Mt. Washington Forum Speech

September 14, 2010

Hi, I would like to start with a few quotes that illustrate how I feel about food, the earth and humanity.

I’ll start here with a quote from Vandana Shiva, an Indian Woman and activist of seed and food.  In her book Stolen Harvest, Shiva quotes the ancient Hindu text, Taitreya Upanishad,

“From Food, all creatures are produced.  Being born from food, when born they live by food, on being deceased, they enter into food.”

Next I have a quote here from Mark Winne, a man who has spent his life trying to close the food gap for the people most effected the consequences of our agricultural system, this is from Closing the Food Gap, resetting the table in the land of plenty,

“No matter where you live, there are opportunities to make a difference in the food system.  But it is important to remember that because the food system is so diverse and complex, it has many interconnected parts, none of which can be ignored for too long before the system falls out of balance.  Focus to intently on hunger, and you’ll lose sight of its cause.  Devote yourself too narrowly to agriculture, and you’ll forget about the consumer.  Care to much about your own food, and you’ll forsake food justice.  There are larger purposes in life when all our interests come together.  Closing the food gap is one of them.

Next I have a quote here by Wendall Berry, who some might call the father of sustainability and a staunch backer of the small organic farm movement and all around common sense talker in my opinion,

“To Cherish what remains of the Earth and foster its renewal, is our only legitimate means of survival”

Now, I’m going to talk about food production and consumption, about what we eat, how we buy it, and who produces it.  In particular I will talk about the role that community supported agriculture is playing and can play on a local, national, and international level in re-engineering our food system and local economies to truly feed the people.  I will begin by talking about Csa farms at the local level.  Then I will talk briefly about the meaning of   CSA farms on a national and international level.  Finally, I will talk about the farming organization, Community Cooperative Farms the my friends and I started this summer and the role we envision ourselves playing in the growth of Community supported agriculture and ecologically sustainable food communities.

-Now to start talking about Community Supported Agriculture in our local community, it is important to understand that when i refer to CSA farms i mean all small scale biodynamic/organic/all natural farms, because they  inherently involve localized producer-consumer relationships.  These relationships build the basis of a healthy food community.  The growth of small farms in our local area is a testament to growing co-producer support.  The term co-producer refers to community members that choose to support their local farms in ways that go beyond traditional consumer relationships.  Growth of ecologically and socially conscious small farms in Southern Berkshire county has been rapid, producing a growing number of farmers markets, roadside stands, pre-pay CSA options, and  farm to table menu items at local restaurants.  This growth has been inspiring, but we still have a long way to grow.  Today, the fact remains, even here, that people are to busy with their regular schedules to, one educate themselves about our food system, which lacks any type of transparency, and two apply that knowledge, within their budget, in the overstuffed refrigerators we call grocery markets.  This is why even in an area like this many people often turn to the grocery store for produce, not knowing it is available at one of the many local farms.  Great Barrington a town of around 8,000 people has no less than 4 large grocery markets all of which carry products that have travelled extreme distances to get here.  While all four grocery stores operate on different models of business they have all made the conscious effort to support the burgeoning small farm movement or at least make the appearance of support.  However, the fact remains that the majority of their products are not produced locally.  A number of factors contribute to this, consumer demand for products that cannot be produced here, a need for more small farms, grocery markets demands of production on local producers etc.  These grocery market efforts have in some ways been beneficial to the small organic farm movement, but in sapping coproducer support from small farms by satiating them with supposed local and organic products is proving detrimental.  So today it is still true that even with “local” and “organic” option in the store one cannot know the truth about their food unless they know where it comes from.  However, if the rise of small organic/biodynamic farms continues individuals may once again have the security of knowing the local farmer and buying directly from the farm.  It is at this crucial time, as the movement really takes root that co-producers and farmers develop an even deeper connection to help us take the next step in revitalizing our food production systems and the overall health of our communities.

The Manifesto on the future of Food and seed is a document released by the international commission on the future of food released in 2003.  It is the synthesis of ideas from hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals around the world working to change the food system for a just and vibrant tomorrow.  I believe it lays down the guidelines for food production and consumption for a socially vibrant ecologically sustainable future.  The manifesto proclaims that everyone has the right to healthy affordable food, the right to know how that food was produced, who produced it, and where it was produced.  These are rights denied to all of us by the globalization of agriculture.

In local small scale farming operations we must recognize, support, and celebrate the role of the traditional and indigenous farmer as the primary sources of knowledge and wisdom concerning the appropriate relationship between human beings, the land, and long-term sustenance.  Their direct experiences of interaction between plants, soil, climate, and other conditions and their key relationship with their communities, offer us priceless knowledge that is in constant threat of extinction due to a one size fits all global agricultural monoculture.  In Some areas, this era of monoculture has destroyed much of this knowledge, knowledge of survival, of self-reliance, of what truly is important for humanity, and of course of real food security.  This once intrinsic cultural knowledge has been stripped away and replaced by momentary cultural phenomena, distracting and satiating us, as new and old social, political, ecological, and of course medical problems grow and multiply.

On the other hand, small scale farming has existed for thousands of years and was adapted to almost every environment creating a viable means of survival for humanity, that many of us now regard as primitive.  These small farms lead us to an understanding of the richness of diversity, of plants, of animals, of ideas, of cultures, and of course of soil nutrients and minerals.  Theses farmers understand that nature maintains a delicate balance between predators and pray at all levels of the ecosystem.  They understood and continue to understand that human survival and health is directly linked to the health of the soil.  In the last half century,  much of our country has become so far removed from this basic reality that the works of people like Vandana Shiva and Wendell Berry are hailed as revolutionary when once their statements would have been seen as common sense.  I say that the relationship between peoples survival and the land is a basic reality because without ecologically sustainable food production practices where would we be today?  Where would we be if our ancestors had not cared for the soil that sustained them, where would we be without the seeds that have been saved and passed on for centuries?  I believe we probably would not be here for very long, for what would have sustained us? An even better question for the future might be what will sustain us?  Here in the u.s. only 2% of people are farmers and the majority of them are practicing agroindustrial sponsored soil nutrient depletion and poisoning.   For here in the U.S. the epicenter of industrial farming we have largely lost this basic knowledge in majority of our communities.  this knowledge must be recovered and rejuvenated to create a brighter more culturally and ecologically diverse atmosphere in which the future of humanity can thrive.  I talk about the importance of cultural diversity as meaning so much because I believe that creativity flows from the interaction of different cultures. From these interactions unique solutions appear that perhaps would not/could not be seen in a monoculture state of mind.

Now here in Southern Berkshire county I believe that we are beginning slowly to relearn, re-grow, and restore this invaluable knowledge   The growing number of small farms and farming organizations is evidence of this, with more small farmers practicing ecologically sustainable methods or in most cases working to redevelop these methods, our soil will be more fertile in  the future and thus our harvests more abundant.  But this raises another important question about CSA role in our area, what will we harvest?  This is a choice that farmers and co-producers can begin to make together.  However, Today both the average farmer, even small farmer, and consumer actually have very little say in what is grown and consumed.  This is because we live in a world dominated by a few every powerful agroindustrial corporations who largely make those decisions based on how much money will be gained from any given product.  This has led to a world where of the 80, 000 edible plants used for food only about 150 are being cultivated and just eight are traded globally and 4 dominate that market.  This is a world where we produce enough food for 12 billion people when there are only 6.3 billion people living and yet every year around a billion people suffer from malnutrition, while another billion suffer from obesity, and finally where hundreds of thousands of farmers commit suicide because of the conditions that are forced to work within.  This does not seem like a world where food is produced for people by people.  Raj Patel, a former World Trade Organization employee and now food writer and activist writes in his book Stuffed and Starved, “People should have no allusion about the global food system, it is not set up to feed people but to produce profit for a few agro-industrial giants and their boards of directors”

Choosing to spend our money at local farmers markets or on local farms is a first step in supporting the growth of a local food community.  However, even on small farms and at farmers markets farmer’s supply food in competition with grocery markets. These grocery markets have largely grown out of an agro-industrial market, This makes choices for the small farmer extremely difficult because while the only goal of most large farms, organic or standard, is profit, the small farmer, as stated before takes a more ecological approach making it difficult to meet grocery market standards of consistency and efficiency.  Often one cannot be ecologically sustainable and meet the existing standards.  Often small farmers turn to hybrid seeds which offer a high level of consistency in harvest quantity, size and color.  These are the same seeds used in industrial organic production, designed for easy mechanical harvest.  in short they are used to meet the demand of consumers who have been trained to shop in an industrial system.

Now there is, in my opinion, obviously a problem with industrial organic production, I would argue that it washes away the meaning of organic produce.  But here I would like to focus on the seed.  With hybrid seeds, due to World Trade organization laws, farmers largely do not have access to the parental genes used for crossing in creation of the hybrid and the varieties are often self-pollinating making it almost impossible if not impossible for the farmer to save and breed the seed.  This takes one, if not the most powerful aspects of farming out of the farmers hands, putting it into a companies lab that has a great interest in profit and little interest in the health of local communities.

The greatest tragedy of this is that these hybrid seeds follow a one-size-fits all monoculture in line with traditional industrial production.  They produce heavily fruiting plants and vegetables with damage resistant skin, that can be picked before ripe and shipped long distances, while ignoring differences in soil conditions, climates, and the overall flavor of their product.  We can begin to change this by saving seed and choosing to buy from farmers who grow locally produced seed.  Today, we can see that there are few local or regionally acclaimed vegetable seeds.  Seeds, their use and preservation were the foundation for society as we know it, they have been bred for thousands of years.  They embody the past present and future.  Families and communities that continue to save seed often have genetics that span centuries surviving droughts, rainy seasons, and all manner of soil and climate conditions, giving the vegetables or grains or fruit a flavor unique to soil it was raised in, bred for.  The practice of picking the tastiest and most nutritious plants to save seed from was and is an act of growing the chain of food security and of growing the strength of ones community.  These seeds not only give sustenance but tangible cultural knowledge.  The evolution of seeds in the future depends on conserving the widest diversity of seeds and crops to deal with the multiple challenges of food and nutritional security, food quality, climate change, and sustainability.  Thus in choosing to support and help grow local farms who grow open-pollinated heirloom vegetable and grain varieties and save seed is truly taking the next step to recreating a sustainable food community.  As a matter of principle, as a matter of both real and economic survival, seed saving farmers will and are choosing seed varieties that will enable them to conserve soil nutrients, water, and biodiversity and intelligently adapt to local and regional environmental conditions, rather than require the adaption of the environment to the needs to the seed.  Through this small CSA farms and communities are developing the seeds of tomorrow with the goal of embedding agricultural production in agroecosystems to protect soil, water, and biodiversity and increase resilience to environmental damage.  In buying locally produced food grown from locally bred seeds consumers can both take back decision making power about what they eat, truly being able to seek out and help select the nutrition and flavor that is right for them and their community.  This is a major role that consumers can play in helping small farms create a sustainable food secure future for our community, region, and world.  The tasks of restoring and re-growing our agricultural and ecological understand of humans relationship with the land is daunting but we face these challenges together.  Throughout this, I have been speaking of farmers, consumers, and co-producers hs separate sets of people with different roles but I believe that through small scale community supported agriculture these titles can begin to diminish, the idea is to form a mutual support base to navigate around market food systems and acknowledge the uncertainty of nature which we must accept to create sustainable food systems.  The idea continues that the farm will eventually become either legally or spiritually part of the community.  Through this as stated earlier consumer relationships with food take on new social dimensions often and eventually participating in plantings, upkeep, and harvests.  The benefits for our community from the re-growth of ecologically sustainable agriculture can be boundless if we all make the effort together.

Now, I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of CSA Farming in U.S. communities as being and showing a deep solidarity to farmers and consumers across the country and around the globe, many of whom are fighting to change the food system, and often in the face of much more dire consequences than we face in our community.  On a national level, the problems with the food system abound.  Diet related diseases have eclipsed hunger as our nations largest food problem, rapidly becoming our nations biggest health problem.  We now face an epidemic of obesity and diabetes that could have never been imagined.  So while the local food movement has exploded in some areas, it has yet to reach many corners of our society,especially the people who are most often effected by injustice women, people of color, and economically disenfranchised.  Today the educated and the well heeled can drive to whole foods market and shop, while both rural and urban poor communities have to take two buses to eat to the local “dread-mart”. to quote Mark Winne.  This is unacceptable unless we are willing to accept a food system that separates people by class,race or gender.   By restoring old farmland in the U.S. and committing ourselves to making the bounty of our harvests available to people of all classes we form a national bond of solidarity with our fellow citizens.

On a global level, the globalization of agriculture and global intellectual/life property rights have stripped the worlds people of their indigenous and traditional knowledge through a practice known as biopiracy.  Biopiracy is a process by which companies use indigenous knowledge especially of seed to create hybrid versions which they then are able to patent using international trade laws.  This strips the originals owners of the seed, of the right to produce and save the seed.  They are then resold the hybrid seeds that were developed from their heritage.  Often these seeds cannot be saved whether because of corrupt government law or traits given to the seed itself, like the terminator gene developed by the Monsanto Corporation which produces a dead seed.   What could be more horrible. More often the hybrids are not well adapted to local soil conditions and require fertilization which coincidentally is also sol by the companies carrying out biopiracy.  This leads to a crippling cycle of debt, with no conceivable way out because most of these people have been stripped of their means of sustenance.  Many farmers not willing to give up their land and realize the injustice that has been brought upon them, many take there lives in silent protest to the world that is being created.

It is difficult to look at the great nation-state governments of our world to help in this matter because of their seemingly blind acceptance of a world food supply controlled by a few agro-industrial giants.  Its funny to me that the argument goes that we have this system of global industrial agriculture for food security reasons.  I mean what kind of food security do we have in a country where most of our food is produced outside of our country, most of it these days seems to be coming from central and south america and if its organic then it is probably being produced in California.  What does this mean for the food security of Mexico or of California both regions where water is a precious commodity that is being thrown away to feed another country or state.  What about the food security of Europe which pays farmers to maintain unused pasture while 50 percent or more of their vegetables come from semi-arid sub-saharan countries?  What does this say about the food security in Kenya, which is experiencing terrible drought because of the overuse of water.  I would say the use of other peoples land and water to feed populations thousands of miles away is no form of food security.  The world has never had such volatile food prices, so many people living in malnutrition, so many obese and dietary related diseases, and so many obvious environmental consequences on the horizon, much of the problem here lies in the globalization of agriculture.  That is why joining groups from around the world in honoring and supporting our local food communities, so as not to rely on another peoples food, is so important in forming a bond of solidarity that can transform not only our own community and but humanity itself.

Now I would like to talk about Community cooperative Farms and the reasons that bring me here.  I’d like to start by talking about why I decided to become a farmer and staunch advocate of working to build agroecosystems.  In my life I have come to an understanding that we live in a world that truly does not stand for truth and justice. This has led me to develop a deep sense of resentment for the status quo and a sadness about human existence in our current industrial capitalist culture which I believe is destroying our humanity.  More importantly I have developed a longing to not be a part of these structural problems in our society.  I started to ask myself what was most important to me?  What makes  me truly happy?  I kept coming back to these very simple answers, food, water, shelter, the company of friends and community.  For what truly gives you the same satisfaction of filling your stomach full of nutritious food after a long day of work.  water I couldn’t think of anything that truly made me more content.  It was at this time that i discovered the food justice movement and found that my simple answers to these questions were the driving force for many people working to change the food system around the world.  The more I learned about the movement, the food system, and the history of food production, the more I felt that the most important thing that I could do to help the most people was to become a farmer and agrarian activist.  So I’m here to grow food and reconnect people with the importance of food and our relationship to the earth that provides it.  This is my passion.

Community Cooperative Farms is a project that is geared toward rejuvenating our local and regional knowledge of the relationship between human beings and our ecosystem to grow more abundant, ecologically sustainable agroecosystems.  We hope to to build a strong agrarian network to help facilitate this growth.  We believe this begins with putting existing farmland back into productive use and finding and training the farmers of the future because one of the keys to really fixing this system is to grow more farmers.  Following the success of other similar projects we decided to form a partnership with a local family, my parents THomas and Cathy Torrico to use their land in return for a steady supply of fresh vegetables, to start our first farm sites with locations on Mt.  Washington and Sheffield.  Other generous land owners have already stepped foreword giving us hope that we can expand our operation next year and the amount of people who have access to farm land.  This of course does not mean that we are not open to building more of these relationships with community members.  Every piece of land has its attributes and its drawbacks due to a varying number of factors.  A sustainable food community we believe takes advantage of all of this diversity.  This year we started Mount Washington’s first Pre-pay CSA option.  Currently we serve 9 community households and are eager to expand next year.  This year we followed a traditional CSA model where produce in season is selected for co-producers and picked up once a week.  In the coming years we hope to make this  more flexible with meat, dairy, poultry, preserved goods, and a variety of vegetables as choices in our CSA.  We also hope to be able to offer people the option of subscribing for a basket on a weekly basis, as the lump some at the beginning of the season may be difficult for some people to pay.

This year our farm is stocked with open-pollinated heirloom varieties of grains and vegetables some of which we have begun to save this year.  Saving seed like many other things in farming is very labor and detail intensive, as well as resource intensive.  Therefore we are not set up at this time to save all of the seed we grow.  We are however, seeking opportunities and grants to give us the capability to save all of our seed in the future, so that we can begin a seed saving exchange and begin building community seed banks for the sustenance of future generations.

In line with these principles we believe and would like to help facilitate the building of more agrarian infrastructure for our community farms and families to use..

In order to facilitate more locally produced products one of the first steps our communities can take is to work to build community canning kitchens, where space can be rented by local families and farms to preserve locally grown goods in a healthy and sanitary manner.   This would enable us to stock our kitchen shelves with locally produced goods throughout the winter months.   Along with this, a small stone grain processing mill would be an invaluable  contribution to any community, allowing anyone to produce bread, cereals, and animal feeds.

We also feel that the development of a year round farmers market in Southern Berkshire is in great need.  This of course would require a building and land and community wide support, a great challenge but I believe it is the an important step in building a truly sustainable local food economy where farmers are not challenged to compromise the ecosystem to meet market demands and where consumers get healthy nutritious food.

In the coming Months and next year we will hold a number of community planting and harvesting days, some small garden classes from how to start transplants to how to get the most out of your space and harvest using biodynamic techniques.  We also hope to hold some discussion groups on a wide array of topics, and of course we are excited to work with more land and help produce an abundance of food in our community.

Finally I would just like to say that the community support that we have felt from the people of Mount Washington this summer has been amazing and we cannot thank you enough.

by Justin Torrico

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