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Restoring Local Food and Economic Sovereignty

You can imagine this scenario: three days after the trucks stop rolling, a thought slowly stirs in the minds of millions of hapless Missourians, one sixth of whom exist in the fog of Federal Food Supplements and handouts. Ultimately, this thought will begin to take the shape of a small bubble, which finally struggles to surface: “I can’t feed myself, and nobody else can either!”

This article has been submitted by Galen Chadwick, the regional coordinator for the WFNA (www.wellfedneighbor.com). Mr. Chadwick founded a grassroots, agrarian restoration movement now spreading through 27 counties, and larger cities,in SW Missouri. The Well-Fed Neighbor Farms’ Coop, a producer owned enterprise, is being formed. Agreements are in place to begin supplying several supermarkets with loccally grown produce, meat, dairy, eggs and value-added products. Knowledge of the WFNA urban programs, including the 1,000 gardens project, has spread far and wide outside the state.

WELL-FED NEIGHBOR ALLIANCE FOOD POLICY COUNCIL Opening Remarks
NOVEMBER 16th, 2009 ~ SPRINGFIELD MISSOURI
By Galen Chadwick

chadwick11309Good evening, friends and neighbors. Eating in this, our city’s newest restaurant (the Gastropub), fulfills a long standing desire of mine. The pub’s very existence shows that public demand for a sustainable future has found expression at the commercial level, and this is very good news for all of us. I am amazed at tonight’s gathering of 75 civic, social, and administrative leaders. Many of you have long championed a vision of a sustainable Springfield. This restaurant is the best answer to the recurring question “Why is relocalizing our food such a big deal?”

Well, consider the young college student who recently saw the movie, FOOD INC. He said, “I can’t support the violence that farmers do to the animals. That’s why, from now on, I’m not buying my meat from the Farmers’ markets, but at the grocery stores . . . where they make it.”

If this was an isolated comment, it would be funnier. The bad news is that we hear variants of this theme often. People really believe that milk “is made in the store,” or the produce, or eggs, or the cereal. The disconnect is so astonishing, the numbers involved so large, that one is left struggling for traction like a dog on roller skates.


You can imagine this scenario: three days after the trucks stop rolling, a thought slowly stirs in the minds of millions of hapless Missourians, one sixth of whom exist in the fog of Federal Food Supplements and handouts. Ultimately, this thought will begin to take the shape of a small bubble, which finally struggles to surface: “I can’t feed myself, and  nobody else can either!” No doubt a long silence will follow this epiphany, both individually and collectively. The next thought will be: “Nobody had a “Plan “B.” Ask not for whom the bell tolls . . .etc.

The lesson of history is stark: whom ever controls our food controls our destiny. Because we have lost control of our local and regional food base, the coming fight is not going to be framed by agricultural efficiencies, or government price policies, but the issue of basic survival. The top-down paradigm has failed us, and a grassroots, all-volunteer citizen’s drive to restore local food and jobs has begun. Why? Not one county in Missouri can feed its own people, much less the teeming millions in urban centers.

People are organizing around a simple demand: our food and our jobs can and must be returned. They must be returned as fast as possible. That’s it. A simple, unadorned idea, yes. And we, “the people,” leave it up to y’all in positions of governmental and academic authority to work out the details. But how? How are you actually supposed to do this?

Public education is vital, no doubt. It is our compelling need. But an abyssal gap exists between a vision and roadmap to authentic sustainability, and the dogged inertia of an uninformed public. This begs harsh questions about the effectiveness of our institutions. Held to this angle, tonight’s gathering is a tacit admission that certain limits to political authority have been reached. Those of you in high profile leadership positions know these limitations far better than most. Our only hope for mobilizing a societal and political embrace of regional sustainability depends upon creating autonomous, participatory, and pluralistic solutions, such as a Springfield Food Policy Council.



But longterm success, I think, will be driven by psychological answers far more than socio-political ones. The fact is that you, our leaders of commerce, education and governance are wedded to the status quo. You can neither predicate an awakening in consciousness nor craft solutions for problems larger than our institutions themselves. Our perpetual growth, cheap oil economic paradigm, wrought upon this finite and fragile planet, offers no way out. But finding a way out is the top item on your job description.

Broadly speaking, we are here tonight because the Well-Fed neighbor Alliance has trumpeted the notion that we can longer ignore, hide, or reverse this city’s decline towards a fearsome collective tipping point. Namely, this is the last moment, the last possible chance, for an entire society to relearn how to feed itself. The subtext is, a whole lot of us better begin learning how, and fast. And people respond. The 1,000 gardens project will soon become ten thousand gardens for a very good reason.

The last generation that can actually feed itself, and not with overseas slaves, cheap oil, and industrial mono cropping are now in their 80’s and 90’s. The last people with any inkling how to survive, and feed the rest of us, are slip-sliding away. Going with them: control of our mutual destiny. To lose the capacity for food self-sufficiency is to lose the only true commonwealth that the common man has ever had.   The truth? We’ve so lost track of what is essential to our lives that freedom itself is now on the line. Food sovereignty means, “We, the people, have the inalienable and God-given right to own, grow and trade our own food under no other authority than what we ourselves see fit.”

Simply put, the question “Why a Food Policy Council?” comes within a larger context, comes with an impetus to recognize and name a loss of culture and identity so great we cannot speak to it. We have become helpless. So the first job for our leaders and civic role models, I think, is honesty: Restore historical memory to the public, champion the  greatness of Missouri’s Golden Age of Agriculture. Many steps are needed to restore the trust, common identity, and social capital necessary to lead through uncertain times.

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Bottom line: we’ll not enjoy a resilient and diverse economy until we relocalize our food base and again make things of value. We will not do that unless and until we have a forum for all parties to come to the table as equals. This is the greater value of this Food Policy Council: it offers a template from which other seemingly intractable local issues, such as Land Use Planning, can find citizen based remedy and solution.

At some point, we stopped appreciating our farmer patriots. The real worth of the landsman stopped mattering to us. Everything else became more important, more valuable than food. We boast that we spend only 10% of our money on food. Yes, and look at the result! That we no longer know why, where or how our food comes to us is compound ignorance gone to seed. No one says out loud, “I’ll buy apples picked by prison slaves in China, or tomatoes picked by barefoot and hungry kids in Mexico before I will pay one dollar more to my neighbor down the lane” but that’s what we do. That’s what box stores are for. People have been programmed to think and act this way. Our ignorance is pervasive, scalar, and institutionalized. Again, we are in deep, deep trouble.

The WFNA is committed to a vision of bioregional sustainability and food self-sufficiency. There is no downside to restoring food and jobs to our community. That is why the Alliance represents a broad spectrum of citizens, why we look like America. We are growing explosively because we advance a psychological perspective that leads to solutions, rather than a socio-political model that perpetuates division as principle.

Our motto says it all: “Your best defense against hard times is a well-fed neighbor.” Restoration spreads best by its own grassroots demonstration; the new-found interest in feeding ourselves is coming from inside the offices, and from over the fences: “How may I empower you, my neighbor, to create a future we can all embrace? When we hear this question passing along the streets, your job of leadership is well and truly done.

The Great Belief Divide, as we call it, is not between left and right, progressive or conservative mindsets. Instead, is is all about resolving two competing visions of the future, and about who controls the institutional language and structures upon which these visions logically rest.

What are those competing visions and how do we bridge them to create a sustainable Ozarks? Well, getting folks to link arms is what it is all about, and creating the Springfield Food Policy Council is an elegant place to start. But given the limits of time this evening, I suggest that discussions aimed at creating grassroots support for a sustainable city would best be held over chips and fondue down here at the Gastropub. Maybe I’ll see you around and, before the snow flies, we can talk about strategies for sustainability through transpersonal awakening. Thank you so much for coming.

This article has been submitted by Galen Chadwick, the regional coordinator for the WFNA (www.wellfedneighbor.com). Mr. Chadwick founded a grassroots, agrarian restoration movement now spreading through 27 counties, and larger cities,in SW Missouri. The Well-Fed Neighbor Farms’ Coop, a producer owned enterprise, is being formed. Agreements are in place to begin supplying several supermarkets with loccally grown produce, meat, dairy, eggs and value-added products. Knowledge of the WFNA urban programs, including the 1,000 gardens project, has spread far and wide outside the state.

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This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on November 30th, 2009

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