Re/New Alliances: Working towards farmer-scholar collaboration for food sovereignty in North America

Re/New Alliances: Working towards farmer-scholar collaboration for food sovereignty in North America (this blog is a re-post taken, with permission, from the AgroecologyNow! website)

Above: Street demonstration during the the IV National Assembly of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance in Bellingham, WA, October 2018 | Credit: David Meek


by Jahi Chappell, Saulo Araujo & Ernesto Mendez

The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University (UK) recently hosted a workshop to “collectively strengthen relationships, learning/analysis and collaboration for people who are involved in research and knowledge work that advances movements for agroecology and food sovereignty”. We are grateful to have participated, and for the deep and thoughtful organization and facilitation that allowed us to move this objective forward. As scholars and organizers seeking to strengthen agroecology and food sovereignty in the North American context, we used the workshop as an opportunity to discuss potential actions for the future. This blog sets out some of this thinking and highlights the need for renewing collaborations between academic researchers and grassroots movements groups, based on building trust and mutual understanding.

Read the first blog in this series on Indigenous Peoples by Carol Kalafatic here.

What is the relevance of agroeocology and food sovereignty in the North American context?

As a region, North America has always played a key role in the implementation of food and agriculture policies worldwide. The governments of Canada and the United States, for instance, have opposed language around food sovereignty and agroecology in international treaties and processes at the United Nations. Despite the views of supposedly “efficient” food and agriculture policies in North America, grounded on the trade agreements of NAFTA, the agricultural sector in the region has been dominated by large agribusinesses producing commodities, and not food. As a result of these policies, thousands of small-scale and indigenous farmers from Mexico have left their plots to work in the fields of the US and Canada in subpar living conditions, and many working under the stress of being undocumented.

Farmers and fisherfolk in the US are also living under constant threat of losing their land and boats to banks and other creditors. Instead of providing a fair share to food producers, the current policies only benefit banks, and international agribusinesses. Because of these conditions, every year — since the 1970’s — fewer are able to stay on the land, with farmers representing less than 2% of the US population today.

The alternative political, ecological, and even epistemological worldviews offered by agroecology and food sovereignty present key tools for organizing and analyzing more equitable and just alternatives in North America. In particular they provide effective ways to challenge both the internal and external colonizing legacies of North America.

How have these movement(s) in North America advanced so far?

The real solutions to the growing food insecurity in North America can be found, on the ground, across the region. However, these initiatives receive little attention from policy makers and scholars. Yet agroecological practices developed by small-scale farmers and fisherfolk represent hope – a way to simultaneously end hunger and to “cool the planet”.

From this perspective, alliances between grassroots groups, supporting non-profits and scholars play an essential role to ‘scale out’ — by supporting the leadership of food producers – and ‘scale up’ — by building enough power to press for better policies. It is in those spaces that rural and urban communities are working to build a path to scale out agroecology towards food sovereignty in North America, learning from the on-going work of following the same steps as others, such as those aligned with La Via Campesina International and other global social movements. These coordinated global efforts are at the front and center of the struggle of millions of families worldwide, for material gains (access to land and resources, healthy foods, and stewardship of land, water and biodiversity) and immaterial necessities (defending farming and fishing as a way of life).

Some of the initiatives that have been taking root in North America include the People’s Agroecology Process, a grassroots-led space which is currently formed by African American and Native American groups and farmer and farmworker organizations from the US, Puerto Rico and Canada. For the past ten years, the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) has brought together rural and urban organizations for the advocacy of food sovereignty and agroecology. And the Agroecology Research and Action Collective, a broadly defined scholars’ group, is dedicated to coordinating respectful and effective efforts between researchers and grassroots organizations.

How are scholars contributing to advancing agroecology and food sovereignty in North America?

In the U.S., agroecology has a long history within academic institutions. Steve Gliessman, Miguel Altieri, Sunny Power, Deborah Letourneau, Dick Levins, Ivette Perfecto and John Vandermeer (among others), have represented pioneering agroecological thinking, based within U.S. universities, since the 1970s. (And other U.S. pioneers who may not have called themselves “agroecologists” are increasingly recognized, from George Washington Carver to Booker T. Whatley and Owusu Bandele.) However, the linkage between these scholarly efforts was not historically linked to social movements in the U.S. More recently, a new wave of agroecology scholars has sought to more intentionally make this connection; an effort that resulted in the creation of the Agroecology Action Research Collective (ARC).

The creation of ARC was spurred by conversations about an “Agroecology Forum” in North America, and strong encouragement from grassroots allies to “get our house in order” so that supportive scholars can act collectively, and more effectively, in solidarity for change. What are we willing to commit? What are our political commitments? And how do we make sure we can be relied upon to show up, and be collectively responsible, to frontline allies? These are several of the questions ARC was formed to answer.

Since its creation several years ago, ARC has engaged in the following activities: 1) convening sessions in academic forums for dialogue between grassroots actors and scholars; 2)  Attendance at coalition spaces such as the USFSA Meeting; 3) Creation of a document of principles and protocols for engaged scholarship in agroecology; and 4) the composition of an Open Letter on how a Green New Deal can incorporate agroecology. Several groups have already reported making use of ARC’s principles and protocols, with some seeking to adopt them for their own work. In monthly calls and several working groups, ARC continues to lay the foundations for ethical and effective solidarity and action for agroecology and food sovereignty in the U.S.

What is the importance of scholar-grassroots organization collaborations?

For too long, institutions in academia followed a path defined to protect the interests of few. Universities were built on ancestral lands of indigenous people whose chances to enjoy the fruits of study and reflection with others under the imposed systems were almost null. Further, farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people and pastoralists, whose labor and knowledge is the basis of all sciences, have often had this knowledge and labor captured, unrecognized and uncompensated, through academic extractivism. It is unjust and intellectually inconsistent with science’s supposed principles to take advantage of such knowledge and labor. In other words, it is past time to advance free, prior, and informed consent for the nonmaterial world.[1]

The most important academic institutions are public and/or heavily funded by taxes. Hence, the creation of all knowledges should be the path to the benefit of all. It is the duty of all to redirect the path of academia towards the building of a dignified life, grassroots democracy and the Rights of Mother Earth.

What is the way forward?

There is urgency for the emergence of a broader coalition of allies to advance food sovereignty globally. Farmworkers, farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people, scholars and consumers are building alliances towards that goal. Their organizing efforts such as ARC, USFSA, Climate Justice Alliance, HEAL Alliance, La Via Campesina and many others are important political actors as well as building blocks of a path to reclaim land, food, rights and knowledge from neoliberal policies and institutions.

A broader alliance between rural and urban people is also urgent and necessary. The challenges imposed on us by the current ecological, economic and political crises are destroying ecosystems, entire nations and life on Earth. There is no other option left besides a stronger commitment to build power from the bottom up and across nations. Steadily, communities are finding that our differences are also our strengths, and the urgency to defend our collective future outgrows our challenges to build unity.

Such unity has never been more urgent, as we face continued climate change and destabilization, and the global rise of authoritarian populism. Organized proponents of agroecology and food sovereignty have already made common cause with other social movements, such as the World March for Women and the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, and some voices from labor and anti-hunger groups; but much work remains to be done to bridge the divides among the oft-disunited groups offering complementary alternative visions to the domination of global capital. While there have been opportunities for collective reflection and strategizing, a whole new level of involvement is called for. Some of the actions available to take in the United States include scholars, such as those in ARC, “showing up” (when invited) to already-existing spaces, such as convenings of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance; Farm Aid; MOSES (the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service); and continuing to seek creative ways for empowered grassroots voices to not just speak, but be listened to, in academic-convened spaces.

The CAWR meeting brought together scholars and grassroots actors to plan concrete action and collaboration, supporting “dialogues of knowledges”, mutual respect and accountability, and building power together to take on the challenges before us. One participant commented that it was way past time for scholars to stop using the phrase “giving voice to the voiceless,” because the voices of so many grassroots actors have been present and struggling for food sovereignty and agroecology for a long time. Rather, the problem has been that these voices have not been listened to, and in many cases, have been violently opposed. The workshop helped to reaffirm the challenges and joys of working across differences, undermining “privilege”, and the need for building power together towards an agroecological future for all.

[1] Free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) has been an important element of struggles for indigenous rights, as well as debates and resistance around “land grabs”.

UVM’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) Strengthens International Collaborations on Transformative Agroecology

UVM’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) Strengthens International Collaborations on Transformative Agroecology

The ALC is excited to share the news that we have signed collaborative Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with 4 international organizations, as follows: Groundswell International, a network of organizations from Africa, the Americas and Asia, with a U.S. coordinating office, working on agroecology and sustainable local food systems; The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), based at Coventry University, in the United Kingdom; The Agroecology Group, in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Society at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), a research center based in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico; and Statistics for Sustainable Development (Stats4SD), an organization based in Reading, United Kingdom. These collaborative pursuits were sought because of strong alignments in our mission and vision, as related to research, education and outreach in agroecology. All of us are committed to working on transformative and inclusive approaches to agroecology, which seek to achieve an ecologically sound and socially just agrifood system. We believe that this goal can only be reached through strong collaborations among like-minded people and organizations.

ALC co-organizes Mexico-Nicaragua learning exchange on smallholder coffee farm diversification

ALC co-organizes Mexico-Nicaragua learning exchange on smallholder coffee farm diversification

ALC members Ernesto Méndez, Martha Caswell, and Janica Anderzén spent last week in Chiapas, Mexico, exchanging experiences and ideas around livelihood diversification, agroecology, and Participatory Action Research (PAR) in smallholder coffee communities of Mesoamerica. The week was both exciting and inspiring as coffee producers, academics, representatives from coffee buyers and NGOs from Mexico, Nicaragua, and the US, reviewed two and a half years of participatory action research, and set the course for next steps. This was the 2nd Farmer-to-Farmer Exchange within a 3-year PAR project on livelihood diversification in smallholder coffee systems, co-led by ALC, Santa Clara University and the Community Agroecology Network (CAN). Attendees included representatives of smallholder coffee cooperative partners Cesmach SC Oficial (Mexico) and Prodecoop (Nicaragua), the Community Agroecology Network (USA), the Universidad Nacional Agraria – Nicaragua (Nicaragua), el Departamento de Agricultura, Sociedad y Ambiente, Ecosur(Mexico), UVM/ALC (USA), Equal Exchange (USA), and Food 4 Farmers (USA). #agroecologyandlivelihoodscollaborative#uvm#cesmachoficial#prodecoop#communityagroecologynetwork#ecosur#universidadnacionalagragia#equalexchange#food4farmers#participatoryactionresearch#gundinsitute

The ALC is hiring a part-time Program Administrator

Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)  part-time Program Administrator

Position Summary

The Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) is a community of practice within the Department of Plant & Soil Science (PSS) at the University of Vermont. The ALC utilizes an approach grounded in agroecology, participatory action research (PAR), and transdisciplinarity. Our goal is to better understand and seek solutions to the issues facing our food system. The ALC program administrator reports to the ALC co-directors, and works closely with the core team to manage communications and internal operations for the ALC, as well as support the planning and implementation of the ALC’s research and educational initiatives. The program administrator will also provide some support to the PSS program, and will be a point of contact for ALC students, and other collaborators both within and outside of the university. We seek a motivated individual interested in agroecology, food systems and participatory action research (PAR), who has outstanding organizational and interpersonal skills. A detailed description of the position is provided below. For a pdf version of the position description, please click on the following link: ALC Program Administrator Revised Ad Jul 19.

Responsibilities

The ALC program administrator serves as the primary support person, within the ALC, for the Certificate of Graduate Study in Agroecology (CGSA) (20% effort). This includes:

  • communicating with students interested in pursuing the CGSA
  • serving as the point-person for communications with the College of Continuing and Distance Education (CDE), which supports aspects of the CGSA.
  • organization, coordination and logistics for the weeklong, face-to-face summer course

The ALC program administrator oversees external communications for the ALC and provides support to the PSS department. This task requires collaborating with other faculty and staff to develop, implement and actively manage outreach and visibility strategies for the ALC and PSS (35% effort). This includes:

  • maintaining websites and regularly updating social media accounts
  • developing outreach, informational, recruitment and event materials
  • supporting the creation of presentations that align with UVM templates and guidelines

The ALC program administrator provides organizational and logistical support for all ALC programming (15%). This includes:

  • creating and maintaining information management and organizational systems
  • coordinating facilities access (including A/V technology) and vehicle use
  • managing purchasing and vendor relationships (this includes assistance with travel arrangements, plane tickets, etc.)
  • supporting the management of program funding, and cross-departmental financial collaborations

The ALC program administrator maintains partner relationships by communicating with ALC students and partners (farmers, representatives of NGOs, academic and industry collaborators) (15% effort). This includes:

  • coordinating and facilitating weekly ALC meetings.
  • organizing and facilitating weekly staff meetings
  • coordinating researcher/collaborator meetings with ALC collaborators
  • responding to inquiries for information

The ALC program administrator contributes to fundraising efforts for the ALC (15% effort). This includes:

  • identifying appropriate funding opportunities
  • participating in grant writing
  • managing grant submission processes
  • supporting the cultivation of corporate and individual donors

Required Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s Degree.
  • 1-2 years of administrative experience.
  • Strong public relations, interpersonal, and organizational skills.
  • Interest and proven experience in being a truly collaborative team member.
  • The ability to work well—whether by phone, email, writing, or in person—with a broad range of constituents, both internal and external to the university.
  • Demonstrated initiative and resourcefulness.
  • Willingness to be flexible.
  • Ability to manage multiple tasks, meet deadlines and use creative problem solving to handle the unexpected.
  • Detail-oriented, with strong organizational and problem-solving skills.
  • Sensitivity to issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
  • The ability to plan, prioritize, and balance the workload of several projects, simultaneously, in a fast-paced environment.

Preferred Qualifications

  • Experience with UVM’s business and financial applications and systems.
  • Familiarity with UVM’s administrative organization and academic programs.
  • Web development experience with WordPress and Drupal.
  • Spanish language proficiency.

This is a part-time position, 20 hours per week, at $18 per hour. We regret that we cannot provide benefits.

Application

Please send cover letter and updated curriculum vitae/resume to Ernesto Mendez (Ernesto.Mendez@uvm.edu). Any questions about the position can also be directed to him.

Special Issue, in Spanish, on “Participatory and Activist Research in Agroecology”, with a contribution by ALC co-directors

Special Issue, in Spanish, on “Participatory and Activist Research in Agroecology”, with a contribution by ALC co-directors

A new special issue of the journal Agroecología (Spain), on Participatory and Activist Research in Agroecology, is now available as open access, online. The issue brings together a diversity of experiences from around the world, with a focus on participatory action research and activist scholarship in agroecology. It was guest edited by  Daniel López-García, from Fundación Entretantos and Mamen Cuéllar-Padilla from the University of Córdoba. ALC co-directors Martha Caswell and Ernesto Méndez co-authored a paper on participatory action research with collaborators from the Community Agroecology Network (CAN) .You can access the issue by clicking on the following link: https://revistas.um.es/agroecologia/issue/view/18131

Martha Caswell assumes Co-Directorship of the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)

Martha Caswell assumes the Co-Directorship of the University of Vermont’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)

The University of Vermont’s (UVM) Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC), which started as my research group in 2006, has been growing and evolving, along with our main fields of action- agroecology and participatory action research (PAR). As we continue to reflect on our work, and continue to learn and grow, it is also important that we solidify the ALC’s governance structure. In this light, I am pleased to announce that, starting July 1, Martha Caswell, currently the ALC’s Research and Outreach Coordinator, has taken on a new role as the ALC’s Co-Director. This new position formalizes leadership responsibilities that Martha has already taken on in both our U.S. and International initiatives, and across our educational, research and outreach activities. Martha and I envision sharing our representation of the ALC, in an equal capacity, in many of our current initiatives and partnerships. This change is well deserved, as Martha has been co-leading with me for several years now, and had already stepped up to this role, albeit unofficially. You can find more information on Martha’s background below, and in a recent interview she gave on agroecology for UVM, here. Dr. Vic Izzo, the ALC’s Education Coordinator, will continue in his critical role as the third member of the ALC leadership team. I strongly believe this new structure will allow us to better accomplish our mission and strengthen our collaborative processes with all of you. Please join me in congratulating Martha !

About Martha Caswell, ALC’s new Co-Director

What’s working well? What’s not? What can we learn from the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion? Whether we are talking about communities, landscapes or agroecological practices, these questions have always been at the core of my work. My curiosity has taken me from large urban areas of the US to small coffee-growing communities in Latin America. With a background in policy, I have programmatic experience with public health, housing, food justice, migrant communities, climate change resilience, livelihood diversification strategies and food security/food sovereignty. I have moved between working on the ground in communities and looking at the issues from a distance; Participatory Action Research (PAR) allows me to combine my commitment to grassroots work and applied research. My early career focused on issues related to urban poverty. Now, most of my work is with smallholder farmers, using agroecological principles to address livelihood, sustainability and production challenges. I have experience in both international and domestic community development, multi-sector collaborations with governmental agencies, academic institutions, corporate entities, non-governmental organizations, farmer cooperatives, neighborhood associations and community stakeholders.

The Farm Between wins 2018 Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Award for US

The Farm Between wins 2018 Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Award for US

Nancy and John Hayden were recently recognized by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) with the 2018 Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Award for the United States. They received their Award at the NAPPC’s Conference in Washington DC.

 

Nancy and John steward The Farm Between in Jeffersonville, VT, where they have farmed for the past 26 years. Today, the 20-acre property incorporates organic fruit production, an on-site nursery with native and pollinator-friendly plants, and a 14-acre pollinator sanctuary buzzing with diversity. In addition to farming, Nancy gains inspiration from the surrounding agroecosystem for her writing and artwork. Some of her fiber/fabric creations feature pollinators and the challenges they face, such as those in her “Pollinators in Peril” series. John, a trained entomologist, conducts research on-farm, often in collaboration with academic institutions and non-profits. He also advocates for pollinators at the policy-level and presently serves on the Vermont Pollinator Protection Committee. In 2007, Nancy and John founded the international non-profit, Seeds of Self-Reliance, and more recently developed Pollinator Pathways here in Vermont. Both efforts seek to promote pollinator diversity and habitat creation with emphasis on pollinators’ role in sustainable food systems.

 

The ALC is fortunate to have had the opportunity to build a long-term partnership with Nancy and John as research collaborators on both local and international projects. The Farm Between has served as a host to UVM agroecology courses for many years and the constantly evolving landscape remains a beloved exploratory space for students. Their passion for pollinators and commitment to engaging in agroecology as a science, practice, and movement are inspiring to many. Kudos to John and Nancy on receiving the 2018 Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Award – certainly well-deserved!

Nancy and John Hayden accepting the 2018 United States Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Award at the NAPPC Conference, Photo Credit: NAPPC

NEW REPORT from IPES-Food: Seven case studies of agroecological transition

From the IPES-Food Website:

15 October, 2018 (Rome, Italy) – It is possible for communities, regions and whole countries to fundamentally redesign their food and farming systems – but doing so requires changes in the way communities envision their food systems, the way knowledge is shared, the way that food systems are governed, and the values underpinning them.

This was the message from IPES-Food’s new report, ‘Breaking away from industrial food and farming systems: Seven case studies of agroecological transition’, released on October 15th, 2018.

The case studies follow on from IPES-Food’s 2016 report, From Uniformity to Diversity, which identified the vicious cycles locking industrial food and farming systems in place, despite their severe impacts on human health, economic and social well-being, biodiversity, and climate change.

The case studies provide concrete examples of how, in spite of these barriers to change, people around the world have been able to fundamentally rethink and redesign food systems around agroecological principles.

Steve Gliessman, lead author of the report, said: “The case studies show that change doesn’t always start in the field. Transition can be kick-started by community-building activities, farmer-researcher partnerships and even by external shocks that make people question the status quo.”

Jahi Chappell discusses ‘Beginning to End Hunger’ at UVM

Jahi Chappell discusses ‘Beginning to End Hunger’ at UVM

Political Agroecologist Dr. M. Jahi Chappell delivered an address to over 80 people at the University of Vermont (UVM), last Friday September 14. Jahi is a widely recognized agroecologist, with a diverse trajectory that includes being a professor at Washington State University, an analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and now a senior researcher at the Centre for Agroecology Water and Resilience (CAWR), at Conventry University, England. The talk focused on Jahi’s recent book, Beginning to End Hungerwhich documents his experience on innovations and lessons to end hunger in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The analysis also examines how this case study can inform similar work in other regions. His deeply transdisciplinary approach touched on issues of equity, policy and the need for academics, policy-makers, activists and social movements to work together to seek effective solutions to the pervasive issues of hunger and food insecurity. The talk was co-sponsored by the Plant and Soil Science Department, the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC), the Gund Institute for Environment, the Food Systems Graduate Program and the Environmental Program, all from UVM (click on images to enlarge).