June 2011

Social Justice within a Food System Change

Don Bustos

The subject of food and growing food is very political, and has social and cultural impacts. In New Mexico, although there are a number of organizations working on issues related to food systems, few have had the awareness to include social justice in their mission or to fully take into account the impact of their work on ranchers, farmers, distributors and consumers.

Over the next few months in a series of articles in Green Fire Times, I will explore this volatile subject: our traditional food systems vs. the predominant food system, within the context of sustainable agriculture. There are several areas of disagreement on what role agriculture or sustainable agriculture plays and how important it is to our food security in the region. How important is our local food, and to what extent do state and federal governments have influence over the food production?

I will discuss agribusiness and its food production methods. I think a review that compares this approach, which encourages a large and a centralized food system, with the alternative—a regional food or local food system—is in order.

There are many other relevant issues I will also discuss. There are divisions between traditional and new farmers. There are growing systems that clash with available water distribution. There are markets that don’t plan for growth, and large markets that don’t know how to support farmers in meeting the demand for their products. There are food safety issues that feel like an attack to eliminate small growers.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Police (IATP) Fellows Program, of which I am a member, is working to create a food system that strengthens the health of communities, particularly children. The IATP is focused on work that creates a just, equitable and healthy food system from its roots up.

Some of the areas I will touch on include:

• Displacement of traditional communities

• Network development as it relates to food systems and the aggregation of produce

• Inadequate resource distribution

• The devaluing of ancestral knowledge

• Economics

• The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture: how it affects NM, and how can we work to change federal policy

I know several high-level organizations that have attempted to improve local food systems, but as sometimes happens, the local communities were not well prepared. At the end of the project the communities are left in a less than ideal condition, with a sense of being used and disempowered. Well-meaning individuals sometimes attempt to do good things and “save” the local folks, who end up being left on the sidelines.

Considering that we live in a state with limited water, hundreds of years of displacement, gentrification, a sense of manifest destiny, and a continued history of not addressing issues, this may be where the conflict begins: not understanding cultural differences or respecting the wishes of indigenous communities.

Through this discussion and in addressing how our food is grown and by whom, we may not come up with the complete answer. But it may help us understand the deeper issues. It may also help us develop a method through which farmers and ranchers could participate to diffuse the tension between traditional agriculture and the new farming movement.

Don Bustos manages Santa Cruz Farms in northern NM. It is certified organic and grows several varieties of vegetables year round. Its vegan produce uses no animal byproducts. Solar energy is its major input. Contact: DBustos@afsc.org

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