part together in the good times and the bad. As the lockdown came into force in the UK, CSAs found themselves having to adapt to new rules and find different ways of working together. In a happy exception to the rule, they have been swift to adapt.

"CSAs have shown for years how to build resilience within communities, and this is something that has also been highlighted by the crisis", says Page Dykstra, national coordinator of CSA Network UK. Like everyone else these days, we're talking over Zoom, and I'm interested in finding out how CSA farms have been coping with the lockdown, and if there's anything the rest of us can learn for the future. In particular, I want to know whether the explosion in solidarity and collaboration in the UK, where thousands of Covid-19 support groups have sprung up all over the country, has been mirrored in the number of people interested in joining the CSA network.

Certainly, for those who work in CSAs, there is little doubt that their approach to food is now more important than ever. According to Mike Hodson, one of the founders in Greater Manchester of Manchester Urban Diggers, "being part of a CSA and seeing demand for produce increase because of things like panic-buying has only solidified my belief that our local food systems need to change."

"We need a network of resilient, local food producers that sell directly to consumers and are not at the behest of large supermarkets. If anything, coronavirus has made me more determined to promote the merits of the CSA format and try and produce more food for people."

It looks like more and more people are also turning to CSAs for very similar reasons. As Dykstra tells me, most CSAs in the UK are now working at capacity, and for those who supply small restaurants or businesses that are shut because of the lockdown, grassroots connections among local growers are emerging to match supply and demand across different farms. However, the recent uptick in demand is not an entirely new phenomenon, and it is in fact part of a much longer story. "Many people are realising how insecure the food system is, and how disconnected they have become from their food supply," says Dykstra. "What is interesting is that we were already seeing an increase in demand before coronavirus."

Slow Realisation

Many of the challenges facing our food system today, she explains, have been brewing for a long time. A 2013 report on sustainable agriculture published by the UN Conference on Trade and Agriculture could not be more explicit, titled Wake up before it's too late: make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate. The message, in no uncertain terms, is that food sovereignty and food security will be among the greatest challenges facing the world in the 21st century, and that urgent action is needed to make sure that people around the world have access to healthy, sustainable and affordable food. The food sovereignty movement, which includes CSAs, farmers' organizations such as La Via Campesina, and solidarity economy groups all around the world, has been gaining momentum since the early 1990s by focusing on short supply chains, localised food economies and a more equitable settlement for food producers.

One of the most remarkable side-effects seen in this grassroots movement is what seems to be a consistent shift in people's attitude to food. Michael Marston, who runs Gibside Community Farm in County Durham, tells me over the phone that "what CSA brings to people is more than vegetables. For all the people who come, there's a transformation that takes place." It might seem trivial, but somehow knowing the land where your fruit and veg comes from makes an incredible difference, as does knowing the people who grow it. "The very nature of what we do is that we're not doing it on our own." Beyond providing access to organic and seasonal food, what the CSA model allows for is a different relationship with the food we eat, one in which, as Marston puts it, "you're never going to waste that veg if you know the sweat and tears that went into it."

Gibside Community Farm is a volunteer-run member co-operative that was established in 2013, and that is committed to the values of the food sovereignty movement. However, the 14 acres of land on which organic produce is now grown ran a serious risk of becoming something completely different. In the mid-noughties, the land was set to become an opencast coal mine, but after years of local campaigning, the National Trust decided to buy the land and hand it over to a more sustainable project, in a dramatic example of the kind of impact that a development choice like this can have for the local communities involved. Today, Gibside relies on the work of 30 volunteers, who pay a small membership fee and work on the farm in exchange for a weekly bag of vegetables. Alongside providing local households with access to seasonal fruit and veg, Gibside sell wholesale produce to local businesses, and like many other CSAs, they run and host community projects on site.

A Change of Ethos

All these community projects have now been cancelled due to the lockdown. However, beyond these deliberate efforts to bring the community closer to the reality of small-scale food production, the CSA approach to the food system would appear to trigger a much broader set of reactions among people who buy into this model. Michael Marston's suggestion that "what CSA brings to people is more than vegetables" seems to be borne out by a lot of social scientific research that has come out in the last decade. For example, a wide-scale survey of "solidarity purchasing groups" in Lombardy presented at the United Nations Institute for Social Development found that among so-called ethical consumers, having a closer relationship with those who produce the food that they buy led to a whole range of other lifestyle shifts: not only did they consume more organic, local and seasonal produce (not much of a surprise), but there was a large number of people who reported that they were more interested in local issues, more able to cooperate with people in general and more confident in their capacity to influence public policy.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Mattski

    The food sovereignty movement is the world’s biggest social movement by far. The Via Campesina, which originated and champions the food sovereignty idea, has 250 million official members, which means it dwarfs anything the hell else happening in the world. It’s just a little invisible at this site, where most of the attention is on the core countries and economics/finance, because it’s centered in the periphery and poor countries. It doesn’t want quotation marks around it after two decades in existence, not when the UN now officially recognizes it and it has been enshrined in the laws and constitutions of many countries. In Europe, where the rest of the world still exists, it is known by all progressives and lefties. In the US, despite the fact that orgs like the Rural Coalition and Immokalee Workers are stalwart parts of the VC, it remains, sadly, invisible. That’s partly because the cry for food sovereignty is proudly anti-capitalist and insists on local communities right to feed themselves, according to their own dictates, as absolute first order of business. Hillary Clinton once declared that the US opposed the idea “because everyone has to work.”

  2. BoyDownTheLane

    I put together a three page file of links on how to do vertical farming — on the grand (or corporate) scale, which seems to be in its beta phase and still failing to turn profit — and on the personal scale, which seems to be capital and technology intensive. You have to invest a lot of money, brain power and time to get a few heads of three types of lettuce. [Of course, it’ll give you a wider range, and some people suggest it can handle some fruits too. (Might be handy of the cops don’t come and bust you because you believe Vitamin C is good for you in a pandemic of whatever-in-hell-it-is.]. I just printed out the sign-up sheet for the CSA at the big farm down the street; it’s a first-come, first-serve deal (by mail, which is slowed immensely during the pandemic). GirlDownTheLane balked because the last time we did this, we got far too much kale and just threw most of it onto the compost heap. We tried to make and enjoy baked kale chips, but the experiential curve isn’t far enough down the read yet. I figure it makes sense, especially if we pony up for a new food processor and learn to like green shakes.

    1. Susan the other

      wonder if a mix of kale and potato, maybe a sprinkle of flour, wouldn’t make really good crackers

    2. False Solace

      You can add kale to pretty much any soup. You can also just saute it with garlic and olive oil and it’s a great side dish. Add red wine vinegar at the end for some zing. It’s possible to get too much of anything (zucchini, obviously), for me kale isn’t a heavy offender.

      Vertical farms by definition don’t remediate the soil so I wonder how much of a solution they are. As you hinted, they seem to be mostly an expensive neoliberal corporate infested fad which points to more greenwashing than substance.

      1. JohnMinMN

        My go-to kale side dish is kale with onion, turmeric powder, and coconut aminos sauteed in olive oil.

    3. carl

      I know I’m weird, but I like raw kale salads. So the three varieties in the garden are heaven for me.

  3. William Hunter Duncan

    We just rolled out our website, trying to convince cities and towns to build a food forest, farm and restaurant nonprofit on municipal ground, to feed the community, to educate the community about food and about how an economy can take care of people and the earth.

  4. rd

    Grocery store chains can play a part – here is what Wegmans does with local farmers:

    Much of the country can actually meet much of their local produce and meat locally, but it will require a bit less focus on efficicency and profits. It will require a bigger picture than just quarterly maximized profit. Companies like Wegmans make very good money in the long run, but look after employees and suppliers. It can be win-win.

    There should be an optimal blend of local, national, and international food production and distribution that provides for year-round variety while having fundamental resilience built in. We don’t necessarily need to go back to being Russian peasants digging up frozen potatos in February.

  5. JeffK

    While I fully support organic food production, CSAs, permaculture and regenerative agriculture as ideals to aspire to and support with your food purchases, if you are like me and want to make those ideals a hard reality by purchasing land and farming it the ‘right way’, you face the discouraging fact that the majority of arable land is too expensive to purchase; owned by REITs, Ag land consolidation interests financed by the likes of ADM, Koch industries, and a plethora of small time real estate parasites who have purchased good land to flip for their “earned income”. Also, don’t forget the regulations of local counties and municipalities that dictate what kind of agriculture is permitted in their district. Good luck planting your permaculture food forest in the heart of soybean country. These communities are supported by taxes generated by big Ag interests with 10,000 acre operations. When Earl Butts told farmers to “get big or get out” it signaled the end of yeoman agriculture idealized by Jefferson.

    I don’t believe joining a movement is going to topple the blind behemoth – the wall street financed machine of big Ag. Joining will not send a message to the USDA to stop industrial meat production or wholesale spraying of herbicides and pesticides on corn and soy. Joining will not convince the thousands of real estate parasites, who are inclined to sit in their “wealth” until the land market improves, to sell their holdings at a reasonable rate to well-meaning small farmers for the good of the nation. Joining a movement will not convince the board members of ADM and Koch that it is not in the best interests of their shareholders to sell assets to the general public because they can do Ag better.

    I am at a loss as to how noble ideals for food production become realized at scale now. I’ve held on those ideals for a half a century and it seems more removed from reality than it did when I first dreamed of it. I don’t have any recommendations for killing the big Ag beast or starving the real estate parasites. I can only vote with my fork, buy organic, maybe join a CSA. But the fact is, the majority of world doesn’t give a rip. They want to eat cheaply. They don’t care where it comes from, or whether it is adulterated with pesticides or heavy metals, or who produced it, or whether it was environmentally unsustainable. They want to live comfortably like rent-collectors and be entertained.

    1. Carla

      And then there’s fracking. It’s my understanding that the mineral rights to all the rural land that might be suitable for sustainable agriculture in the state of Ohio have been purchased. So you can buy land and get a wonderful sustainable farm going, and have one of the extraction industries come in and contaminate your property with hydraulic fracturing, or mineral mining or some damned other thing. Some of the ads for rural land state that the mineral rights are not included with the property, but many don’t. I was looking into buying some rural land after the 2008 crash so I called a real estate agent who had advertised in the area I was interested in. I said I was only interested in land that came WITH mineral rights. He replied: “There isn’t any.” So I asked, what about in other areas, and he chuckled and said “There isn’t any in the state of Ohio.”

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        In the immortal words of John Paul Getty: “The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights.”

    2. Kfish

      ‘Nature’s Always Right’, a farm business with its own Youtube channel, is operating out of rented suburban backyards. He’s using his own backyard, plus the neighbour’s by agreement. Several people who have tried this route report being offered more land than they can use.

      Hopefully as more backyard gardeners operate and publicise their businesses, it will become more socially acceptable. Here in Australia, market gardens working a quarter-acre (1000 square metres) were fairly common up until the 1950s.

      1. JeffK

        Two things: (1) 80% of all small farms require supplemental off-farm income to survive. Popular urban farming businesses [see Curtis Stone’s Urban Farming YouTube channel] survive on YouTube income, low wage or volunteer interns doing the hard stuff, books and speaking fees, and a market environment that includes high end restaurants to capture returns for their top dollar salad mixes. Curtis doesn’t grow potatoes or tomatoes because they don’t pay the bills. Even the most exemplary regenerative agriculture farms that grow a complete human diet (except for grains) require low wage interns, workshops, and book sales to thrive [see Richard Perkins’ Ridgedale Permaculture, and even Joe Salatin].

        (2) The problem lies in figuring out how to scale up these environmentally responsible farming methods while being socially responsible. In my mind the Ridgedale Permaculture model can’t scale to a larger geographic footprint, but it could be multiplied in many smallish places so long as the farms don’t compete each out of a livelihood. As is, Ridgedale is disconnected from the main food distribution system that feeds the cities – which is another major barrier to multiplying the regenerative Ag model. The food distribution network that feeds cities is dependent on mechanized industrial Ag at scales measured in thousands of acres. The economy of that scale makes food affordable if you live in a city. If we could change the distribution network (and comply with food safety requirements) we might have a chance at sustainable regenerative Ag. Probably not in my lifetime.

        1. Math is Your Friend

          I don’t think these things can scale up. For one thing there probably isn’t enough volunteer labour.

          There are good reasons why ‘base load’ agricultural operations tend to be large, often having to do with making enough food with few enough people that the majority don’t have to be farmers… and also providing the depth of knowledge that specialization can provide. As farming becomes more complicated and efficient, the less likely it is that amateurs can provide the same output with the same opportunities for sustainable land use. Some of them can master the intricacies, of course, but given the inherent per capita output limitations.

          There are reasons family owned wheat farms tend to start small at around 260 hectares (1 sq mi) and go up from there (average farm size is now 315 hectares), and at that size they are still renting or sharing a lot of the necessary equipment.

          With a total of 300,000 farm operators and 200,000 farms (of all kinds for all agricultural products) wheat farmers alone can produce 30 million tonnes of wheat a year.

          That’s about 800 kg of wheat for every person in the country… and wheat plus oilseeds is only one of a half dozen areas of major agricultural output. You just aren’t going to get that kind of result out of low tech small scale farming. Without the kind of high efficiency farming now carried on, a lot of people will starve.

          1. JeffK

            First, I also don’t think permaculture can scale in farm size. I make the distinction that it is a model that could possibly be multiplied (many small units instead of few big ones) if the food distribution network was set up different – which it is not.

            Reasons why family owned wheat farms tend to start at 260 acres: The homestead acts gave each pioneer person 160 or 180 acres. If the government had doled out smaller tracts then I think agriculture in the west would have started out a lot different. There are a lot of people who want to be farmers today but are locked out now because of ridiculously high land prices. The big family farms that can’t make it have to sell to investment Ag-land consolidation interests, which forces the rest to be renters if they want to use that land. Corporations might be “efficient” producers, but they are sociopaths when it comes to putting the environment and public health ahead of profits. They are locked into the perpetual “growth in quarterly profits” to satisfy investors. Or, hell, just sell a piece of your land to an energy company and get some fracked oil royalties…like what is going on in the western Dakotas and eastern Montana.

            Only a fraction of commodity grains are produced here for domestic human food consumption. Some of the excess commodities are produced for foreign aid and end up destroying the local and regional markets of developing countries (yes, they feed the desperately hungry, but at a long term economic cost…we could start a whole new thread on the impacts of the IMF and World bank on agricultural development). But lets not compare apples and oranges; few if any of the permaculture or CSA farms produce grain or oil seed. Those that produce farm-direct or inspected meat probably rely on conventional Ag produced grain for feed. Nobody is talking about replacing conventional grain production with small scale permaculture or CSA farms.

            The impact of big farm – efficiently overproduced “base load” corn and soy on human health is obvious; an obesity and diabetes epidemic from consuming nutritionally poor food-like substances. The benefits of small scale vegetable, egg, meat, and fruit production produced on CSA and permaculture farms is improved soil health, increased biodiversity, reduced pollution of water and air, increased rural economic development, and an improved sense of well being from having a non-destructive sustainable relationship with nature.

    3. Amfortas the hippie

      Big Ag is inherently fragile.
      lots of complicated inputs that rely on long supply chains and complex manufacturing and extraction.
      can’t have a CAFO without abundant antibiotics, abundant grain, abundant pesticides, etc etc.
      each of which has it’s own resiliency problems…grain relies on natgas and oil for the tractors, the herbicides and fertilisers, and on and on…to say nothing of the gene spliced…or even just hybrid…crops.
      They cannot exist without the whole thing….and without billions per year in welfare.
      anything that relies so utterly on hypercomplexity and perfect conditions is NOT resilient or robust.
      and this is to say nothing about the total reliance on the incestuous Financial sector….AMD doesn’t search under the couch cushions when it’s time to plant 10,000 acres of corn….it sells futures, bonds, and all manner of exotic financial vehicles.
      The collapse of Big Ag will mean famine…I’m not at all sanguine about that….but it’s also one of the main changes to How We Do Things that is required to chart a different path as a civilisation.
      It would have been better if we had been allowed to make these necessary changes before a massive crisis….but we weren’t…TINA and anti-free market tactics have undermined any alternative approach.

      1. Math is Your Friend

        Evolved complexity and fragility are not the same thing. In fact, advanced industrial societies are remarkably resilient, in a large part because of their efficiencies, their accumulated physical resources, and their high productive output.

        We spend a lot of that output on things we don’t really need, like fashionable clothing, exotic foods, new cars, foreign travel, arts and entertainment, professional sports, at least half of the current university programs… a whole bunch of things not really contributing to survival and building future capacity and capabilities.

        That represents a lot of resources that can be redirected, if we really need them during a period of critical need. Our production of many critical items far exceeds the needs of our population – for example we can all get by on a couple of tonnes of agricultural output, while producing an order of magnitude more without even deploying underutilized resources from less useful tasks.

        Our output of other critical materials – (oil, aluminum, nickel are examples), are, or can be, far in excess of necessary levels. That would cut into exports, but if we buy fewer optional goods abroad, that may not matter. We don’t need foreign wines or a new smartphone every couple of years.

        Getting rid of useful complexity reduces capabilities and surplus resources, and thus flexibility and useful responses to changing challenges. A sailboat is quite a bit simpler to build than a steamship or diesel powered vessel, but the latter vessel, with a similar crew size can transport a thousand times as much in a year, with greater safety and reliability. It’s worth it. (not to mention the shortage of big trees for masts for all the boats we’d need).

        Many of the trendy concerns are over-hyped, and at least partly due to inadequate information. GMO foods, for example, are not inherently a technical or health problem. They’re a legal problem, and changing the laws could fix that. We’ve been redesigning plants for 10,000 years, and animals for probably 6,000 to 8,000 years, but now we are more efficient and more precise about it.

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          “agricultural output”
          doesn’t even begin to describe what humans actually need from a food supply.
          Is that in SoyBeans? or are you counting bushels of corn?
          “Man cannot live on bread alone…”
          Tomatoes, and all the rest of the fruits and veggies, are considered “Specialty Crops”, and enjoy much, much less government largesse, than corn, soya and canola(rapeseed, an industrial lubricant(!!))
          the results of consuming so damned much of the “commodity crops”.. an engineered feat, to accomplish the maximilised usage of a subsidised crop…are diabetes, obesity, various other metabolic disorders, antibiotic resistance, non-resilient monocropping, concentrated hog effluvia and the death of the formerly robust and resilient local family farmer.
          People scoff at the idea of Jefferson’s Yeoman…but we’re fixin to run that experiment, in real time.
          I await, eagerly, the Results.

  6. BoyDownTheLane

    You build a movement one pebble, one drop, one person at a time. Stop worrying about BigAg and worry about how you, your family, your children and then maybe your closest neighbors are going to get good nutritious food and clean water. There’s a fellow on the ballot in the Massachusetts Senatorial race campaigning on those issues. His name is Dr. Shiva; you can find him. He has four degrees from MIT.

    I wish all the good kale dishes you can create (and a lot of this is about personal food creation, cooking, engineering a meal); I can’t stand the stuff and because I’m on warfarin, can’t eat a lot of it.

    From what I gather, it’s relatively easy (especially if you have a green thumb) to grow herbs and veggies and fruit and potatoes on what amounts to a special porch carved out of whatever you have. Attention must be given to sunlight, energy, water, sewage (grey water outflow), etc. A lot of this is simply time and energy that most of us aren’t used to dedicating; As Jeff said, most are interested in sitting, snacking, consuming glass-screen events, or doing whatever it is that they do for creative, productive employment (paid or otherwise).

    But if there is no food on the shelves, in the “pipeline”, then your priorities get shifted. When you shift your priorities, you gave moved. If three or more people move, you have a mini-movement. Ten mini-movements, you are having a minuscule impact on Big Ag which, as we speak, is plowing their produce back into the ground. 30000 people not buying Big Ag products will get their attention.

    1. wilroncanada

      When we moved to our home here, a standard city lot 50 x 120, we put up a fence in order to plant gardens. The property had been a short cut, and the house a drug house earlier. One neighbour grew a garden; the other had a pristine lawn and back yard grass (spouse is OCD, a clean freak).. We planted a garden. The “pristine” neighbour, after 6 years, has also set up a garden; we trade seeds and plants. The other neighbour has just doubled the size of their garden. From 2 gardens on our block, there are now 6 or7, plus several more on adjoining and parallel streets. They vary in size and configuration. One man uses his deck and planters, another has torn up his front lawn to put in raised beds, others grow some veggies mixed in with their flowers and shrubs.

  7. EMtz

    No one has been hurt more by the globalized food network, and NAFTA in particular, than México’s campesinos. They are now uniting in focusing on rebuilding a resilient national food supply to resurrect food independence here.

    The subtext where Covid-19 is concerned is a 9.5% mortality rate. A disproportionately large percentage of deaths is taking place among men in their 40s. There are no public stats yet but I would bet most of them suffered from obesity, diabetes and heart disease that were pretty much unheard of here before junk food, especially soft drinks, began pouring down from the US more than 3 decades ago and which Méxicanos, unfortunately, developed a taste for. Diabetes and obesity are huge issues now. This was not the case when people followed a more traditional diet.

    The basic platform of the current leftist government’s policies is to help the poor and vulnerable. If there is anything good to come out of this pandemic for México, a sustainable domestic food production system that lifts the campesinos out of poverty may be it.

    Here’s an article in español. Google Translate can be laughable but the sense of it is there.

    “The General Workers, Peasants and People’s Union, a member of the Movement of the Field belongs to All, urged the convening of ‘a great National Agreement for the Production of Food in the Field’.

    “Luis Gómez Garay, president of the organization, pointed out that in the face of the economic slowdown caused by the Covid pandemic19, ‘the great drama of Mexico will be to remain with a greater dependence on food from abroad.’

    “He explained that in this national agreement ‘all production sectors must participate and it is necessary to establish new strategies to supply those that clearly are not giving results in increasing Mexican agricultural production.’

    “It is required ‘to protect the national productive plant and with it the jobs, of which millions of families live,’ he said.

    “Within the framework of the CI anniversary of the death of the general Emiliano Zapata Salazar, the leader of the UGOCP affirmed ‘today we are called by the need to unite to overcome this crisis. In this, the rural sector should not pay with more suffering for the historical social backwardness in which our nation has confined them ‘.

    “At this juncture, he stressed, ‘more than fighting for ideologies, colors, acronyms or past stories, Mexico must unite efforts to successfully overcome this great challenge, protect the lives of the population,’ he said.

    “Regarding the health contingency, he said that it is urgent to close ranks all; the public, private and social sectors, academies and the scientific community, producer associations, in short, everyone to inform rural communities, even the most remote ones, about the severity of the pandemic, of the mechanisms to prevent its spread, support health workers and, from the federal and state governments, strengthen infrastructure, equipment, instruments, logistics, support materials and human resources in view of the penetration of Covid-19 in rural communities.”

  8. GettingTheBannedBack

    There have always been advocates for sustainable agriculture,including the sustainable use of water. Pat Coleby, Peter Andrews, Brad Lancaster are a few of the more recent. More famous is Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms.
    Mostly these voices have been ignored. The ethos of sustainable farming is incompatible with the ethos of animals and the land as inputs in an extractive, profit-maximising business.

    We may be too late anyway. Jeremy Grantham says we have about 50 years of topsoil left.
    Also, is the world’s overpopulation only enabled by industrial agriculture?

    Like the current question of who gets to have a ventilator to breathe, might in 20 years time the question be, who gets the food to eat and the water to drink ?

    We are in the midst of a wicked problem. If this is not recognised, then everything else is Polyanna.

  9. Synoia


    There are no public stats yet but I would bet most of them suffered from obesity, diabetes and heart disease that were pretty much unheard of here before junk food, especially soft drinks, began pouring down from the US more than 3 decades ago and which Méxicanos, unfortunately, developed a taste for. Diabetes and obesity are huge issues now. This was not the case when people followed a more traditional diet.

    In CA’s Orange County, I have heard the local Hispanics make the same observation. They were all slim until the came to the US. I have heard speculation that the traditional Maze they used to eat in Michoacán was less fattening than the US Varietals.

    This is anecdotal.

    1. wilroncanada

      Maise, local specialty varieties of corn by the thousand, under NAFTA, who needed it? Our US soft drinks (soda in the US) and mystery meat, and GMO corn, wheat etc, that’s what Mexico got. Of course, wasn’t its president a former economic hit man for Coke (the drinking kind)?

  10. MaxFinger
    How to Increase Food Production in Your Community

    The Cooperative Gardens Commission is launching a public campaign to increase community food production in every community. Our aim is to connect those with food-growing resources — including seeds, soil, tools, equipment, land, labor, and knowledge — with those who lack such resources, and ultimately to get as much land as possible producing food during this time of uncertainty.
    It is a great group of people supporting farming and gardening.

  11. Oti

    Sure thing. But at a larger scale will people be really interested in changing the food system? Most of them voted for Biden ffs.

  12. Kouros

    What if all the money put into the development of the F-35 would have been used instead in developing robotic tools for agriculture (solar powered as much as possible)? Smaller crawlers that can seed, can pull out weeds and pick some of the critters eating “our” food, and maybe do some of the harvesting!?

  13. converger

    Community supported agriculture. Farm to fork. Farmer’s markets. Very cool. All of them have failed to prevent small farmers with nobody to sell food to on the front end, or people with nothing to eat on the back end in the current crisis. Wonderful though they are in intention and practice, the fatal weakness of all of the well-intentioned efforts across the country to build viable alternatives to national and regional food chains dominated by oligopoly and rent extraction is precisely that they hinge on a fragile, informal network of local social relationships.

    Local food networks need to grow up if they are going to become more than an interesting and stylish niche for the 10%. We need to be thinking about how to build a value chain that provides resilience to producers, processors, and consumers. To take just one small example, if the local boutique restaurant is closed due to COVID-19, it can act as a distribution point for its food sources, process food for food banks, and deliver meals to families in need. A robust food hub could add resilience by matching producers to wholesalers, retailers, and direct consumers, enhancing existing networks based on social relationships by making it easy to adjust when things go pear-shaped.

    In a way, this is nothing new: it is precisely why farmer’s co-ops were created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What we can add to that mix now is direct, community-embedded local and regional connections to food distribution that directly supports both producers and consumers, reducing the capacity of predatory middlemen to extract profit from simply being in the way of a free flow of information and food.

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