Friday, July 9, 2010

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the retirement party for Wayne Roberts, head of the Toronto Food Policy Council (TFPC) for the past 10 years. If you read Toronto's NOW magazine, you may recognize him as a weekly columnist and he has also written several books.

Wayne was instrumental in guiding me to a farming network. Back in 2008, when I was trying to decide on how to take the plunge into sustainable agriculture, I went to the Canadian Organic Growers conference in February where Wayne moderated a panel of experts talking about organic food production in Ontario. I did some internet searching, found an email address for him, and cold emailed him, introducing myself and asking if he had time to meet with me. Amazingly, he did. We sat down for an almost 2 hour conversation where we discussed my background and motivations for going into sustainable agriculture. Before this conversation, I didn't know if I would remain in Toronto and try to work for an organization concentrated on food and environment issues, or if I would start actually producing food.Our conversation clarified my position as a future producer of food and I was steered towards Everdale where I spent 5 months learning how to farm. Instead of figuring out this whole farming thing in isolation, I got plugged into a network of organic farmers which helped give me the confidence to take the plunge and start farming on my own.

You can read Wayne's whole retirement speech at his blog: http://wayneroberts.ca/archives/320, but the following section really stuck with me:

"As a person who never embraced formal religion, I surprised myself late one evening in March 2008, when, at 3:00 in the morning after way too many pots of coffee, I came to write my very last overdue paragraph on my dead-dead deadline for The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food. A phrase I had long mocked popped into my head: Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. I used to think this was about pacifying the poor so they would divert their attention to the next world where they would get pie in the sky when they die. But suddenly, its profound radicalism hit me.

At the most direct level, we work to bring the right of food to all and to ensure that it is shared with children, newcomers, the poor and homeless. But beyond that, we work with food because food is not about human power and triumph and glory, but about our humble animal needs that make us vulnerable and dependent on nature and make us vulnerable and interdependent with one another. That is how we humans are made – other than Vitamin D processed in our skin, our large brains leave no space for body parts that manufacture a wide range of nutrients from a few simple wild grasses and tree leaves; we can only get the nutrients we need from a wide range of foods, all of which come from outside ourselves. And, zenlike, that very need and vulnerability have been the source and inner strength of human achievement, culture and sociability. This baseline of our creation is the reason why I believe that the food movement must be militantly joyful and radically meek – not radical chic, but radical meek."

Right now, in the beginning stages of the farm, I'm concentrated on food production and making sure that the farm is a sustainable enterprise, environmentally, personally & economically, but I can't lose sight of why I went into this in the first place...because I love food and feeding people and I love God's creation. The right of food for all isn't something I can devote my resources to right now, so I'm encouraged to see that there are so many people fighting that good fight. Toronto's Board of Health has recently adopted "Cultivating Food Connections: Toward a Healthy and Sustainable Food System for Toronto” – 29 initiatives that promise to create a culture of “food systems thinking” within the municipal bureaucracy, linked to the many players who comprise the urban food supply chain. This is an amazing and radical move as it acknowledges the importance of good food for our public health and pulls food production out of the corner of 'rural affairs' that it's been kept in for years. Urban and rural communities need each other to survive, and need to understand and respect each other a whole lot more.

I'm sure Wayne will continue to fight this good fight in his retirement. And I will continue to follow the progress of the great organizations out there that are concerned with the right for food for all, like the TFPC, FoodShare and The STOP, among others. If you live in the GTA and want to join this fight, check these groups out and see if you can contribute any resources!

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