“We eat what we plant. What we eat comes from our own labor. It’s healthy,” explained Don Carlos, a Zapotec campesino living in the village of Santa Gertrudis deep in the Sierra Juarez mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. “Before we ate processed food and we didn’t know what was in it. We are also really blessed to have clean, fresh water.”
Sitting just 40 feet from the fresh flowing mountain water eliciting Don Carlos’ gratitude and eating a nutritious bowl of organic farm-raised Tilapia soup and fresh tortillas, the full impact of the transition back to indigenous food ways he was describing was palpable.
Neon Cruz, another campesino who was born in Santa Gertrudis and began farming at age 12, explained how it used to take him 8 hours a day to cultivate food on two plots of land deep within the lush mountains. First, he would trek 2-3 hours up the mountainside to the nearest market to buy expensive chemical inputs. Then he’d struggle to carry 50 kilos of these agrochemicals on his back as he hiked for two hours on most days from plot to plot to grow his crops, now doused in agrochemicals.
But all of that was before he, Don Carlos and the 30 families living in Santa Gertrudis learned about The Union of the Organizations of Sierra Juarez, or UNOSJO.
On a bright winter morning, the two men joined most of the rest of the villagers in taking a rare break from their daily schedules of planting seeds, cultivating the land, tending to their cows, pigs and fish, cooking, cleaning, and caring for their families to welcome the WhyHunger staff, a group of supporters who are employees of Hard Rock International, and our hosts from UNSOJO to their remote village.
One by one the villagers shared their stories and experiences of working with UNOSJO, an Indigenous-led organization that addresses the critical needs of the local Zapotec families through programs ranging from sustainable food production and women’s rights, to protecting their indigenous territory and providing legal assistance.
Well-known in Mexico and internationally for their pioneering work to expose the contamination of local corn varieties by GMO crops, UNSOJO has been organizing and leading the resistance for years. They’ve taken legal action to block the GMO crop invasion, started local seed banks and encourage farmers to grow traditional varieties of maize. Now they are organizing community-led actions and pushing for legal protections against mega projects, like the hydropower dams, mineral extraction and mining operations being carried out illegally on their territory, which threaten their access to clean water, good soil and their very way of life.
“We are not activists; we are defenders of human rights,” explained Aldo Gonzalez, an Agronomist and leader in UNSOJO’s Indigenous Rights Sector.
To protect indigenous rights, UNOSJO documents abuses to children, women, entire communities and the natural resources they depend on, and offers workshops on the legal, economic, social and cultural rights, like the rights to food and health. They facilitate learning exchanges, farmer-led trainings and provide technical support to build capacity. They work to spread information about actions, threats and opportunities via social media, posters, word of mouth, community radio and a bi-annual magazine they publish. They’ve teamed up with several other local organizations to establish the Collective of Oaxaca and Defense of the Territory as a way to strengthen their collective resistance to the growing threats to their sovereignty.
UNOSJO’s approach is driven by the indigenous collective view of life, where each individual member of the community has “Tequio” or the capacity and responsibility to contribute to the community. Through collective leadership and community organizing they maintain access to the water, land and the resources they need to ensure that everyone can live a dignified life with enough nutritious food to eat. Oswaldo, the coordinator of UNOSJO’s Campesino-a-Campesino program, explained their shared goal of “el buen vivir” or “living well” that defines the indigenous cosmovision of “living well, not better.”
“It’s not a vision of charity; it’s about indigenous autonomy, the indigenous cosmovision,”explained Luz Leila Peres a la Vez, incoming UNSOJO Treasurer. “UNOSJO teaches people new practices to be self-sustaining and less dependent on agrichemicals and commercial seeds, and helps them produce healthy food.”
To illustrate this point, campesino Neon Cruz led our group up into the mountains to view his plots of land and see the benefits of UNSOJO’s partnership up close. Now, with the agroecological practices he has learned, Neon no longer has to buy and lug the heavy agrochemicals around his fields. He only carries a 3-liter spray bottle to disseminate organic inputs – like the supermagro that UNSOJO farmers taught him how to make—which he creates himself, without additional costs, to grow his food.
“There are fewer insects and fungus that attack my crops, now,” explained Neon. “The flavor of the food is better. The grains cook better; they’re less coarse…. I see the results!”
UNOSJO also supported Neon to build a water tank, get a cow and even participate in a shared learning exchange with Brazilian farmers from Popular Peasant Movement (MCP). Now, Neon is teaching others how to use agroecology practices through campesino-a-campesino trainings. This farmer-to-farmer methodology, which relies on shared learning and shared experience, helps to efficiently scale out agroecology across the territory.
As Oswaldo, the coordinator of UNOSJO’s Campesino-a-Campesino program explained, “An agronomist can’t go to a farmer and say ‘you should do this.’ He has no real reference. The farmers have such little resources, they can’t take risks or try new things. But when a farmer has succeeded [for himself], he can teach another farmer.”
Campesina Victoria Cruz, whose corn, beans and squash are layered up the hillside directly above Neon’s plot, explained that, as a single mother, she often relies on offering and receiving help from other farmers in the village. Her Milpa, a plot of land dedicated to the indigenous practice of inter-planting of beans, corn and squash, provides food for her children and space for her to experiment with the agroecological practices she is learning from UNOSJO. She just started growing potatoes, indigenous corn and coffee and, for the first time, is now exceeding production and able to sell in the nearby market in Talea de Castro.
As we finished touring these robust plots dotted across the mountainside and meeting with farmers and their families, the impact of UNSOJO’s support in strengthening the community at Santa Gertrudis was clear.
“We’ve accomplished a lot together as a group,” Don Carlos said with a sense of pride and hope. He told us that the villagers are getting better and better at organizing themselves. They started with organic compost for corn, beans and other plants. Next they began intensive fish farming with tilapia. Then they got the cows. “All of this happened because of UNOSJO’s support.”
Even with the strong social fabric of their community and the partnership of UNSOJO, the villagers are up against real threats. They are working to build international solidarity to amplify the threats from climate change affecting their growing season, multinational companies invading their territory, and spill off from mega projects contaminating their land, water and soil.
“You can help us by sharing stories and letting people know how hard it is to defend the land and territory,” said Oswald.
WhyHunger will continue supporting indigenous communities as they strive to ensure their families can live well.” To learn more about UNSOJO and support their efforts visit http://unosjo.org/
We are excited to continue our powerful Food Justice Voices series in 2017 beginning with El Sueño Americano – The American Dream. Food Justice Voices is intended to amplify the voices and experiences of grassroots leaders that aren’t heard enough, while creating awareness and educating readers on various issues connected to hunger and poverty. El Sueño Americano is no different. In this piece, you’ll hear directly from Kathia Ramirez, organizer and Food Justice Coordinator at CATA (The Farmworker Support Committee/Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas) in New Jersey, along with farmworker members of CATA. Kathia is from Los Angeles, CA although her parents migrated from the State of Oaxaca, Mexico where they have a history of working the land. In this piece, Kathia discusses the immigrant farmworker experience in pursuing the American dream, the struggles they face and why the work for food justice is important on many levels.
“Here in the United States, food is produced more as quantity over quality. It is not about whether it is nutritious but rather if it looks "good" on the outside even though it might be tasteless or have been forced to grow in a short period of time. Our food system is dependent on pesticides and paying workers a low wage in order meet the demand for cheap food. This creates a vicious cycle because farmworkers are only able to afford cheap, processed food with little access to healthy, organic produce.” – Kathia Ramirez
Read, download and share this article today!
Mark your calendars! We’re thrilled to announce that the annual WhyHunger Chapin Awards event will be held on Tuesday, June 13th at the Edison Ballroom in NYC. This will be a special evening of music and activism honoring musician and Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste for his philanthropic initiatives and our grassroots partner Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger for their food justice work in increasing nutritious food access in their community.
Comedian and talk show host Pete Dominick will host the night and guests will enjoy a cocktail reception, silent auction, dinner, and of course, amazing musical performances by Jon Batiste and Stay Human! Join us for an impactful night as we celebrate the work being done in the fight against hunger and poverty, and look ahead at what’s to come.
Watch the video below for a great recap of last year’s event and get your tickets today! Can’t make it? You can still make a donation or add a note of support to our program journal. Thank you for your support!
I will not forget the first time I read Through Her Eyes: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty, WhyHunger’s latest publication that “features a series of dialogues between women organizers, farmers and farmworkers who are fighting for food sovereignty in the face of industrial agriculture and bringing just and sustainable food to their communities.” The minute I opened the booklet, it did not take long before I was fully immersed by the anecdotes, the quotes and the photos of 13 working women. These different women from different parts of the world were coming together not only to share their stories about food sovereignty, but also to educate us on the realities of women in agroecology. From that day forward, I have made it my job to carry an extra copy of the publication everywhere that I go and have shared it with almost everyone, that I have interacted with.
Needless to say, I was very excited to attend WhyHunger’s event launch of the publication at GrowNYC’s Project Farmhouse in NYC. When I arrived to the venue, there were over 100 guests in attendance - students, fellow activists, funders, and community-based organizations. The night began with a wonderful live performance from The Chapin Sisters, who sang two songs, and the evening was moderated by WhyHunger Board Member, food justice activist and farmer Karen Washington. I was excited that I was going to be able put faces to the familiar names and stories I read about since four of the panelists were featured in the publication. The panelists included Chef Pearl Thompson, Kathia Ramirez, Magha Garcia, and Yara de Freitas. Chef Pearl Thompson is currently the Director of the Promise Culinary School at Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Chef Pearl teaches and mentors aspiring chefs and bakers to continue to transform the food system. Kathia Ramirez works as an organizer and the Food Justice Coordinator for the Comité de Apoyo de Trabajadores Agrícolas (CATA – the Farmworker Support Committee). Magha Garcia is an eco-farmer and environmental activist in Puerto Rico, and Yara de Freitas is currently a member of the National Coordination Committee of the Movement of People Affected by Dams in Brazil. Every woman had a different background and experiences that ultimately led to them fighting for food sovereignty.
Throughout the event, Karen Washington asked the panelists questions such as “How does climate change affect the work that you do?,” and “What advice would you give to a young girl who wants to be like you?” The discussion ranged from the fight for the $15 minimum wage in the culinary field to the idea of seed-saving to preserve crops for future generations, all of which are interconnected within the food justice movement. For me, the most impactful part of the night came when the women were asked how they would change the male-dominated narrative and to discuss the ways in which women have been instrumental in agriculture. In response, Chef Pearl stated, “It’s really important for me to make sure that women feel empowered within the field that I teach in. How do you get women to stand up to a patriarchy that is oppressing them on a daily basis? So for me, that's my job...to take marginalized folks - and in this case the larger percent of them are women - and to educate them...to scream, to yell, to demand the human rights that they are entitled to on this planet.”
The four panelists not only moved me by their stories and their touching words, but inspired me to do better, despite any obstacles I may face because of my gender. As Kathia Ramirez said, “we all must defeat the big 3 - colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy,” to ensure that all women can advance and feel valued in their fields.” Both the event and the publication has made me feel more empowered and in solidarity with other women. It also exposed me to the realities that women battle on an everyday basis in trying to obtain local, nutritious food.
If you haven't read WhyHunger’s Through Her Eyes: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty yet, you can do so here and please share the publication on your social media accounts to celebrate Women’s History Month!
Cataydra Brown is currently a Communications Volunteer at WhyHunger. She is majoring in Law and Society and double-minoring in Africana Studies and Gender Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Cataydra is very interested in the intersection of race and gender, and how it systematically affects the lives of people around the world.
This post first appeared in The Huffington Post.
“No problem can be solved on the same level of consciousness that created it.” - Albert Einstein
Our current governmental situation is unlike any we have faced as a nation throughout our history. It is not a problem of liberal against conservative, Republican against Democrat, red against blue, white against color or cities against rural and suburbs, although it has all of those elements.
It is a problem of power, whether power means dominance or service, narcissism that says “only I can do it, only I can save you” or the power of humility that says we are stronger together and we all have something to contribute.
It is a problem of truthfulness, whether words and real facts actually matter, actually mean something rather than emerging and then disappearing into some alternate pseudo reality.
It is a problem of reality itself, what is real as opposed to what is merely framed as real. How can real problems be identified and then solved when they are clouded by a series of lies, false denials and twisted statements that are tossed into a narrative that purports to be truthful, and may contain fragments of truth, but is fraudulent?
It is a problem of fear, fear of the illusion of national carnage, that it might creep into my neighborhood, harm my children and threaten my home. Fear of the “other” who look or pray or dress differently. It is a fear that can paralyze people who would normally know better but who vote for and support politicians who do not have their best interests at heart and, in fact, pass laws and promote policies that harm these same voters.
It is the problem of promises of better health care for all when there is no real plan, only a series of cuts that will throw millions of people off Medicaid, promising to leave successful programs like Social Security and Medicare alone while allies have their own plans to severely cut the same programs and many more that serve millions of poor and middle class citizens.
It is a problem of the emerging of the old “America First” isolationist mentality that shut the doors to millions of European Jews for more than ten years during the Holocaust when open doors could have saved many lives. It is a policy that goes against the best in our tradition of international involvement in world affairs and locks the doors of entry for millions of those who are peaceful seekers of the American Dream but who may look or speak or pray differently.
It is a problem for millions of folks who have lived in America for years, worked hard and paid taxes and will now face possible deportation which in many cases will divide parents from their children.
It is a problem for millions of farm workers who pick our fruits and vegetables, for farmers who depend on them and for all of us who depend on their labor.
Just in time for International Women’s Day, WhyHunger is excited to release our newest publication “Through Her Eyes: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty.” International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. We know that women are responsible for 60-80% of food production in the Global South and represent 50% of food chain workers in the U.S. Yet, women and girls are disproportionally affected by hunger. And for us, it is very important to recognize and honor the women around the world who are fighting for food sovereignty and creating just, sustainable communities that benefit all. In Through Her Eyes, women from all over share their opinions and experiences on topics including agrochemicals, fishing practices, food stamps, GMOs, farmworkers and more.
It is imperative; therefore, that women’s voices are at the center of the debate about how to dismantle the current food regime and replace it with food sovereignty and agroecology. Though not yet mainstream concepts or practices, the work of grassroots organizations is beginning to result in a scaling out of agroecology in both rural and urban areas. This publication aims to highlight the leadership of women in making that possible.
Through excerpts of interviews and dialogue with women organizers and food producers from the United States and globally in response to the question “what are the impacts of industrial food and farming on women and how are women organizing to build an alternative,” this publication amplifies the voices of women who are on the frontlines in the ongoing struggle for land, water, localized economies, and a world free of violence and hunger.
It emerges in a moment when arguably a new world order is beginning to take shape. In the face of economic and social systems in crisis and deepening inequality the world over, the struggle for food sovereignty, agroecology and climate justice is a struggle for more than just the right to food. It is a struggle for a new world order that centers the rights of women to live freely and safely, and to lead in envisioning and crafting a world void of hunger and violence. WhyHunger is committed to standing in solidarity with women whose lived experiences are forging the path to food sovereignty.
We invite you to read, download and share this publication to learn more about the issues affecting our food system and the women who are creating solutions to achieve food sovereignty.