Dena Hoff has been farming on Sand Creek Farm since 1981. She grows beans, corn, tomatoes and an array of produce, while also raising lambs, chickens and pigs. Dena coordinates with the international food sovereignty movement and then brings the principles back home. She is an active member with local organizations, the National Family Farm Coalition and La Via Campesina.
Food sovereignty is something I never named. It is something I grew up with and thought that is the way life should be. My grandparents came from eastern North Dakota. We always ate out of Grandma’s organic garden. It was always my intention to feed ourselves as much as possible, the way my Grandma fed us. She is the one who taught me about food preparation, canning, soap making and about being self-sufficient.
All I wanted to be was a farmer. While raising my children, we had at least one garden, and we hunted and fished. I taught my kids and they are pretty self-sufficient. I thought most people lived the way I did from their gardens and the land. Then, I found that even my farm neighbors weren’t living that way. The farm agencies told them it was not efficient to grow their own food, milk a cow and it was much better to buy it at the grocery store. That was in the late ’70’s and I started to question the whole system.
Now, you read reports that nutritionally, food is much poorer today than it used to be. We don’t pay attention to healthy soil, and then we don’t have rich soil full of nutrients. Soil is becoming a medium to hold plants upright, and not a living entity in its own right. If we are looking for the earth to feed us, then we need to take care of it.
Unfortunately, it takes dead bodies and people dying from e coli and listeria to see that the food supply is not as safe as people think. Because of convenience, people have given up their responsibility for a safe and nutritious food supply. Now that food nutrition deficiencies, like obesity and diabetes, are an epidemic in this country, people are beginning to pay attention. But the infrastructure is gone, and so are the people–the family farmers and fishermen. The corporate food system has destroyed the small infrastructure. They pay off Congress to pass rules in the guise of food safety, but it is really about getting rid of competition–small producers and small processors.
We teach other generations that they can grow food and take care of the land and learn growing methods and animal husbandry. We teach people on our farm. People are coming from the town to learn, and even children from neighboring farms. We have a farm to table organization, farm to school project and community kitchen. The community is starting to rebuild the infrastructure for a local food system that used to exist thirty years ago.
The important thing is that we have to teach people about how government policies, on every level, impact the quality, the safety and the availability of our food. We have to connect food to policy, involving as many people as we can and influencing policy is what will rebuild local systems all over. So, it is more than growing our own food and buying at farmers’ markets. People have to realize that there is a direct connection between the quality and the availability and the safety of the food they eat and the policies at all levels of government.
Mostly, I want people to know that the policies we have in this country are keeping people from making a living. Under the corporate dominated political system, people have to be willing to get involved at the policy level if there is going to be better food for everyone and economically and environmentally sustainable rural communities. Because farmers cannot make a living, we are going to lose the knowledge and skills necessary to create and maintain local food systems and care for the land sustainably. I want people in Montana to know that a lot of their same concerns and dreams and hopes are shared by people around the world.
I want people to have a focus that goes from local to global and realize that everything is connected. People need to change their own diets and reform will work its way up the political chain, and hopefully, generations after me things will be better. If we all give up hoping that things are going to be better then things are never going to get better. We have to believe that by standing in solidarity around the world, it can happen. But Americans want instant gratification and we want it easy. That has to change.