Hello neighbors and friends
I hope you are finding some relief this hot and confounding summer, in some shady spot, on a beach, or (like me) if you are lucky enough to have friends’ pools and quiet porches offered to you here and there. Maybe like me, you also get out of the tropics for a bit; as some of you know, I spend much of the summer on the road, checking out farmers markets across the northern part of the US and seeing what other food systems are doing, while relying on my big sister’s hospitality and patience for my long stay. All of that self-care and the different examples allow me to maintain some optimism and excitement around food and farming even though I also see and hear a lot that is discouraging: the lack of farm land available for new and young farmers, the rapid and multiple effects of climate change on established farms, the number of health concerns among farmers (always in top 10 of the most dangerous professions and fishers are even higher -meaning worse- in that ranking), the attempt by the current administration to dismantle policy gains that benefit small farmers, and much more can make this stuff seem quixotic to say the least.
But I do have hope. My go-to writer/activist Rebecca Solnit has explained how we can have hope. She says: “It is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. (Hope) is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.”
Today I sat for a few quiet hours on one of those borrowed porches with a young woman I know only slightly, and found more reason for hope. Her name is Margee Green, and she is running for Agriculture & Forestry Commissioner in Louisiana. Now you might think that is a pretty huge idea (and you are right) and maybe even think it’s nigh impossible for her to win, but let’s leave that for her to resolve and not start off by killing the hope. Instead let’s focus on how this state has still not figured out how to support a regional farming culture.
How true innovators like Grant and Kate Estrade of Local Cooling Farms, and Graison Gill from Bellegarde Bakery are not only NOT lauded by our elected officials for their incredible work, but instead are often labeled as troublemakers and their path made more difficult.
How farmers markets still have to fight to keep their name from being co-opted by other retail outlets who do none of things that farmers markets do every week and yet our agency does nothing to stop them.
How other states are growing the number of young or beginning farmers (Alaska had a 30 percent increase between 2012-17), or using US Ag Census data to show how some states are seeing real gains in committed purchasing for locally made goods; guess who is near the bottom?
Yeah, we have a lot to fix in how we view and talk about and how we organize around food here. But we can fix it, by learning from our neighbors and from each other and by building policies that benefit those direct relationships and those sustainable practices that reclaim the local food culture and may help save or delay our state from sinking into the gulf. I think one way to start is by asking for changes at the very top of our system: starting with our Department of Ag. Asking OUR department to see and act as if the community food system is as at least as important as the commodity system that has been in place since the Company of the Indies tried (and failed) to grow tobacco. And let’s ask them to calculate how that antiquated system has relied on devaluing land and labor and personage to produce those commodities.
One sure way to do that, to make them aware we won’t keep allowing business as usual, is to support Marguerite Green. So I hope you take a break from whatever stresses you these days and check out her page and see what you think. Go talk to her at the local events and markets where she can be easily found. Maybe it will offer you some relief. And maybe it will have an impact.