An installment of the “Food Voices” series we explore the relationship between the state of the economy and deciding to try a hand at 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.
Russell Libby runs Three Sisters Farm (a small diversified farm) in Mount Vernon, Maine. For the past 27 years, he has been on the Board of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and has been its Executive Director for the past fifteen years. Over the years and as a result of the current economic situation, Russell has seen a new interest and need in the local food movement from the farmer’s perspective. Below are his statements.
The piece that’s really jumped in the last decade is the resurgence of interest in growing food. In the past three years, there’s been a huge jump in interest in apprenticeships—people who want to have some connection to the land, want to get their hands dirty and understand what they’re doing, but also people who are committing and saying this is what I’m going to do for a business. People just look for something that makes them feel more certain about their own individual future. So in that sense, growing food is countercyclical. When the economy is just booming and everything is great, maybe people don’t really think they want to go work on a farm and not make a whole lot of money, but when there’s no jobs and you’ve been out of college for two years and you still haven’t found anything, keeping busy on a farm and learning some skills doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.
What is real work for all those people who want real work? Growing a big garden and supporting your family and having some extra to share with other people: those are good and important parts of what everyone can do in some way. Food becomes an underpinning for a resilient economy, one that doesn’t get caught so badly in those downturns and can find its way out again, or maybe the downturns don’t affect us so much because we all have these really deep connections within our community. Where are the boundaries? I don’t know. I don’t think we have to draw really rigid lines, but we have just have to tighten the circles as much as we’re able so that when I sell something here, somebody over there can sell something to me and have this great exchange of goods.
In the current political climate, I think the only thing we have to work on is to build our social networks. The one strength of the current Tea Party conversation is that it sparked this tremendous grassroots neighbor to neighbor conversation. We haven’t had much like that for a long time. That’s just mobilized people because, ‘yes, it’s the right thing to do,’ and to me the ‘yes, it’s the right thing to do’ is clean air, clean water, good food. They all kind of fit together and if we don’t have those things, then how are we going to have healthy people and how are we going to deal with the environmental issues of our times? They’re all deeply interrelated and it all starts by us just talking to one another, including talking to people you might not think agree with you on 90% of the other issues, which is hard for all of us to do – step outside and say, ‘Hey, wouldn’t you like something to eat?’ I think we can talk at that level.