The first principle of food sovereignty is "Food: A Basic Human Right: Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity." To be able to live a healthy life with full human dignity is a theme I heard from shell collectors in Ecuador to peasants in Brazil to farmers in Maine. Healthy communities require pride and dignity. Pride within each individual, for the work they do, of the natural environment and amongst each other.
The right to a dignified life is such a basic right and many farmers and fishermen are fighting for it. Despite the hard work, financial hardships and sometimes all odds against them, what I found in my interviews is the amazing resilience and hope.
Francisco Mendes Coelho is a farmer from Canadê in the state of Ceará of Brazil. He is a member of the Landless People's Movement (MST).
"This struggle is not easy; we are often arrested by the police, the media often tries to slander us, and to say that we are not a legal movement, that the movement is only full of vagabonds and bandits, but we have to show that this is not true, that we are doing this for the greater good. And our goal is to attain land, not only land but also rights, those that are sanctified in the constitution and that today are denied to us workers. Without a doubt, we do this for the greater good and I believe that it is possible to change things."
Targelia Nicolta Branda is a shell collector from Palme Real in Esmeraldes, Ecuador. She is president of the local women’s organization and a member of the Federation of the Collectors of and Aquatics of the Mangroves of San Lorenzo.
"Here, we are talking about fear. In 2009 and 2010 we had a crisis of violence, because brothers came from other countries.The paramilitary threatened us. This January 2nd, they killed one leader of the community. Because of that lack of safety, people have to leave. This conflict they had with the president of our parish was because they wanted to come and live here. Basically, to take over the community. The president of the parish said, ‘No. If you want to come here, you have to talk to Correa – he is the President of Ecuador. I am just a small leader.’ That is when the conflict started. These communities are the most forgotten by the government of Ecuador. We know about our government just through pictures, through newspapers. We don’t even have a TV channel signal or internet. We receive a lot of promises, but nobody ever fulfills those promises. They should remember us and know the poverty that is here. We also want to have a dignified life. Please don’t forget the poor people of our community."
Heather Retberg and her husband, Phil, run Quills End Farm in Penobscot, ME. She is a member of Food for Maine's Future and Maine Organic Gardeners and Farmers Association.
"A lot of us say fly under the radar, keep a low profile as long as you can. That’s certainly what we did for a really long time and I’ve come to feel like so many of us do that, but if that portion of your income is something you really depend on for your livelihood, where does that leave you if you come up on the radar? What other business has to operate like that? Drug dealers have to operate like that. People who are doing something really unhealthy for society have to operate like that. We should have the rule of law behind what we are doing because what we are doing is really healthy not just for people’s bodies, but for creating social networks in a community that binds us together so we can help each other out when hard times come. So much of that fabric of community life that comes from the farm, that gets stripped away and we really shouldn’t feel that we need to sneak around to farm."
Jay Driscoll is a commercial fisherman from Rye Harbor, NH on the fishing vessel Karenlyn. He is a board member of Granite State Fish and President of Sectors 11 and 12 in New Hampshire.
"I think cameras are the biggest injustice. I don’t understand where the fishermen lost their way so much that the government feels we have to be monitored with cameras. It is so anti-American. It is so what this country is not about. With observers today, at least it’s a human. At least there is somebody there. But, to have them say to me, I want to fit your boat with cameras to monitor your every move is a huge injustice and we are already being monitored through a satellite so they know where the boats are. But, now they want to put a camera so they can see us too. We have been slanderized by every environmental group out there to the point where we are a step below pedophiles right now. And that’s how we’re looked at. It is a huge injustice. We have rights and freedoms that we should try to protect or we are going to lose what the foundation of this country is all about."
Tara Kolla is urban farmer in Los Angeles, CA at Silver Lake Farms. She is a member of Urban Family Advocates.
"What I really yearn for is some stability and less chaos. It’s been so chaotic the last two years. Three shutdowns, then the court case. I was teaching gardening here and got shut down for that. Then I was composting. Got shut down for that. I got a cease and desist from the environmental affairs department. March 2009, I opened the door to a very sheepish man on the porch. He predicated everything by saying, 'I really don’t want to be here. But, unfortunately I’m here to tell you cannot sell your flowers.' He was enforcing this code that was interpreted to mean that it was not legal to sell flowers that were grown in a residential garden. I fought and decided that I would change the law. And luckily for me, some cool people in Silver Lake and a small group of us grouped together and had meetings with the city, city officials and Eric Garsetti, the city council president. A year later it changed. Truck gardening has been revised. It’s been called truck farming. You are allowed to grow pretty much everything, vegetables, fruit, seedlings, flowers, nut, fibers like cotton and sell them off site. So hooray for urban farming."
Sara Grusky and her husband, Michael Foley, run Green Uprising Farm at Blackberry Bend in Willits, CA. They are members of Little Lake Grange and Mendocino County Farmers Market Association.
"I think one of the things that we’ve learned from the dairy share is how ridiculously difficult it is, how ridiculously overregulated and full of obstacles it is to try to do something like a dairy share. It’s because the regulatory environment is really geared towards large dairies and it’s because there’s a long history of fear and misinformation about raw milk. The current dairy share that we have is, I would say, in a quasi-legal gray area and that’s not a very comfortable place to be. I mean the only way we can do it is to find some loophole and do something that’s actually quasi illegal but it’s the only thing that really makes sense in terms of having a sustainable local economy. In Massachusetts recently, where they were trying to outlaw raw milk, the Weston Price Foundation organized the first, I guess in 100 years, the first cow grazed the Boston Commons. So they bought a cow to graze the Boston Commons and milked her and fed people raw milk as a way to sort of protest and expose how ridiculous it is that people milking cows and drinking the milk, which has gone on for millennia is currently illegal."
Oscar Otzoy is a farm worker in Immokalee, FL and originally from Guatemala. He is a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
"A worker usually has to leave their house to find work at about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning then work for 10 or 12 hours for a total of $50 or $60 a day. If a farm worker were to be earning the same that he or she was earning 30 years ago and if it kept right with inflation, it would be $1.06 per 32-pound bucket. Now it is an average of 50 cents per bucket. And many people feel like they are just a machine in the fields. Just a machine working. If you were to get sick, the company, instead of helping with the sickness, will just fire you, let you go. It is like you are an old tool. When you are broken, instead of fixing you, they just let you go. There are far uglier, worse cases. In the past 13 years, there have been nine major slavery operations uncovered in Florida. We began the Campaign for Fair Food with a Code of Conduct with zero tolerance for slavery, a penny more per pound of tomatoes that we picked that would go right to the worker, and the voice of farm workers be included in carrying out these agreements. Nine major companies finally sign agreements with the Coalition. And this is exactly what we want: That workers are recognized and they know their rights and they are respected."
John Kinsman is a dairy farmer at Kinsman Farm in Lime Ridge, WI. He is an active board member of the National Family Farm Coalition and Family Farm Defenders.
"It is very bleak right now because there are not enough farmers left. The prices are at all time lows in relation to costs. The positive thing is the urban people all over the world are demanding food that comes from family farmers that is ecologically, culturally appropriate. That all goes to our work with Via Campesina and food sovereignty that we’ve developed. It covers everything. Feed our own people first. Food sovereignty is the rights of people to determine their own food policies. And the rights of producers to live in dignity and ecologically sound ways of producing it. All of our work revolves around that. To get people to understand and to raise self-confidence. Farmers have just lost it. Because when your product you sell has a minus value, the people who produce it have a minus value. And people say, ‘Are you crazy? Producing something when it cost you twice that much to produce it.’ And of course, it has a terrible effect on family structure, on children, the way they look at their parents and be told by someone they’re stupid and told by someone if they want to do the same thing, they’re stupid. So, we have to help people restore their self-confidence and their dignity.So they can change the policy, to get a fair price and to produce this healthy food. I’ve been in different countries and cultures where farming was the most dignified way of life. It’s tremendous to see the pride and self worth these people get and respect."
Craig Barbre is a fisherman from Morro Bay, CA and fishes for albacore and salmon on his fishing vessel Preamble. He is a member of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
"National Marine Fisheries Service was designed to enhance fisheries, to help fishermen access the fish. They need to go back to that. Now they have become the hired patrol guys. They are basically out there to try and bust you doing something wrong. They are not there to enhance the fisheries, to help you access the fish. To help this country provide our own food. Same thing with our Fish & Game. Fish & Game has become law enforcement, rather than someone to enhance the fisheries. We don’t mind being managed off a resource because the stock is in jeopardy. But, if we can access the other ten species that are around without damaging that jeopardized stock, allow us to do it. At least, allow let us show them that we can do it. We are not allowed to do that any longer. All they want to do is stop fishing, not enhance it, help modify it, make it so it is viable. In the meantime, this country is importing more and more of its seafood. We are importing most of our food and I see us as being in real trouble."