Today marks my six-week anniversary as executive director at EcoFarm. Although I’m still a newbie to the internal workings of the organization, it has become obvious that EcoFarm holds a special place in many people’s hearts. It is a treasured organization that has done so much to foster a sense of community among the tens of thousands of people who have come to Asilomar to attend its conferences over the past 40 years. While we celebrate our beloved community, we still must ask who has been excluded from enjoying the benefits of organic and regenerative agriculture, and how do we bring them into the circle. Celebrate. Honor. Question. Strive.
While I am enough of a rookie that I still can’t figure out our database, I have been around for a while. I have attended a handful of EcoFarm Conferences since the mid 1990s, and even was honored with a Justie award a dozen years ago. I’ve been involved in the sustainable agriculture movement in California for some 25 years. It’s wonderful to reconnect with old friends after an 11-year hiatus in Oregon. My spouse, kids, and I moved to Portland from Los Angeles, where I co-founded and ran the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC).
At CFSC, we recognized that low-income consumers and small farmers were both marginalized by a corporate food system, and that by creating a united movement we could build more power than by working separately. CFSC became the primary national food systems alliance with 300+ organizational members. We seeded new collaborations, transformed the dialogue, gained passage of federal legislation, and helped on-the-ground food and farm programs thrive with new funding and technical expertise. We helped grow the market for local foods through farm to school, farm to college, and SNAP redemption at farmers markets. We connected growers with consumers and policymakers through food policy councils, where they could collaborate on local policy change of mutual benefit. And most importantly, we fought against a two-tiered food system, in which, as author Mark Winne says, the rich get organics, and the poor get diabetes.
After leaving CFSC in 2011, I threw myself into writing and promoting a book, “Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups” that laid out a new vision for addressing hunger grounded in justice, health and economic democracy. I exposed how the hunger industrial complex has perpetuated food insecurity through allowing low wage employers such as Walmart to appear to be fighting hunger through their donations of surplus products to food banks. I proposed that we move a portion of the $80 billion spent on federal food programs to fund not just Pepsi, Walmart, and Aramark, but also small farmers and community-based processors and retailers. I believe that we must buy food produced with values, not just food that is a good dollar and cents value.
Throughout my career, the ideas of justice, community, ecology, and economic democracy travel in intertwined strands as they weave the basis for a new food web. That’s where I come from and where I hope to lead EcoFarm. But first I need to listen to you, to better understand why you love EcoFarm, and maybe the things you’d like to see changed. This is your organization. With your blessing, I hope to steward it in new and fruitful directions.