NOTE: This is a guest post from Siena Chrisman, Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Alliances at WhyHunger, with excerpts from Andrianna Natsoulas’ Food Voices.
In the spring of 2010, WhyHunger began a partnership with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. Food Voices captures the testimonies and images of farmers and fisherfolks across five countries who are fighting for a just, sustainable and sovereign food system; a food system that values quality over quantity, communities over individuals, and the environment over the corporate bottom-line.
Andrianna talked to Maine farmer, and WhyHunger partner, Bob St. Peter in 2011. After traveling and living in various places in the U.S. and around the world, Bob began to reject what he viewed as a privileged culture. He now farms to feed his community in Sedgwick, Maine. At a certain point, his interests in farming and living a simple life merged with his political leanings and Bob discovered a global movement of rural people and small farmers called the food sovereignty movement.
“For me,” Bob says, “food sovereignty means being able to farm and care for a piece of land in a way that I feel is appropriate, without having market forces dictate what or how I grow. I get to make those decisions, as a steward of the land. I get to do that here in this place with my family in this time.”
Soon Bob began talking about food sovereignty principles within his own community and leading local efforts for change. On March 7, 2010, Sedgwick passed the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance — a food sovereignty ordinance. Bob is also the director of Food for Maine’s Future a board member of National Family Farm Coalition, and an active member of La Via Campesina.
“Rural Maine is known for being independent and willing to assert local control over governance. Through the organizing work — local farm, local food organizing work, this moment has arisen where people are being presented with a choice of the future for our community. On the one hand, there are regulations and market forces, including real estate, making it very hard to farm. On the other hand, we have people from across a political spectrum getting together and saying that we want to preserve this way of life.
“A group of us crafted a local food ordinance that would exempt direct farm sales – from the people who are producing it to the people who are eating it – from many state or federal licensing and inspection. Basically, regulations that are usurping our self-governance, our right to govern our own local food supply and to not have any undue burdens placed upon that. We are asserting our food sovereignty and saying that we have it under control and we can do a better job than the state and the department of agriculture and, certainly, the USDA and FDA.
“Generally, there’s the tendency to make things easy for the regulators. There is this tendency to concentrate and make everything so specialized, so you can judge it on quantitative measures, rather than qualitative measures. They say it is in the name of food safety, I think it is in the name of efficiency. It is easier to regulate one large operation than a bunch of small operations, but the regulations are making it difficult for small diversified farms who do a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
“I think there’s been an ongoing debate in this country since it was officially founded about the role of farmers. If you are going to colonize or conquer people, you take away their ability to feed themselves. It has been shown time and again. And that, coincidentally or not, pretty much has happened in this country for the last 70 years. Rural communities have been stripped of their ability to feed themselves because of very specific policy choices at the highest levels of government.
“It’s not so much as tyranny of government per se, as it is tyranny of the corporations who are aided and abetted by the government. And that’s what’s undermined our ability to feed ourselves. The bankers should really find something better to do with their time. Growing potatoes, raising chickens. There are all kinds of things people could be doing better with their time than finance capitalism.
“The more the system that we have collapses under its own weight, the next time we have a billion eggs recalled because of salmonella, the demand for local eggs is going to go up. Same with spinach, same with whatever. The more people get sick, the more clear it is that that’s not the best way to do things. Then, people will start asking other questions. How did it get that way? Does it have to be that way? And our job is to come in with the answers, or with a direction. If we are effective as food sovereignty advocates and activists, we are going to help those people understand why we need a local food movement.”
After Bob’s community passed the Local Food Ordinance, four other towns in Maine followed suit. But the State of Maine is challenging the ordinances. In November 2011, Dan Brown, owner of Gravelwood Farm in Blue Hill, Maine, where a Local Food Ordinance was passed, was served notice that he is being sued by the State of Maine for selling food and milk without State licenses. In response, small farmers and communities are organizing and fighting the lawsuit. Dan Brown continues to sell his products, and his farm patrons continue to buy them. For more information, visit Local Food Local Rules.
WhyHunger is a leader in building the movement to end hunger and poverty by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions that inspire self-reliance and community empowerment. Founded in 1975 by the late Harry Chapin & current Executive Director Bill Ayres, WhyHunger works to put an end to hunger suffered by 49 million Americans and nearly 1 billion people worldwide. Find out more at www.whyhunger.org.
Andrianna Natsoulas is an advocate for social justice and environmental stewardship. She has worked at several organizations, including Greenpeace, Public Citizen and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. Currently, Andrianna is a consultant. For more information, please visit www.foodvoices.org
Photo credit: Andrianna Natsoulas