Clockwise from top: Old Mill Road BioFarm in Moruya focus on growing for their local community; Vince Fitipaldi, CERES farmer down at Joe’s Garden on the Merri Creek in Coburg; Produce and preserves from Autumn Farm; Michael Plane and Joyce Wilkie, Fair Food pioneers from Allsun Farm; and homegrown garlic.
Many people speak of our current era as the time of the Great Turning, or the Great Transition. We are at a point in our journey as humanity where, as the philosopher Thomas Berry puts it, we must move from a ‘period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner’. The ways in which we produce, distribute and consume food lie at the heart of this transition. Many of us in Australia’s emerging food movement speak of this as a transition to a ‘Fair Food’ system.
WHAT IS FAIR FOOD?
Fair Food is food produced, distributed and consumed in ways that are ecologically sustainable, ethically sound and socially just. Fair Food is the Australian interpretation of the international concept of food sovereignty, which was launched in the mid-1990s by leaders of the global family farmers’ movement, La Via Campesina (or the farmers’ way).
Food sovereignty means a democratic and participatory food system at global, national and regional levels. In which farmers and communities determine collectively the purpose and design of their food systems for their own benefit, rather than the key decisions being taken by, and for the benefit of, the largest multinational agribusiness and retail corporations.
Food sovereignty is a theory and a practice in which increasingly personal and intimate relationships are formed around food. A classic example is farmers’ markets, where you can buy ‘food with a face’ directly from the person who grew or raised the food (in the case of true producers’ markets).
Even more direct is buying from the farmer, at the farm gate or farm shop. Community-supported agriculture is another expression of a connected food system, where the farmer (or group of farmers) sells shares or subscriptions in a growing season, or animal or herd, to a group of nearby residents.
OUR FOOD SYSTEM IS BROKEN
We urgently need to embrace the transition to a Fair Food system because the globalised, corporate-controlled food system is not merely broken, it’s killing us and ruining our possibilities for a decent and liveable future. Some of the more destructive impacts of this system are hunger and malnutrition, negative effects on our health and wellbeing, exploitation, soil erosion and degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change.
A DISCONNECTED SYSTEM
How did we get to this point where, collectively, we appear to be the authors of our own demise? For me the key word is ‘disconnection’.
Disconnection takes many different forms in different times and places. The issues outlined above, and many related problems, are the result of a global and national food system that suffers from an excessive concentration of economic and political power, in the hands of a few huge corporations across key sectors.
In Australia we’re all familiar with the supermarket duopoly and its increase in the grocery market share from thirty-five per cent in the mid-1970s to around seventy to eighty per cent today. This increase has coincided with an exodus of our farmers from the land. Many argue that this is no coincidence.
More generally, the broken, dysfunctional and destructive food system is itself a symptom of our culture, which values money above all else. When short-term gain is prioritised as the highest individual and social value, and becomes the overarching goal, anything becomes possible and permissible to achieve that end.
We have become disconnected and alienated from our food system – from the source of life – and so we permit all manner of things that damage it. This is why we talk about food sovereignty as the ‘connected’ food system, the ‘healing’ food system.
TIME FOR CHANGE
What can we do to make it different? This is the role of the food sovereignty movement globally, and the Fair Food movement in Australia.
A Fair Food system is a democratic, participatory food system, which works for the benefit of everyone: human and non-human; producer, worker, urban gardener and city dweller; people of all classes and cultural backgrounds; children and adults; women and men. Its highest values are universal flourishing, long-term ecosystem health, and pleasure and enjoyment for all.
Clockwise from left: CERES Fair Food’s packing crew of many nations; Michael Croft; a Fair Food pioneer; Jarrah Haynes-Smith picking rhubarb as part of the Towomba Primary kitchen garden program, Stewart Jonas from Jonai Farms connecting with his customers and taking them on a tour of his farm.
FAIR FOOD VISIONING
If we want a better, fairer world, we need to be bold and open our imaginations to what it might be like: to dream what it looks like; to feel what it might be like to be there. To paraphrase Che Guevara: we have to be realistic, but we have to dream the impossible.
In the Fair Food future that I want to see, food will be abundant. It will be growing in every town and city. Everyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from, will enjoy good, healthy food; and no one will be hungry. Everyone involved in the production of food will be treated fairly and with respect, and valued as vitally important members of society. There won’t be any factory farms.
Our soils will be thriving and full of life and fertility. Species extinction will have been halted. The climate will be stabilised.
The corporate stranglehold over our lives and institutions will be broken, and priorities for the food system will be worked out democratically.
‘Good food’ will be compulsory in school curriculums, from primary onwards, so that everyone will know and appreciate what good food is; and how to prepare, preserve and cook it. Our health, our lives and our communities will be transformed as a result.
You might say: impossible, unthinkable, impractical! But how sustainable, or liveable, is a world three or four degrees warmer than now?
How do we get from here to there? We keep doing all the positive things we’re already doing – all the work done by the permaculture movement, community gardeners, Fair Food activists, researchers and campaigners: to build knowledge, skills and capacity; to heal the land and soils; to bring people and producers closer together through farmers’ markets; to raise awareness about healthy eating; to tackle corporate concentration.
It gives me hope to know that there are individuals who have chosen to dedicate their lives to something bigger than themselves; people who have confronted feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, and faced their own fears and demons; people who are not afraid to take risks, to move beyond and outside of their comfort zones, and see where such daring takes them; people who have considered deeply what it means to be ‘human’ at this point in our evolutionary journey, what their particular skills and capacities are, and what life choices they can make in order to work for the betterment of their families and communities; people who have made major shifts at key moments in their lives, shifts that have set each of them on a course of personal transformation.
These people are Fair Food pioneers and are far from alone. On the contrary, they are representative of a swelling multitude of people around this country, and around the world, who are living and acting in ways that expand the boundaries of what is possible, what is feasible, what is acceptable.
WHAT CAN YOU DO, RIGHT NOW?
I imagine you’re already doing a lot: growing some of your own food; supporting your local grocery store and farmers’ market; being part of a local permaculture group, community garden, local food or transition network.
But one of the most powerful things we can do as individuals is try to always make ethical choices when purchasing food; choices that support our farmers, our communities and our planet.
Then look to your local community and ask yourself: ‘What can I do to make an impact?’ You could: network with others to organise a regular food swap; work with others to get your council to adopt a food policy or urban agriculture strategy; become part of the national and global movement for change.
I’m realising more and more of us share a vision of a better world, a fairer world, and that we will do what we can to bring it about. Bringing that better world about is a process, and we don’t know what progress we can make in our lifetimes. But this work, of building and sustaining a social movement focused on large-scale change, which begins from the smallest actions such as growing your own herbs and greens, is as much about the journey as it is about the destination.
The future is a book not yet written. Those of us alive right now can tell its story: about the great transition, the great transformation and the part we played in it. Or we can let others write it for us, for their own ends, and with a different ending.
It’s up to us. There is nothing more exciting, and hopeful, than working together with like-minded others for major change. That’s the gift the Fair Food movement offers you.
FAIR FOOD IN ACTION AROUND THE WORLD
Incredible Edible in Todmorden UK, where two café owners have inspired a whole village to embrace urban gardening in every available public and private space. Incredible Edibles are springing up in Australia too (e.g. Bendigo, Victoria).
Urban agriculture in Rosario (Argentina) where thousands of families were able to feed themselves during the country’s recent economic crisis by growing their own food. Now more than 800 community gardens in the city feed some 40000 people and produce surplus for sale.
Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) which exists to promote a food sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within the city’s limits.
Powerful national alliances connecting children with farmers, such as the Farm to School Network, USA. Innovative social enterprises that are providing systemic solutions to food issues, local food and jobs, such as CERES Fair Food, Victoria.
The City of Darebin adopting an Urban Food Production Strategy.
The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, which exists for organisations and individuals to ‘cooperate, to create an equitable, sustainable and resilient food system for all Australians’.
The Toronto Food Policy Council, which has put in place democratic models of food systems governance.
The Ontario Local Food Act 2013 which supports local and Fair Food enterprises and programs.
For further information see: www.incredibleedible-todmorden.co.uk, detroitagriculture.net, www.idrc.ca, www.farmtoschool.org, www.ceresfairfood.org.au, www.darebinfoodharvestnetwork.org.au, www.australianfoodsovereigntyalliance.org, www.tfpc.to, www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/about/localfood.htm
Nick Rose is the Executive Director of Sustain: The Australian Food Network; Co-Founder and former Vice-President, Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance; Lecturer, William Angliss Institute.