One of the first workshops on Saturday morning of the 2017 Farm to Plate Conference was lead by Corbin Laedlein in a classroom at the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School. He sat on a short chair within an intimate group of mainly white women and men, some of whom had experience with food justice work in Ithaca and worldwide, and others who were new to the topic. He aimed to help the group come to an understanding of a growing movement in the food system of the Americas, led entirely by peasant farmers, farm workers, and other people aware of the problems of the modern food system.
Corbin currently works at WhyHunger, a global organization that aids food banks and charity organizations in moving from a charity model to a food sovereignty model, with the understanding that there is a long history of philanthropy that has had a detrimental effect on social movements. WhyHunger also provides logistical and fundraising support to agroecological movements organized by underserved communities of farm workers in the United States and Latin American countries who hope to build power by sharing knowledge, creating coalitions, and working towards commons goals.
Corbin described agroecology using a definition taken from Food First, a people’s think tank centered on hunger and food movements: agroecology is a countermovement to the Green Revolution (when crop yields in developing countries increased dramatically during the mid-20th century with the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and new crop varieties), and struggles against land grabs, industrialization, and the cooptation of peasants’ rights, which are all results of government policies working within a racist, classist capitalist framework, as well as actions of big non-governmental organizations and big philanthropy, Corbin explained.
Agroecological meetings sponsored by peasant organizations are called “encounters.” Corbin spoke about both the logistical support provided by WhyHunger for these encounters but also the leadership these groups took when planning and initiating encounters, inspired by existing agricultural movements worldwide, such as La Via Campesina. La Via Campesina is the largest grassroots indigenous sociopolitical movement worldwide, emphasizing land ownership, preventing the displacement of indigenous people, and the belief that farming and technology conducted by peasants is science. Agroecology encounters in the past year or two supported by WhyHunger include the Rural Coalition in Florida, the Farm Worker’s Association of Florida, Landless Worker’s Association of Brazil, Soil Generation in Philadelphia, SoilFull City of D.C..
A strength of this movement, as described by Corbin, is that its management seems to be conducted relatively informally and organically. An example of this is a team building activity called a “Mìstica,” where participants place items of emotional significance together on the ground as a way of understanding each other’s groundings and emotional space. One audience member asked if participants of a “Mìstica” can really come to understand each other, and Corbin answered that it is more difficult if members of the encounter are from very diverse sectors of the food system, but the meetings he has witnessed have included people who come from very similar sociopolitical contexts.
The power in this agroecology movement is in the hands of the people, while ties to political and social organizations are instrumental as well. The movement emphasizes the sharing of knowledge and ideas, however there also need to be spaces, such as the Afroecology conference in Maryland, where only people color can meet in private, Corbin explained. Agroecological encounters are incredibly important to the work of food justice and food sovereignty because they build hope among communities but also are steps to rethinking the entire food system on a grassroots, anti-capitalist level.
Image credit: Family tending potato fields in Northeast Brazil. By Scott Wallace / World Bank, Photo ID: SW-BR12 Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)