An installment of “Food Voices” focusing on urban farming.
WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. As she continues her journey, spanning from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond, we will feature highlights of the stories she gathers.
Matt Suar is an urban farmer at Happy Dirt Veggie Patch in Ashland, Oregon. Over the past 20 years, he has seen the local food movement grow. He believes that is essential to the long-term health and survival of society.
“I am proprietor of Happy Dirt Veggie Patch, which is finishing its second season here. I originally started farming in Arizona for about 20 years. I moved here two and a half years ago and ended up at this space. This place where we are growing is called the Eagle Mill Farm and that’s been here since the early ’80s, just on the edge of Ashland.
“One thing that’s always in the back of my mind is, even though there are a lot economical challenges, there’s a sense that this is going to be important some day. It may not be here, at this specific location, but small-scale food farming is something that does make a lot of sense in a lot of ways, and as a culture we need to get back to that if we want to be grounded again. The agribusiness model is going to run its course and leave a lot of us high and dry and hungry if we don’t address the issues before it collapses. Being here, preserving the knowledge of how to grow stuff in and of itself has some value, even if things keep on going as they are for a few more generations. Somebody has got to do it because it does take experience. Anyone can grow food—it’s not that hard—but to do it efficiently and actually feed people, there are definitely a lot of tricks and it would definitely be hard for people to figure it out all by themselves again.
“The local food movement has gained a lot of momentum. There is a lot more interest, a lot more people involved in small-scale agriculture than when I started. Back then, I was considered kind of weird. It’s evolving on both sides. There’s more attempts at corporate control, and on some levels they are succeeding, but on other levels, I see people seeing what is happening and taking measures to try and counteract that. Money does of course weigh on the side of corporate interest, but they have lost a lot of the public trust. They have to justify a lot of what they do to the public now and it is usually based on money and jobs and not on the actual intrinsic values. My sense is that it will shake out on some level as the whole system reconfigures or collapses, but just looking at the physics of it, the large-scale agriculture that we are doing can’t go on indefinitely—it has to make some sort of major change.
“It’s a matter of justice; there’s a lot of land, and there’s a lot of people without land who don’t have jobs and have nothing else going on, who would love to be able to work and provide for themselves and their families. Small-scale agriculture is custom tailored for that. It’s a lot of work and you don’t make a lot of money per hour, but you can make a living and you’re doing something that is intrinsically worthwhile. We need to do it, we have to eat and we have to eat healthy. It would save us a lot of aggravation if we would find a way to let people grow again. That’s what saved us during the Great Depression. That’s why we didn’t have mass starvation, because people had farms and a lot of them lost their farms, but they still had the means to grow food. And now we kind of lost that, which is scary.”