By Duncan Kinney
The G20 in Toronto last year was an unmitigated disaster. The local police chief played fast and loose with the law, over 900 people were arrested and a slew of otherwise regular Torontonians were swept up in a ridiculous and downright threatening piece of law and order theatre.
To be sure, there was a reason the police were out in force. Former G20 meetings have been marred by violence and property damage. The so-called Black Bloc made an appearance – winning over people to their point of view via the always-successful methods of smashing store windows and setting a police vehicle on fire.
But for all the sturm and drang that accompanied the G20, there’s a case to be made that the suburban mom in yoga pants pushing her over-large stroller through the farmer’s market is doing more to smash the global corporate state than any number of black balaclava-clad yobs. Buying direct from a farmer, tending your own garden or even hunting are far more effective tactics at subverting global corporatism than any number of burning cop cars.
With the global food system dominated by an increasingly concentrated number of vertically integrated corporations, you don’t have to read Michael Pollan to see that the way international food system works benefits a select few multinational actors while the rest of the world either goes hungry or piles on the pounds.
While the efficiencies of global shipping are striking, more and more people are finding value in re-localizing their food systems. By going to farmer’s markets, by gardening in your backyards and by foraging for your own food, you engage in one of the most powerful forms of activism.
Just don’t use that word.
Don Ruzicka proudly calls himself a grass farmer. Don and wife Marie run Sunrise Farm, an organic operation near Killam Alberta. With spring coming, Ruzicka has prepared the brooder, getting reading for the arrival of chicken and turkey chicks.
They don’t just raise poultry; they also produce certified organic beef, eggs and natural pork using a free-range pasture model to graze the livestock and poultry. Aside from that, he’s committed to biodiversity in a serious way, planting 50,000 trees since 2003, mounting birdhouses on every fencepost and constructing bat houses. Each spring, he plants three plots of wheat, oats, barley, peas, corn and sunflowers to provide feed for fall migrating birds as well as native birds that spend the winter on the farm.
He takes his responsibilities as a steward of the land seriously, but he realizes that the best way to change the global industrial food system isn’t going to involve showy theatrics.
“I don’t really want to go out and burn my bra or come down from the roof into [Premier] Ed Stelmach’s lap and tell him that we have to change things,” says Ruzicka. “I’d like to come at it from a peaceful perspective. I used to be pretty ignorant standing up in front of people and pointing a finger at industrial agriculture. I had some wise people come and say, ‘Don, just do something that gives people a sustainable choice and you’ll be doing way more than all the finger pointing you can do.’ ”
You can see the reluctance to call himself an activist, the reluctance to hold himself out there as some kind of outlier, but Ruzicka is nothing if not an outlier. The majority of our food doesn’t come from people like Don Ruzicka but it can’t start without Don Ruzicka being there in the first place.
This is how real change happens, the slow methodical life’s work of people who are invested in the success of their idea.
Ruzicka is a family farmer, as he doesn’t bring in outside labour to help with the daily work of the farm. In Canada there is an organization dedicated to advocating for family farmers and combating large-scale agribusiness. Called the National Farmer’s Union, it works toward the development of economic and social policies that will maintain the family farm as the primary food-producing unit in Canada.
The NFU is also the only English-speaking Canadian member of the highly influential farmer’s movement La Via Campesina (The Peasant’s Way). It was La Via Campesina that originally coined and championed the idea of food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is the claimed right of people to define and build their food systems as opposed to having their food systems defined by international actors.
There are seven underlying principles that set up the idea of food sovereignty and you can check them out here.
Kevin Wipf is the executive director of the NFU and is a PhD candidate at the U of A. He’s based in Saskatoon. He’s a fairly regular dude, he follows hockey and he retweets some of Andrew Coyne’s more salient points on the tics of Canada’s political leaders, but he’s also intimately familiar with the problems family farmers are facing in Canada.
Wipf argues that the problems a farmer faces in Canada are the same as those faced by a farmer in Guatemala. With Canadian farmers actually posting negative incomes, it might not be such a stretch. The idea of defining and creating your own food systems becomes a lot more important when the people who choose to produce our food are actually losing money.
“Food sovereignty is about more than economic well-being, it’s about justice. It’s about justice in the food system. Food is a lot more than a commodity,” says Wipf.
“This is about is understanding food in a bigger and different way than our current market system.”
And while the NFU concentrates on the minutiae of global trade agreements, writing policy and doing the spadework so family farms can succeed, they don’t hold themselves up as some revolutionary force. Yet as it stands, the work done by farmers, consumers and advocates in the food space might be the first place that the steady grip of global corporatism is first loosened.
If food and agriculture are the entry points for a truly revolutionary anti-corporate movement, then author/farmer Wendell Berry laid out why in one of his more succinct quotes.
“If you eat, you’re involved with agriculture.”