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Raj Patel on Food Sovereignty, Localism, and Markets

May 11, 2013

Last March (2012) I had the opportunity to interview Raj Patel in San Francisco about his writing on Food Sovereignty for my forthcoming project Local Control, a followup to the 2010 Farm Together Now. While the documentary will not be released for a while, we  hope you enjoy this transcript now. First, a bit of background on Raj:

15-1024x680Raj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He has degrees from the University of Oxford, the London School of Economics and Cornell University, has worked for the World Bank and WTO, and protested against them around the world. He is a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for African Studies, an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a fellow at The Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First. He is also an IATP Food and Community Fellow. He has testified about the causes of the global food crisis to the US House Financial Services Committee and is an Advisor to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. In addition to numerous scholarly publications in economics, philosophy, politics and public health journals, he regularly writes for The Guardian, and has contributed to the LA Times,, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Mail on Sunday, and The Observer. His first book was Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and his latest, The Value of Nothing, is a New York Times best-seller. He is currently working on a documentary about the global food system with award-winning director Steve James.

(Interview by Daniel Tucker; Transcription by Haley Martin; Thanks: Jerome Grand, Amy Franceschini and Stijn Schiffeleers)

DT: You’ve written that “food offers us one of the shortest, most appealing paths out of the corporate labyrinth” (Survival Pending Revolution, 2011). Please elaborate on how you see food as central and strategic to your view of positive social transformation?

RAJ: So in the eighties when I was learning about the possibilities of radical social change, a lot of the people that I was talking to in various left-wing political parties and organizations were saying essentially spreading a message of, “If you are interested in social change, that is great. Well done. Welcome comrade. But in order for this change to happen, it is going to be painful and you are going to have to give things up and it is going to be pleasureless and although the revolution is going to reunite you with your species-being, along the way it is going to be very miserable. Get over that and you’ll be fine.”

Now, I’m all for radical social change. I think we need radical social change in the situation that we are in in the moment, but it doesn’t stop me feeling that there is something a little unpleasant about being told that the route to this radical social change is going to involve deprivation of some kind. I understand that sacrifices need to be made but does it have to be unpleasant all the way is my question.

The reason that I’m really interested in food and global justice is because food offers a way of understanding why, “Yes there needs to be radical transformation! Yes, we need redistribution. Yes, we need a whole range of things. But it doesn’t need to be the sort of dower, flagellating self-abnegating pleasureless path to radical change.” In fact part of the process of getting us to a better world involves us democratizing pleasure and that idea that in fact if we are going to get to a better world, we need everyone to have pleasure I think is a really good way not only of understanding really what the struggle is for and what it is about, but also how it is that we are going to recruit more and more people to get to that world.

So, that’s why I think food gets to be a very useful way of recruiting and thinking about radical social change. It becomes a way of saying, look, are you interested in having better good? Are you interested in being able to eat better? Are you interested in your children not being succumbing to diabetes? And certainly in the United States, one of three kids born now will develop type 2 diabetes. One in two kids of color. I’m very serious about my kids not developing type 2 diabetes…but merely presenting it as a thing parents should do just adds on to the things that parents should be doing for their kids. But who has the time? If we are thinking about just making that process one that is full of pleasure and joy and community, then all of the sudden that doesn’t get to be a task, it gets to be a mission of vision. And that, when it comes to social change, less of the tasks and more of the joy is going to get us much further and that is why I think that food is important.

AnneHamersky_09022_Tryon_228DT: What do you mean by “food sovereignty”?

RAJ: So what I love about this story is that it is about food, it is about ecology, it is about healthcare, it about a community empowering itself, joy, sharing food together, but it is also about politics and democracy. And it seems to me an example of food sovereignty at work.

Now food sovereignty, is this idea that was generated by the international peasant movement La La Via Campesina, a group that has by some estimates over two hundred million members and they have for a long time been saying, “look, what we need is an alternative to the way that capitalism provides us our food. And that vision for us is food sovereignty.” Now, food sovereignty has a long definition but if you want the sort of Cliffs Notes version, it is that we need democracy in our food system. That’s the one thing we’ve really been lacking.

[How are people thinking about this] in the United States? Well, of course there are a number of responses to that.

First of all, to observe globally the number of people of the billion or so people going hungry, sixty percent are women or girls. And in the United States there is a gender gap as we all know. You can see that from the pay differences between men and women. Women will earn seventy percent of what men earn for the same work. In the United States, one in three households that are headed by women are food insecure. There is abundant evidence that hunger is gendered in the United States as well as elsewhere.

[Secondly, there is the] idea of democracy in our food system.I was recently in Detroit where you have the Detroit Black Food Security Network doing wonderful things…. Everything from organizing farmer’s markets to looking at ways of generating income so that everyone is able to afford to shop at farmer’s markets and to be able to have access to good quality food and providing food for people who are unable to shop. The kinds of things that are happening in Detroit and throughout the United States, seem to me really exciting. So, the kinds of democracy you see at work in North America for example in Food Policy Councils, and there are over, more or less, a hundred food policy councils now in North America… And these are terrific sort of spaces where government and local businesses and local community groups are getting together to figure out how to eradicate hunger. I mean, slowly in some cases, but still broaching the question and figuring out ways together to answer that question. I think it is tremendously exciting. What that is is democracy and the food system where there was none before and I find that quite hopeful.

DT: Continuing with that, you wrote about the Black Panther party in your first book and then you continued with that research more recently in “Survival Pending Revolution,” can you say what the BPP did practically in relationship to food and then what activists today can learn from that?

RAJ: So, the Black Panther party has been abused by history and the way that it has been memorialized in the mainstream media is as a party of men in berets and leather coats with shotguns and people often forget that the Black Panther Party was also a service organization in many ways.

There were over forty what were called “Survival Programs.” And these survival programs existed because the founders of Black Panther Party realized that if they were to recruit people, they needed to address the material needs that were very much a problem to the people with whom they wanted to serve. And so, you had these sorts of survival programs that ranged from providing free shoes to escorting elderly people home at night if they were concerned about their health or their safety, to providing jobs, to providing bags of free food, to school breakfast programs.

Now, there had been some federal money for the providing of school breakfast but the federal government wasn’t taking that terribly seriously. But the Black Panthers did a terrific job of getting donations from local organizations and local businesses and turning those donations into school breakfast and those breakfasts were open to all black and poor people wherever they were open.

And so successful were these programs that at one point, the Black Panthers were feeding more kids than the state of California was. And this was a problem for the federal government and particularly for J. Edgar Hoover who saw nothing more dangerous than black people who were winning over the sympathies of the middle class by doing things like feeding kids. And so Hoover tried to undermine the Black Panther Party… the COINTELPRO and the FBI wore on the Black Panthers ultimately smashed the party.

But what cannot be lost is the lesson here and it seems to me is that there are many lessons. One of them of course is that is that if one is interested in building for social justice and social change then food is definitely a part of that. On the flip side, food can’t be the only thing that you do. And the Black Panthers realized that right off the bat. That’s why there were forty different programs. They had free healthcare. They had a rudimentary kind but nonetheless it was there. They had medical research into sickle-cell anemia because that was a disease that primarily effected African Americans and primarily does affect African American people, people from the African continent. And there was very little medical research happening around sickle-cell anemia so they set up the sickle-cell anemia research foundation.

So in order to understand and locate movements for social change within the context in which we find ourselves, you can’t just think about food and food activism can’t just be about food, it needs to be about healthcare, it needs to be about a system in which wages are so low that the only way that many people can afford to eat is at the local fast-food restaurant. If we are serious about radical transformation, food can’t be the only way… Making sure that there are farmers markets everywhere isn’t going to solve the problem because if people are unable to shop at farmer’s markets then it doesn’t matter how many there are. Similarly, if the marketing of food is so pervasive that our desires are shaped by powerful corporations then again, it doesn’t matter if there is kale on every corner. If our desires are so heavily shaped by marketing that what we want is Applebees then that’s…It won’t be surprisingly that we will end up there as opposed to making choices that are sensible to us because in many ways our instincts have been bought by the food industry.

So, we nee a rebellion against capitalism as well as the organizing of these sort of positive futures. But again, what seems worth learning from path of experience is you understand where people are right now and you use the organizing from where you are right now as a way forward in terms of organizing for the future and for political education. So, I think that is something that is sometimes forgotten among food activists today. That if we are interested in food justice, we need to be interested environmental justice, we need to be concerned with the housing crisis, we need to be concerned with capitalism.

I like that Black Panther story because of it is a way of reminding us in the food justice world, we have an ideological pantry that is rarely raided. There are experiences and histories when it comes to food that actually need to be recuperated. We kind of left these ideas on the shelf for a long time because of the way the food movement has in some ways come from a middle class trajectory but there has always been a radical food movement in the United States. There has always been a movement associated with farmers in the United States. There is obviously a movement associated with farm workers who are not the same thing, who are actually very different interests from farmers in the United States. And I think all of these strands are worth understanding and worth bringing together. So, you know, for example the history of farm workers in the United States and of communist organizing that is happening in the United States with farm workers, is something that is too often forgotten and is worth recuperating in just the same way as the sort of reconstructed Maoism of the Black Panthers as something we need to think about.

DT: My next question is about self-sufficiency and local control being values that you can find across the political spectrum. I had this experience where I saw a group of Maine farmers in Sedgwick, Maine (who are part of the National Family Farm Coalition) who decided to proclaim their town a food sovereignty town. This was initially an appeal that was made from my perspective under the auspices of more conventional left-wing politics, but then it got really picked up and celebrated also in conservative, libertarian and tea party related blogs… So, for example, it was written about it in left-wing and progressive publications like Modern Earth News and Grist but it was also written about in the Tenth Amendment Center and Daily Paul, which are constitutionalist news sources and then a blogger from the Daily Paul reported, “This is great! This town says that what we buy and sell here between townsfolk is private business, not the concern of the feds or the state. Makes me want to move to Sedgwick, Maine!” And so I just want you to reflect on this a little bit in terms of what you think are important distinctions between approaches to localism found across the political spectrum. What you think might sort of be held in common or what you think is a distinguishing characteristics.

RAJ: Maybe the first distinction worth pointing out is that food sovereignty is not the same thing as self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is the idea that you are going to be having an autarchy…And very few places can actually achieve this, at a national level. But it is the idea that your property is your own and resources that flow through it are your own and always have been and in that sense self-sufficiency is quite amnesiac about history but it is fairly militant about property rights. It takes very seriously the idea that whatever history has provided and whatever injustices that happened along te way in order for what you consider to be your to be yours, well we can forget all that, what matters now is that this is mine and everyone else can just fuck off.

Food sovereignty is ultimately just a collective democratic process and the ideas behind food sovereignty are… it strikes me, quite different from self-sufficiency. Food sovereignty is the idea that what we need to be doing is having a democratic conversation about these resources and being able to democratically decide on the terms of exchange. Now, that isn’t to say that self sufficiency is ruled out, it is just that in practice in the world that we live in at the moment, it is hard to imagine a country or a territory or a city being self sufficient, but it is much easier to imagine that people can carry on exchanging but exchanging in terms where there is actually a democratic discussion first about the terms of that exchange.

So food sovereignty is much more about the democracy and much less about the self sufficiency and I like food sovereignty because it isn’t agnostic about history, it does have ideas within in about “Well, if we are going to have democracy, then we also need to be thinking about gender. We also need to be thinking about reparations. We need to be thinking about whose land this was. We can and should in many cases think about suspending property rights and to think about regimes in which we can manage resources in common as a commons.”

And I think this is a very important idea that we are too often cavalier about. The idea of a commons is a idea that we are often taught about as the tragedy of the commons. Here is an example. If we are members of a village and we have a forest around our village and the idea of the tragedy of the commons would say because we are all selfish and because no one owns this forest around us, the following will happen: we will go out to the village, we will chop down trees, we will shoot squirrels, we will forage for nuts and berries and we will all do it as much as we want. No one will stop us because we are greedy. And therefore, we will do this and the tragedy will be that we will destroy the forest from which we depend with eyes wide open, even though… until the last tree is chopped down because we are propelled by nothing other than our selfish interests. And the only thing that can prevent a tragedy of the commons in the ownership of the forest by someone who has an interest in stewarding it. Now, that model is not historically true. If you look at the commons, if you look at the rise of capitalism in Europe, in order for capitalism to happen, in fact, commons needed to be privatized. People are very good, as it turns out, as human  beings. Yes, we are greedy, obviously we are greedy, but we are also other things. We are sociable; we are capable of averism and generosity and cooperation and we can create rules and live by them. I mean, imperfectly, but we do it anyway. And those ideas of managing resources without resorting to private property are ones that are still happening around the world that have happened in the past and to which we, I suggest, might want to return.

Harvest ListAnd those are ideas that are possible within a food sovereignty framework… And it is less easy to imagine that happening within a self sufficiency framework just because historically the idea of self-sufficiency has been one that has been wedded to the idea of private property rights and of marshaling and protecting borders and of sort of non-democratic means of achieving self-sufficiency. There is no necessary connection between self-sufficiency and democracy where there is a necessary connection n between food sovereignty and democracy.

DT: Continuing with the theme of resource management, I want to talk about markets. So you wrote in “Value of Nothing” that “you and me are also part of market society” (p.85), that you are “not arguing for a world without markets” (p.22) and that “Exchange itself might not be the source of the problem in explaining our current economic crisis – the problem likes in the system that surrounds the acts of exchange” (p.31, Value of Nothing, 2009) but that you also believe that markets are not the only way of “valuing the world”. My basic question: What is a market? And how is that distinct from the kind of capitalism that currently dominates the world economy? What is the difference between markets and democracy? I have read an essay by Charles W Johnson called “Markets Freed From Capitalism” in which he identifies a broad definition of markets, not as simply a “cash nexus” or as the corporate-state status quo, but as the site of free and voluntary exchange and consensual social experimentation. What do you think of this definition?

RAJ: In some ways, markets are as old as civilization and the idea two people can mutually exchange to their mutual benefit is something that I think is actually really powerful and quite wonderful. And I think the idea of uncoerced voluntary exchange for mutual benefit is something that we ought to be celebrating. We ought to have more of that. The trouble is that what we live in at the moment, what capitalism is, is kind of the anti-market. And this is an idea from the French historian Fernand Braudel that, in fact, what capitalism involves in the removal of the sort of consensual quality of exchange and in many cases the removal of mutual benefit. And that part of modern capitalism, the part that hides behind the idea, this wonderful and I think very powerful idea of what free markets, of uncoerced exchange, of no one telling you want to do.. and cowering behind that very attractive vision instead [is] what capitalism actually does, [which] is coerce us. And if you look at food markets, for example, most of the global food markets and controlled by four or five companies that are very happy to coerce and to be able to shape our tastes and be able to shape the terrain on which that exchange happens. So, I think there is an important distinction between markets, on the one hand, and capitalism on the other.

Now, what capitalism has done is insert itself into the fabric of society. The Hungarian social philosopher Karl Polanyi talks about market society, this idea of the way in which capitalism and societies are deeply enmeshed. Although it you watch Fox News you might believe that markets are god given. In fact, they are very much human creations. And the process of making markets is something that is often very violent.

And what we are seeing in the history of capitalism is that things that weren’t previously considered things that ought to be part of markets became market commodities…So, land for example. Still, in many civilizations, land is not considered the kind of thing you can buy and sell. It is the kind of thing sometimes to which you belong it is not the thing that belongs to you, you belong to it. And conceptually, there needs to be a great deal of violence done. The commons needs to be smashed. The private property rights need to be created in order for there to be market transaction of than land. Similarly, the way that you think of oneself and one’s body and the things that we do with our time… For that to become a commodity, we need to transform the way we think about our relationships to one another.

But it is a mark of how deeply enmeshed we are in market society that we think it is perfectly normal to pay rent and to get a salary. And yet, what is rent? Rent is a return on the private property of land. What is a salary? Salary is a money exchange for our labor power. Now, these are not natural god-given things. These are things that are very much part of modern capitalism. And yet we are so enmeshed in it that it is impossible that perhaps there are things that shouldn’t be commodities…Perhaps there are ways that we can rethink the way in which we govern these resources…Our own time, our own bodies, and certainly the land and resources beneath our feet in order…that we don’t find them afloat in a market where the highest bidder is able to control them but rather that we govern them in ways which are actually much more democratic.

Now, what this is to say is that, yes, markets are terrific…But they are terrific where it makes sense to have uncoerced exchange between individual people to experiment but when you have markets that created in large part so that powerful financial entities can become more powerful, that is probably a place where you don’t need markets. It is not even a case of too big to fail… These banks are dangerous entities and need to be smaller. It is a case of do we need markets in certain things at all? You don’t want markets in everything. It seems to me that a free and uncoerced exchange of a private property right to pollute is a stupid idea [proposed by] many, including many libertarians. The idea of [using] private property rights in the atmosphere [as] the way that you fix climate change. There is an abundance of evidence that that is actually not going to work.

DT: Continuing with that train of thought, you wrote that government shapes the terrain of the market (p.73). Give some examples of what the most powerful governments do and do not do in relation to the economy, as you elaborate on in Chapter 5 (p74-84, Value of Nothing, 2007).

RAJ: So this is the market society point isn’t it? That actually, in order for us to have land and what have you, governments need to be able to legislate that.

DT: I want you to get at the integral kind of relationship between markets and the state. You say the “terrain”…the sort of supportive relationship that exists.

RAJ: If you look at some of the crazy right-wing stuff about markets and government, it appears as if these markets appear magically and they self-police and that they require none of the infrastructure of government in able to be able to keep them rolling. And of course, that is precisely the opposite of what happens. In order for markets actually to exist, you do need regulation. You do need infrastructure. You need police to come and prevent violations of private property rights, for example. The whole idea of a private property right is premised on the idea that if it is violated, someone will come and haul you away. Now that someone is usually going to be from the state. Otherwise, it is not a private property right in any way that makes sense, in a strange libertarian calculus. You do need a role of some sort of police. This is the role of the liaison, right? And that often gets forgotten.

And so the idea that the government should just vacate itself from the business of markets is to wish for markets not to exist. There is an amnesia where people are saying, “Let governments remove themselves from free market.” Because it order for markets to exists, governments need to maintain them and police them. And so, that is why I find it is like ludicrous that people would want government out of markets whenwouldn’t be able to be maintained without the assistance of a government that is ready to regulate and to police.


DT:  You just said governments support markets and I understood you to be talking about markets as they currently exist…but in the previous question you made this distinction between capitalism as we know it and markets as an idea.

RAJ: What is a way of clarifying that? We have the sort of ideal idea of the market as a space where uncoerced exchange can happen. And that is terrific. And that is over here in.. You can occasionally find it in a marketplace where there is, where you are in a bazaar or something like that but in general the kinds of markets that you hear talked about in the newspapers when you hear, “The markets were up today!” or, “the markets were down today!” That is the opposite, right. The markets that were up and down today are not the markets where you are free and uncoerced. The markets that were up and down were the markets run by capital. Or rather, the markets through which capitalism is achieved and perpetuated.

Now, some people say, “Well, those markets are terrific and they are efficient and they ought to be left to their own devices. And markets work best when government is absent.” Now, at one level that is a preposterous idea because in order for these markets to exist, historically, as we’ve said, for land to be transformed into the kind of thing that can be bought and sold for labor to the kind of thing that can be bought and sold… You needed legislation. You need an architecture that is provided by the government. To have a private property is precisely to evoke some power that will come when that private property right is violated and will come and police it and will haul away the violator. So, the idea of governments existing separately from these kinds of markets, from capitalist markets, is absurd.

Now, certainly there are those who say, “Well, once capitalist markets are up and running, through the magic of the state, that then the state should take a step back.” But again, in order for markets to function everyday, you do need that regulation in order for price signals to effectively and clearly to be communicated you need regulation about what it is that is shared, the information that is available. And again, that is why I find it slightly weird… That the requirement to be more transparent about information, the regulations that are required in order for environmental costs, for example, to be communicated effectively, those kinds of regulations are considered burdensome whereas in fact that is kind of the way that the markets can and should be working in this weird capitalist fantasy…which again, has not much at all to do with the wonderful world of uncoerced exchange. In this world, we have a world of powerful people and powerful entities and powerful corporations that have a great deal of money. And it is weird, right. We often hear about the free market but there is… There is not much liberty in the free market in any sense.

There is a thought experiment that I really like that was put forward by a great philosopher Jerry Cohen. Jerry Cohen has this idea that, imagine a world where we don’t have money and we don’t have markets and instead what we have is a lottery of tickets and all these tickets are freedoms. You are free to go visit your mother, you are free to have three meals a day, you are free to have a car or healthcare, and we distribute these tickets at random. Some people have a lot of tickets and some people will have one or two tickets. And we would say in this world, “Well, the person with more tickets has more freedom.” And then Jerry Cohen says, “Well, look, that is like a free market but instead of tickets we have money.” And in a free market, free just means you have a lot of cash. If you don’t have cash then you are in many ways not a free person. In other words, in a free market, freedom is just another word for what poor people can’t afford.

AnneHamersky_09022_AngelicOrganics_59Now that idea of liberty and the free market is sort of over here but it is not about uncoerced exchange. It is about an entitlement of liberty in a meaningful way that is denied to you if you are poor. I would like to have that uncoerced exchange, but in order for that exchange genuinely to be uncoerced there needs to be equality before that and there needs to be a certain amount of democracy before that…. Whereas, a free market can exist quite happily without either democracy or equality.

DT: While you are talking about democracy and economies…Can you talk about what you perceive to be a relationship between local food and local politics?

RAJ:  So, when he hear a lot about local food, “Buy local! Buy Seasonal!” Whatever it is… “Eat kale, it is good for you.” The idea of local control… It is very exciting. I am excited by the idea that we would have generally democratic control in our food shed. Now, what that means is from wherever our food comes there would be the possibility of a democratic conversation. That means we would have a democratic conversation that includes labor, for instance. That would include the unpaid work that supports modern capitalism. The often gendered work that allows capitalism to function, that allows to certain labor to be sold in the market while other reproductive labor, often women’s labor, is necessarily unpaid.

Now, that kind of local control is very different from the buy-local.  The buy-local is entirely compatible with capitalism as it now stands where workers are exploited, the environment is spoiled. Even here in California is it possible for me to buy local and organic and still participate in a system that exploits workers. There was a case a year or so ago where a woman worker, a farm worker, in the Central Valley here in California died for want of access to water. She was working on an organic farm. If you see the packaging it looks local, it looks environmentally sustainable, and people died in the making of that. So local control seems to me is about a genuine sort of democracy as opposed to the kind of consumerism that is more oriented to circulating dollars in our local economy, but keeping that economy fundamentally capitalist. I think that again this is the distinction between a sort of genuinely food sovereign local economy and one that is merely going through the motions of shopping in a window dressed kind of way.

DT:  Karl Hess suggests that if the poorest neighborhoods had state regulations and constraints lifted, that people would immediately start creating wealth. So, the poorest neighborhoods in the U.S. get state regulations on small business licenses, and things like that, were sort of eliminated…. That all of the sudden people would spontaneously start creating wealth. Can you alleviate poverty through the market?

RAJ: No. And that seems to me to not understand how poor neighborhoods work. Wealth is being created all the time in poor neighborhoods. In fact, it was very interesting to see what is happening in West Oakland right now where there’s a friend of mine Brahm Ahmadi, who is part of the People’s Grocery. And of course capitalist don’t seem to be ready to give him any money. His problem isn’t government regulation… The problem is capitalism. And so I think that capitalist markets are generating poverty. They are not alleviating. Obviously, they are making some people very rich. But the problem in poor neighborhoods isn’t government regulation. It is a range of other things, ranging from racism to insufficient protection from environmental hazards.

In the sort of conventional way of thinking, if only businesses were allowed to flourish or if only people were given the right to own their own land and then all of the sudden they would turn into capital and they would thrive…. These are ideas that are also you can find in Hernando deSoto who wrote a book called, “Mystery of Capital, ” who was saying that basically, look, poor people are sitting on land in slums throughout the third world, and if only we gave them title everything would be fine. Now, title is important…security of tenure is very important, but we can do that without resorting to markets. And by keeping… by merely providing title to land but while keeping everything else the same, all you do is provide a mechanism to suck yet more resources out of a poor community.

So, I dispute quite deeply what Hess is saying. I don’t think the problem is government regulation. I think that histories of exploitation and alienation are much more important. But I think in many ways people have been denied the opportunity, despite a great deal of organizing to organize their local resources. Looking at again at the history of the Black Panthers, what were the Black Panthers trying to do? They were trying to organize their resources. They were smashed by a government in the name of preserving order. Now, the same government at the same time promoting these ideas order is promoting capitalist markets.

I am certainly attracted to the idea of people organizing to manage their own resources, I think that is terrific idea. But to do that without a sort of understanding that there may be other claims on those resources, I think there might be a problem with people organizing to manage oil resources, for example, when those oil resources have externalities that effect the entire planet. I’m not cool with people organizing to burn as much oil as they can or burn as much coal as they can just because it happens to be in their backyard. I think that because we live in a world where we share the global commons, we need to be figuring out ways in which we organize understands and respects the environmental constraints which we find ourselves.

I find libertarianism insufficient. It is necessary in terms of people organizing together and taking… and that sort of anarchist principle… but I am much more in tune with libertarian socialism. I think that that is recognized that the playing field is not level, that people to not get to organize as they choose. That when you are born you may be born with nothing as other people may be born with a great deal. Is that fair? I don’t think it is.  And a certain amount of community intervention to make sure the playing field is level is a good idea.

Similarly, making sure that we do manage these global externalities I think is important. It will do people very little good at all to organize their resources in a world where we have global change of 2 or 3 degrees at minimum and much more than that at some places. We do need mechanisms in order to be able to collectively address these problems. But one of the ways we do that is by, firstly, moving beyond capitalism. And I don’t think that the kind of libertarianism that he advocates is serious about piercing the idea of private property rights. I think we need to move beyond private property rights in thinking about the climate, in thinking about resources, and thinking about land. And there’s not enough of that in this idea of libertarianism to make me feel like it is truly like liberty.

Does that make sense? Because when it comes organizing and people being free to be able to organize themselves, that’s terrific. But there are also ways in which constraints are necessary. I think we can collectively agree that there are domains in which free and uncoerced exchange is a good idea but there are also ways in which we can agree to bind our hands before that exchange happens so there are certain things we don’t do because it just damages us or degrades our environment or it is an insult to our collective sense of who we are that that not happen.

DT: That makes sense. These kind of questions are things I’m thinking through myself, which is ultimately why I do most projects to try to publicly or constructively think through challenging questions. I want to get beyond left-wing vs right-wing libertarianism overly particular debates… Which is why I’m interested in talking to you about food because I feel that these aspirations of localism are more broadly desired… And seeing them expressed in popular ways by the Tea Party, by Occupy Wall Street, by these movements of disenchantment, essentially…Is there anything else you have to say that is related to the local control  and disenchantment?

RAJ: Also something that I am wrestling with is what scale works? We can sort of understand that our community of fifty families or whatever there is can get together and do democracy but what about at a regional level and at a national level? What about international level? It just seems impossible to get democracy to work properly there, which is why capital and corporations seem to be very good at hijacking that process.

And one of the ideas I’ve been really excited by has been from Andrej Grubačić, the Balkan sociologist. And he has this idea of Balkanization from below. Now, what we often hear about Balikanization where it is basically people who hate each other that they split up into tiny little countries and they don’t get along… But if you look at the history of the Balkans as Andrej does, he has this wonderful grassroots vision of democracy where communities are in fact getting together at local levels, and then at regional levels, and then at national levels. And that is why from the outside it looks as if there is a lot of instability. And certainly in the twentieth century, with the advent of twentieth century states that certainly become much more evident… but the history of the Balkans, from democracy from below, where you can have local regional and sort of greater than regional kinds of interactions between people and people get along just fine, that vision of democracy I think is very, very exciting. I’m excited just for us to figure out ways for us to do that in the twentieth-first century. I think that something that we need to be recuperating. And it is another sort of think from our ideological pantry that we ought to be pulling off the shelf, I think.

DT: In conclusion, I just want you to unpack some of these metaphors you use in the Value of Nothing. Let’s start with your interest in Kafka’s Metamorphosis and then you can go into some of the medical metaphors that interest you.

RAJ: I am happy to read it…

“One morning after a night of bad dreams, Gregor Samsa awoke to find himself transformed into a bug. He was lying on his hard, as it were a armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff, arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position, was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his ideas. What has happened to me, he thought?”

That image of waking up to find yourself in the body of a bug… I use it as a metaphor in the “Value of Nothing” to talk about how we woke up in 2008 and we are in the middle of a recession and we’ve been told by economic betters that things were going just fine and as long as we liberalize markets, everything was going to be terrific. And so waking up in 2008 to find that we were in fact in recession, it was strange. In fact, our reaction was the same as Gregor Samsa because what happens in the Metaphorphsis is Gregor Samsa doesn’t then ask, “So, What happened to me?” He doesn’t ask, ” What am I going to do?” He is like, “How am I going to keep my job?” The first thing that Gregor Samsa worries about is his job. It is not about the deep processes that resulted in his transformation. It is much more about, “How am I going to survive this?” And that was our response in 2008. It was much more about “How do we survive? “How do we overcome the situation that we are in rather then… So what the hell… What am I going to wake up as tomorrow? Today I am a bug… What exactly has happened?

And I think that it is hard for us to ask those deep questions because we are so mired in the economy, right? We spoke a little bit earlier on about how things that historically that are very weird like rent and salaries are perfectly natural to us, that we are already in the process of selling rights to pollute the atmosphere, we have these carbon markets. And these are bizarre ideas historically! It would have been absurd to any number of civilizations proceeding ours that we would do such a thing.

But nonetheless, we are sort of caught up in the market because actually we’ve kind of ceded to the market the ability to value things. And there is an interesting sort of medical metaphor that is useful  here, it is called Anton’s blindness. Anton’s Blindness is the name of a condition that you get after a traumatic brain injury, it might be a stroke or a car accident or something like that. But if you have Anton’s Blindness then here are your symptoms. You believe that you can see… You bump into things, because in fact you are blind. And so they will bump into things and they will crash around… And then they will have to make up stories about why it is that the world that they believe to be the case is different from the one where they find themselves. And so they will make up stories, it is called confabulation. They will make up a story about how…” I was careless. I didn’t see that table there!” or, “Who moved the chair?”

But that confabulation is what we are doing right now, when we talk about the economy being the result of Bernie Madoff’s greed or the feckless Greeks…. If only they hadn’t lied about their accounts then everything, we wouldn’t be in this mess. That is a confabulation because really what we are missing is the much deeper problem of the fact that we are relying on markets, on these capitalist markets, to tell us what things are worth rather than us to engage in a democratic process of actually deciding where it is we want a price signal and where it is that a price signal is entirely inappropriate. And in that sense we have advocated a great deal of democracy to the markets and the people who are kings of those markets are not in any way democratically-minded.

Highlights from the March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food, March 2013

March 29, 2013

The Coalition Of Immokalee Workers in Florida just released this video documenting their recent march to the Publix grocery store headquarters that saw food and farm activists from all over the country come together. Here is what they said:

From the contemplative, and uplifting, launch at Jesus Obrero Church in Ft. Myers to the raucous final day with 1,500 farmworkers and Fair Food allies marching on Publix’s headquarters in Lakeland, the video tells the story of a march that will surely go down in the pages of farm labor history. So check it out, and don’t let the 10-minute length daunt you, it’s 10 of the best minutes you’ll spend today, we promise!

Congrats to City Slicker Farms!

March 9, 2013

City Slicker Farms, one of the farms featured in our 2010 book, has just broken ground on their largest project to date. Here is more of what they said:

“The West Oakland Urban Farm and Park marks a new high point in our twelve-year journey to empower West Oakland residents to grow, harvest, and eat fresh, healthy food where they live,” said Barbara Finnin, City Slicker Farms’ Executive Director. “Our goal is to work with the community, together with our supporters and funders to create a new space where residents can cultivate both nourishing food and a shared communal space for play and enjoyment.”

At 1.4 acres, the West Oakland Farm and Park will be City Slicker Farms’ largest site, and will greatly increase City Slicker Farms’ ability to grow and distribute food. The space, which was designed after a three-month long process that included community dialogues and input, will also serve as a beautiful, lush green space for West Oakland residents and their families to recreate, play, and gather.

The urban farm and park will be the largest, and only self-owned, of City Slicker Farms’ Community Market Farms.  “We are thrilled to finally have land security for a farm and park that community members can use and enjoy it in perpetuity,” said Finnin.  Kelly Saturno, former City Slicker Farms Board Chair and current committee member for the project, agrees.  “Land security in urban agriculture is important since other urban farming projects that did not control their land have been jeopardized or even shut down as in the case of LA’s South Central Farm,” said Saturno.

City Slicker Farms currently operates five Community Market Farms—food production gardens that are open to the public where produce is harvested and distributed weekly to Wes Oakland residents on a sliding scale.  Nearly 30% of customers receive food for free, and 95% of all of the farms’ customers live on low to extremely low incomes.  City Slicker Farms’ current production is being outpaced by demand, which makes developing the West Oakland Urban Farm and Park a ripe opportunity to address continually emerging needs.

Update from On The Fly Farm

March 2, 2013

David Meyers (front) with former collaborators from Hidden Haven and Foxglove farms

We just got this update from On The Fly Farm, one of the farms featured in Farm Together Now in the section about “On Donated Land.” Well since that time David has moved to a new piece of land which is rented and not donated, but the backstory is still very much the same. We were inspired by David’s approach and felt it was a useful counterpoint to some of the more business-like CSA farms out there and loved his transparency with money and the idea of a “solidarity subsidy”. David is also a coffee roaster and instigator of lots of projects, so please keep up with him and if you know people in the Chicago or Northern Indiana or Southwest Michigan who might want to subscribe to his CSA, send them this link! (-FTN)

David’s Update:

Why Not Take the Gambol of Summer Produce Pleasure with On-the-Fly Farm? Quirky, Irregular, Greens-Heavy, Socially Relevant: Well-Worth It.

Contrary to current trends in spelling and some confusion in sound, the word “gambol” is not a misspelling of “gamble,” it is merely a different word from it, and one maybe not used so much in places where raccoons and other wildlife are less prevalent.
gam·bol – To leap about playfully; frolic.
n. A playful skipping or frolicking about.
[Alteration of French gambade, horse’s jump, from Old French, perhaps from Old Italian gambata, from gamba, leg, from Late Latin, hoof, perhaps from Greek kamp, bend.]
At any rate, welcome to a screed from On-the-Fly Farm. A pastiche, really. I’d like you to subscribe this year to a Quirky, Irregular, Greens-Heavy but Still Well-Worth It CSA, which puts you in the near-idyllic position of receiving quality vegetables and other rural products, supporting a small-scale organic farmer and a grassroots movement, while acting in solidarity with some freedom fighters in our community.
This year On-the-Fly Farm will grow a variety of vegetables that is neither comprehensive, unintelligible, nor daunting, nor anywhere other than beyond the pale (potatoes and ruffled kale and a dozen other greens, tomatoes, several different beans, winter squash and zucchini, cucumbers, salad mixes, radishes, turnips, onions, copious sugar and and prodigious snow peas, dill, basil – a rather limited palate, but still – substantial).  We’re also committed to maintaining relationships with other small farmers nearby, so from time to time we add free-range eggs (substitute more greens if your vegan), fruit, pickles, and other produce we don’t grow ourselves to your weekly bags. Our fairly traded, organic Resistance Coffee, with its Kropotkin’s Kaffe revered in some circles, will also be part your On-the-Fly experience.
Subscriptions cost $400.  For this you’ll receive a goodly number of deliveries of fresh produce over the summer, beginning in June. Pickup and dropoff will include Humboldt Park, Westtown, Rogers Park, and Hyde Park, with other area drop-offs possible as well. Home delivery is available for an extra $50. [If you are low-income, and these prices are too high, let me know. We’ll figure something out, as always.]
Your subscription will go towards supporting On-the-Fly’s solidarity work in Chicago as well. Your additional donation will further that reach.
On-the-Fly is a project of the Chicory Center, which since 2004 has worked towards creating a just food system within a just society. With your subscription you take part in a solidarity effort that makes sure organic produce finds its way to low-income eaters as well as to your own table, while supporting an organic farmer and the growth of sustainable farming. This year, your subscription and additional donation will go towards solidarity with low-income stellar folk in our community, whether that is two subscriptions for Iraq Veterans Against the War, or somehow supporting work to free Jeremy Hammond and/or other imprisoned anarchists and anarchist endeavors.
                 … Pastiche …
Projected On-the-Fly Budget 2013
    Expenses                                     Income
    $ 1,200   Transportation           Subscriptions    $4,000
                   (Car, Gas, Insurance)   (10 x $400)
    $   300   Seeds, Potatoes            Market Sales     $   500
    $   100   Supplies, Tools              Donations          $1,000
    $   200   Fertilizer, Lime
    $   400   Eggs, Pickles, Fruit, Etc.
    $3,300   Farmer Pay (26 wks x 20 hrs) = $6.35/hr)
    $5,500   Total Expenses Total Income      $5,500
The anarchist Chicory Center was founded in 2004 to attack food injustice while opening doors to constructive, radical social action, growing out of a do-it-yourself ethic. The project serves as a nucleus for acting upon local and regional food and social justice issues from an anarchist perspective, while fostering self-sufficiency and community well-being. In practice, the project’s On-the-Fly Farm serves to model a kind of solidarity that works closely with individuals, poor people, activists, organizations, and poor communities overcoming economic, social, and political oppressions. We believe in sustainable, democratically run food systems not controlled by the state, food systems that function independent of wealth and privilege.
Recognizing that capitalism and the corporate malaise including entities like Whole Foods exist to profit the few and have no interest in making quality healthy food available and affordable to all, we work to support a grassroots, class-conscious, people-powered food justice movement. The role of the U.S. government in generating and maintaining non-democratic, non-participatory, and corporate-controlled food supplies and agricultural policies puts us all at risk of radical food insecurity. The USDA’s corporatism makes even the minute trickle of research and funding directed towards supporting sustainable, community-powered agriculture appear as little more than a sugar-coating to keep non-profit, progressive, radical, and revolutionary critics silent or at bay. The Chicory Center and On-the-Fly Farm support flying in the face of conventional wisdom in an effort to show that people acting creatively, on their own initiative, can not only feed themselves but in that effort further the struggle for a just and liberated society.
The Chicory Center also serves as a retreat available to poor people, activists, artists, and the like. We are engaged in a unique process of experimenting with what a vital, coherent, healthy village might look like in these times – one that is inclusive, not exclusive.
– Chicory Center,
– Featured in Farm Together Now,
–   “With your farm subscription, weekly you will get not only recipes to deal with
      vegetables you haven’t really experienced before; nor just the scribblings of
      yours truly; nor mere sexy photos of farming; you will get solicitations to write
      letters supporting political prisoners, information on upcoming actions, and
      invitations to cultural and musical events out at the farm.”
      – 2008 On-the-Fly Farm solicitation
More Pastiche …
Your produce will be delivered in biodegradable bags, which if possible we’d like you to return to us the following week filled with your organic kitchen scraps. Not every one in the city has an easy place or way to compost, and this will allow you to do so easily and allow us to continue building up our soil.
If you’d like to get your hands dirty, the first weekend of each month subscribers and friends can come out to the farm for agriculture and culture, with music and other festivities while we work.
Economically, farming is one tough field to start out in without some sort of subsidy or inheritance. During On-the-Fly’s first two years, 2004 and 2005, my work as a grant writer provided that. As some know and some do not, I have been a war tax-resisting anarchist for many years. I sent the money I would have paid the IRS to local groups working for social change and away from the military. The IRS doesn’t agree with this sort of thing. This was enforced through levies on my pay. Thus in 2006 my attempt to earn a living solely by farming began in earnest. It was naïve; well-worth it, though.
John Brown inflections.
Growing fruit is one of the things people mention most when I ask them what they’d like to see in the weekly bags. Without permanent access to land, planting fruit trees just doesn’t make sense. I’ve been augmenting the bags with some fruit from nearby farms, very little of it organic. This year we’ll be subscribing to a nearby organic apple farm, in a CSA-style arrangement where we’ll get all the apples from one or two trees! Fruits that would be feasible for On-the-Fly to grow or gather ourselves include strawberries and blackberries.
We planted 25 wild strawberry plants last fall, so whether you’re an Ingmar Bergman fan or not, we should get a crop later in the season as the weather cools back down. Blackberries abound in the region, it’s simply a matter of having the people power and labor to go get them.
On-the-Fly Subscription for Summer 2013
___ I am enclosing a payment of $400 for a quirky yet substantial amount of local produce, delivered
       regularly over the summer
___ I am also enclosing a donation of $_____ to support On-the-Fly’s commitment in solidarity with
       low-income anarchists / activists
___ I want to further ensure that On-the-Fly remains sustainable, and am
       donating $_____ to the project
Please make check out to Chicory Center, and mail to David Meyers, 19825-B South Lakeside, New Buffalo, Michigan 49117.

An Update from Mountain Gardens

February 22, 2013

One of the farmers we profiled in Farm Together Now back in 2009 was Joe Hollis of Mountain Gardens in the mountains of Burnsville, North Carolina. In addition to some plans for the future (see below), Joe sent us an update about what has been happening at his place over the last year:

Mountain Garden Accomplishments for 2012

  • Reconstructed kitchen annex and cob oven after fallen tree incident, new pizza oven
  • Added solar panels, greatly increasing our power (now we can use a computer on a rainy day!) Bought a computer for the pavillion (communal). Got wireless internet (DSL), goodby dial-up
  • Great progress on pond, still needs cob reinforcement before filling. Used dirt for new terrace.
  • Big increase in area for food production, new cultivation and terraces on ‘food slope’ Improved sunlight by removing some shading trees around garden
  • Harvested some honey from our bees (3 hives now)
  • Hauled many pickuploads of manure from nearby ‘dude ranch’, built a small road to bring manure to new terraces on food slope.
  • Revamped wildfood beds for experimental cultivation of woodland food plants (ramps, etc.)
  • New, much more efficient herb drier
  • Mushrooms – gathered a lot, identified many new edibles, inoculated logs & stumps
  • Bare root plants sales: shipped $1000 of Chinese medicinal herb plants
  • Successful 8-day Chinese herbal medicine workshop
  • Dropped a lot of dead hemlocks and planted new wildfood garden between stumps.
  • Updated seed collection withmany new species of ‘useful plants’

And for 2013 and Beyond, Mountain Gardens hope you will get in touch and get involved in the following initiatives, Herb/Plant Studies and workshops (get in touch through their website if you are interested in participating):

Our overarching project is to develop a  ‘demonstration botanical garden of useful plants’, distribute propagating material of the plants, and generate important information about their cultivation and utilization and share it via this website and workshops taught at Mountain Gardens.  We do have some special interests; there aren’t clear boundaries (the most interesting plants are both food and ‘medicine’), but I’ve made an effort to separate specific topics below. The overarching Current project: is to expand the plant collection, offer more seeds and bare root plant sales and begin publishing our plant database online.  We offer several workshops, both half-day and all day, which are extended plant walks, in the garden and adjacent National Forest, with discussion of ID, ecology / habitat, propagation, harvest and of course uses (edible, medicinal, craft, etc.) of hundreds of native and introduced plants.
     A major theme here, as will be seen below, is ‘E-W comparative studies.’  By ‘E-W’, we mean specifically E. Asia and E. N. America.  We want to compare, and create a new synthesis from, eastern and western botany, ecology, herbology, horticulture, pharmacy, garden design and, indeed, philosophy.


Sansai literally ‘mountain vegetable’ – the Japanese word includes what we call wildfood. About 50 spp. of plants are used in Japan, mostly in the form of young sprouts and shoots and hence only available for a short time in spring. This category of food is highly prized and eagerly awaited in spring. At least 75% of Japanese sansai plants have a closely related native (S.Appalachian) equivalent.  See the article “On Beyond Ramps” [link]  Current projects:  Integrating native wildfoods and plant introductions from the far east, we have assembled probably the largest collection of sansai plants in the eastern US.  I continue identifying and searching out propagating material to add to the collection.  We will continue to supply Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC and one or two local restaurants.  This year we’ll be offering seeds and, a new feature, bare root plants of an initial selection of 25-30 species. [links]  A goal for 2013 is to develop and post a database of all spp. present with habitat, propagation, harvest time, etc. There will be a workshop on propagating, growing & harvesting sansai plants.

Bupin literally ‘repair substance’ – about 75 spp. of Chinese herbs, in the form of dried roots, seeds, fruits,etc. which are combined with food (meat, rice, vegetables) to “adjust or tonify a person’s physiological imbalance.”  Bupin “revitalize the strength” and “replenish one’s natural power of immunity.” The Asian supermarkets which are appearing in most large cities feature an entire aisle of bupin.  Most bupin  plants can be grown in E. N. Am., and there are probably a number of native plants which could be included in the category- certainly American ginseng and other Araliaceae.  Bupin are frequently consumed as soup, and there are many classic recipes involving 4, 6 or more herbs.  Current projects:  We now grow almost all of the bupin spp.which it is possible to grow in our area, but a there are a few valuable plants for which we are still seeking propagating material.  We are expanding our offerings of seeds and bare root plants.  We will be setting out several beds of spp. which grow well here, for sale to restaurants or in value-added products.  I hope we will post more instructions and photos on the subject on the website.  There will be a workshop on growing & using bupin.

Perennial vegetables – I have been collecting and propagating and growing these for over 30 years; only one or two of the hardy spp. from Eric Toensmeier’s excellent Perennial Vegetables continue to elude me.  Current projects:  Offer more spp. as seeds or bare-root plants.  Incorporate propagation, cultivation and harvest information in overall MG plant database and publish web.  Continue ongoing experiments with cultivation methods for efficient harvest of roots and tubers, fertilization and spacing trials for native perennial wildfoods, seed germination methods trials – keep records and share.  Try to get Dioscorea figured out.  Teach a workshop on perennial vegetables.

Tonic / longevity herbs and formulas from China & India – these are another long term interest.  I got a piece of advice when I was 30: “chart your course to intersect with the future.” So I’ve spent 40 years on this topic, figuring to meet up with the post-war generation right about now.  Yes, both Chinese and Indian herbal medicine have devoted considerable energy to developing anti-aging, rejuvenative herbs and formulas.  (Curiously, western herbal medicine has little to offer on this topic).  These herbs and preparations are called ‘tonics’ in Chinese medicine and ‘rasayanas’ (rejuvenatives) in Ayurveda.  Many of the Chinese tonic herbs are the same as bupin (above), but the tonic formulations, which can be prepared as decoctions, pills, wines, tinctures, syrups, etc., are much more elaborate and precisely targeted than the bupin soup recipes.  Rasayanas, coming from S. Asia, are unfortunately mostly, but not entirely, not-hardy.  Mtn Gdns has devoted considerable effort, over 30 years, to collecting any reputed ‘longevity’ herbs which will grow here, and learning to grow them (1) and collecting formulas (2), and now we have quite a treasure trove to share. Current projects: Offer more of these species as seeds or bare-root plants.  Summarize cultural, propagation, harvesting and utilization information on MG herb database. Make wines, tinctures, pills and other classic longevity formulations incorporating our fresh, organically-grown herbs. Share on line the most interesting usages and formulations from some scarce texts which we have acquired (ben cao gang mu, Pharmacopoeia of the P. R. of China, , Ishimpo, etc.).  Since we no longer sell tonic preparations on line (not GMP), begin offering packets of herbs so folks can make their own preparations (tincture: just add alcohol!).  Begin planting beds (a couple square yards each) of most important spp.  Teach workshops on growing and using tonic herbs

Medicinal herbs (other) – In accordance with our generational mandate, Mtn Gdns collects (plants & their usages, literature) and explores the herbal aspects of ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll’: CNS stimulants and depressants, libido (vital essence) tonics, calming / anti-stress / sleep.  Also brain / memory tonics (E.g. Calamus varieties and formulas ).  Also, herbs to promote immune fuction (adaptogens – we grow all possible adaptogens), anti-allergic, anti-arthritic, vision, hearing, etc. herbs and formulas.   Current projects:  Not so many of these plants are easy to grow in this area; a goal is to explore processing, combinations & formulas for those we can grow.  Teach a workshop on psychoactive herbs

Pao zhi – refers to a number of herb processing techniques used in traditional Chinese medicine to alter the energetics, reduce side-effects, increase palatability, etc. of herbs.  I have been practicing and teaching pao zhi for 10 years, and continue to research the topic, currently exploring the newly available ben cao gang mu – a treasure-trove of information. Current project: Continue to develop techniques and accumulate ancient and contemporary information.  Application to Western herbs?  Teach paozhi workshop.

Herbal Preparations – We like to make preparations from the herbs we grow. For ideas and inspiration we draw on  both traditional Chinese and late 19th century American pharmacy.  We practice the best (that we have discovered, so far) pre-industrial extractions and formats for medicinal herbs, utilizing the best Eclectic and standard pharmaceutical texts and Chinese information gleaned from a variety of sources including Li Shizhen and unpublished notes from Andy Ellis.  Current projects: Continue to expand our repertoire of herbal formats, internal & external.  Making alcohol from herbs, rather than adding herbs to alcohol.  Continue developing longevity liqueurs, incorporating more herbs that we can grow and harvest.  Expand repertoire of topical and skincare preparations.  Distill more essential oils and make use of the hydrosols (in tinctures and other preparations).  Offer herbal CSA?  Teach workshops on traditional Chinese and American / Eclectic pharmaceutical techniques and preparations

Native wildfoods – Our work with spring wildfoods is mentioned above (sansai), but of course there are wildfoods at every season.  Two recent books by Samuel Thayer: Nature’s Garden and The Forager’s Harvest  constitute a quantum leap in the quality of information on ID, harvesting and preparation of more than fifty of the best native wildfoods.  Current projects: The only problem with wildfood is the gas you have to burn to get to where it is. Our contribution to the movement is to offer seeds and bare root plant starts, and information on appropriate habitat, propagation, etc., so that you can naturalize these plants near your house.  Well also offer several workshops on this topic.

Li Shi-zhen’s forgotten herbs – Li Shizhen’s ben cao gang mu is a massive encyclopedia of natural history which treats almost 2000 minerals, plants, animals, insects, fungi, artifacts, etc., with details of harvesting, preparation and utilization (thousands of formulas and combinations are given) not available anywhere else.  Fortunately: it has been translated into English!  Unfortunately, it lists for $1600, there are deals online but it’s still about $800.  Also few libraries seem to have purchased it.  Fortunately, I have a copy!  It only took about $60 and 10 hours of turning pages at the copy machine.  Unfortunately, the ‘editorial apparatus’ (indexing, explanatory notes, etc) is minimal, the text is riddled with typos and who knows how many errors in translation.  Current projects: Begin to supply some necessary study aides such as a table of contents by latin plant name (the only table of contents given is in pinyin, and often it’s an obsolete pinyin name).  Continue reading through the text, highlighting its unique information, esp. on preparations and longevity formulas & techniques, edibility, propagation and cultivation, etc.  Compile a list of herbs not included in modern TCM (E.g. Bensky), then develop a list of new spp. to acquire.  Incorporate much Li Shizhen information in the series Chinese herb workshops.

Positive identification of Chinese herbs:  E-W herbal comparisons – There are at least 50 ‘east-west herb pairs’ (genera embracing both an E. Asia and an E. N.Amer. medicinal species), and a question of great interest is to what extent can our native plants be used in place of the imported species?  We have assembled all available published information (four books and assorted information from the internet), and are assembling the pairs of plants (ginsengs, black cohosh, dioscorea, solomon’s seal, hawthorn, etc.) affording a unique opportunity for comparative study.  Current projects: Continue filling out the plant collection; utilize new spp. suggestions from Li Shizhen.  Organize the extensive collection of reports which my students at Daoist Traditions have prepared over several years, each comparing the native and oriental species of a medicinal genus (a bulging file-drawer full)..  Incorporate info on ‘equivalent spp’ in Chinese herb workshop series.

Heirloom vegetables:  One of our major Current projects is food self-sufficiency.  Not just kitchen garden vegetables, of which we grow a good supply, but starch and protein crops like corn, beans, squash and potatoes.  My former apprentice, Dr. Jim Veteto, recently purchased land just over the ridge from Mtn Gdns on which to establish his Institute for the study of S. Appalachian food crops.  We’ll be partnering with his Southern Seed Legacy project to grow out heirloom corn and bean varieties collected right here in Yancey County.  What a thrill! We look forward to working closely with Jim on his projects, sharing apprentices and workdays and assisting in the preservation of local heirlooms.

Towards the development, demonstration and promotion of a way of living on earth that is sustainable, just and personally satisfying:  this is of course the sine qua non [without this, nothing].  I put it here last, but it’s first, always.  The best philosophy we have of a sustainable, just, satisfying life on earth is Daoism.  If this is true, one would expect to find echoes (at least) in other times and cultures, and indeed similar philosophies arose in ancient Greece but, lacking a Zhuangzi [Chuang-tzu], they lost out to Plato; and, since the victors write the history, the Cynics, Skeptics and Epicurians have been grossly misrepresented and are now largely forgotten. ‘Primitive’ people understand, which is why they’ve retreated to some of the most inhospitable environments on earth rather than joining up for the ‘benefits’ of civilization; unfortunately, they don’t write books about their philosophy, writing itself being an artifact of civilization.  ‘Primitivism’ (within which I include Daoism) is the philosophy of living on earth; modernism, from Confucius and Plato on up, is the philosophy of alliance with the human superorganism, which cancerously grows by consuming its host.  We all must choose; how we live is our bet, and we are betting the survival of our (thus far immortal) genes.

Ranchers at the Whitehouse

February 18, 2013

This was sent along from Jim Knopik, one of the 20 farmers/groups we profiled in Farm Together Now back in 2010. He is involved with a group of Nebraska ranchers who have been doing activism around the proposed Keystone pipeline. This action took place on February 13th, and yesterday 35,000 people from 30 different states converged in Washington for “Forward on Climate,” which is said to have been the biggest rally calling attention to climate change in U.S. history.

Quotes from Nebraskans:

Pics of Nebraskans involved in Wed action from Mary Anne Andrei for Bold Nebraska

Randy Thompson, cattle buyer, face of the pipeline campaign in Nebraska “Stand with Randy”


“I am a Nebraska cattleman and landowner. I am fighting against the KXL pipeline for two very basic reasons. First of all, I feel very strongly that this pipeline represents an assault on the individual property rights of American citizens. There is something inherently wrong about the idea of American landowners being forced to subsidize the private enterprise of a foreign corporation with land that their families have earned through generations of hard work and determination. Secondly, I feel that the KXL presents a real threat to some of our nation’s most valuable natural resources, especially our rivers, streams and underground aquifers. These are priceless American assets that no amount of oil money, foreign or otherwise, could ever replace.”

James Tarnick, young farmer and rancher, proposed pipeline route comes within 50 feet of his house


“I started out fighting the pipeline because it was coming on my land and close to the family farm house and livestock wells.  However, through what I have learned these past 6-7 months I am against it even more because it will impact us negatively economically in the long run and there are way to many ways it can harm our environment.  Landowners have been bullied by TC as our political leaders have looked the other way.  It is time to and this is an outstanding way to rise up against big money and say ‘We aren’t going anywhere. Ever!'”

Abbi Kleinschmidt, 5th generation farmer in the route of the pipeline


“I am fighting the pipeline because I believe it is my duty to stand up for Mother Earth and the health and well-being of all human beings and NOT allow a slimy, rich, foreign oil company to come in and cut through the heart of America. I cannot think of a more heartless act!! I am fortunate to live in a society where I have the right and can speak up for what I believe in. What this situation reminds of more than anything is what our ancestors did to the Native Americans. We came in and told them lies, cheated them, and moved them off of their land. I believe that TransCanada is capable of doing the same sort of thing, especially if there was a sizable tar sands spill. That company is ruthless, relentless, has an endless supply of money and only wants what is good for them. Since our politicians aren’t willing to take the appropriate stand, then power to the people and I would be one of those.”

Susan Luebbe: rancher, featured in Pipe Dreams documentary, one of the landowners in the lawsuit against the state of Nebraska on the pipeline route and eminent domain authority

“As a 3rd generation cowgirl from the Sand Hills of Nebraska I have worked hard with others to get KXL off our ranch. I want to take this risk of arrest with many other landowners, and indigenous tribal members from Canada through the United States to end this fight. I want to make an impact in this fight for residents of Canada’s tar sands region to Eleanor Fairchild’s Texas property. TransCanada’s project cuts right through the heart of environmental sensitive land and cultural history. I want the future generation to see what it takes to fight for something so precious that our ancestors worked so hard to build for all of us.”

Happy V-Day

February 14, 2013

This Valentines Day, I wanted to remember a powerful experience I had exactly two years ago when I was able to attend the National Family Farm Coalition’s annual board retreat in Washington DC and record all of these wonderful people reading the principles of Food Sovereignty:

If we all loved food and each other the way these folks do, then we would have a lot less problems.

Fair Food at 13 Years

December 13, 2012

From February 19th – March 4th in the year 200, Students from across the state of Florida and youth groups answer a call to action and walk alongside the farmworkers from Immokalee Florida in the “March for Dignity, Dialogue and a Fair Wage.” The first action outside Immokalee, the march covered 243 long miles to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. Marchers walked from sun-up to sunset (9-10 hours a day) for 15 days straight.

This led to the amazing social movement that became the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Student Farmworker Alliance, Taco Bell Truth Tour, Actions at Yum Brands’Annual Shareholder Meeting, McDonald’s Truth Tours, and so much more (see a timeline here). The CIW has become the vanguard of new social movements in the United States alongside the Right tot he City Alliance, the Workers Center Movement, Take Back the Land and the Domestic Workers United.

Now they are taking that walk again. On 3/3/2013: Join them in the streets again for the two-week “March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food” from Ft. Myers to Lakeland, Florida! Details are here

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

November 19, 2012

A message from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers:



This holiday season, ask Publix to join us at the Fair Food table…

The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time again to gather around the table with loved ones to celebrate another year of life together, of new beginnings and old friends, of triumphs and of the challenges ahead.

The holiday table unites us, and reminds us that — no matter how high, or low, our day to day lives may take us — in the end, we always make our way back to those whom we love the most, and when we are with them, the world feels right.

Love is the essence of the holidays. Love for our parents and their parents, love for our children and their children. Love for our friends, and love for all men and women with whom we share this fragile world. The holiday table reminds us that, in the end, we are all family, and that we can only truly enjoy the bounties that life gives us if we all enjoy them together, as one.

No one knows this better than Publix. Its holiday commercials are a tour de force in touching that place deep inside each of us that loves not just our families and friends, but our fellow man, too, regardless of the divisions that may separate us in our daily lives. Publix commercials never fail to remind us just how much we have to be thankful for, and how powerful an emotion our love can truly be.

But love without goodwill is an empty emotion. And, sadly, the holiday season has become an annual reminder that Publix — a company founded by a man, George Jenkins, who famously said the words “Don’t let making a profit stand in the way of doing the right thing” — is a company that has lost its way. Like any family, the families who own and run Publix gather around their holiday tables and reflect on their joys and struggles. For the families who run Publix, among those joys, year after year, are soaring profits. Yet they inexplicably continue to turn their backs on the farmworkers who make those profits possible.

Check out the CIW website  for the powerful new video, A Tale of Two Thanksgivings, and an accompanying online petition to send a holiday message from the Fair Food nation to Publix!

Gastronomica Reviews Farm Together Now!

October 2, 2012

Review: Farm Together Now: A Portrait of People, Places, and Ideas for a New Food Movement by Amy Franceschini and Daniel Tucker, with photographs by Anne Hamersky
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2010
192 pp. Illustrations. $27.50 (cloth)

by Naomi Starkman for Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture – Vol. 12, No. 3 (Fall 2012), pp. 117-118 Published by: University of California Press. JSTOR Stable URL.

If the country’s good food movement continues to thrive, it will be largely due to our nation’s farmers—the original futures investors engaged in an often precarious practice of endless beauty and decay, triumph and loss. As the new book Farm Together Now clearly conveys, this movement for real food and sustainable agriculture is comprised not only of farmers but also of urban activists, seed savers, beekeepers, and the many other groups who are building gardens to build communities and growing food to promote justice, some on borrowed land or borrowed time. Showcasing twenty of these American heroes, artist and designer Amy Franceschini and organizer and documentary maker Daniel Tucker—aided by the arresting photographs of Anne Hamersky—create a tapestry of the visionaries who are making a new food system.

In the first chapter, “Organizing Alongside Conventional Farmers,” we travel with our guides to rural Nebraska and encounter third-generation animal farmer Jim Knopik, who turned his own farm—and his neighbors—against factory farming in launching the statewide Nebraska Food Cooperative. We then meet third-generation Wisconsin dairy farmer Joel Greeno, who has been milking cows since he was ten years old and is now the president of the American Raw Milk Producers Pricing Association, an organization of dairy farmers dedicated to establishing raw milk prices that return dairy producers their cost of production plus a profit. The story of this food movement involves not only those working with the system; it also centers on individuals who are creating new structures. Take, for example, the farms the authors feature in the chapter titled “In Intentional Community”: Sandhill Community Farm in Rutledge, Missouri; and Tryon Life Community Farm in Portland, Oregon. Both groups are building communities based on biodynamic, cooperative, and egalitarian principles.

The book moves on to chronicle the “policy shapers” who are transforming the inner city. Urban farmers at Oakland’s City Slicker Farms—which sells produce for every budget— and Angelic Organics Learning Center in Chicago—one of the largest community supported agriculture (csa) farms in the country—both fit the bill. They are sprouting not only new urban gardens, but also supporting programs to improve their local food systems by changing the way their communities gain access to good food. In “Up and Out of Poverty,” we are similarly schooled in the hard work of the Georgia Citizens Coalition on Hunger, whose programs grew in response to the lack of healthful food in Atlanta’s primarily African American neighborhoods. An advocacy project cum food pantry and support group, the organization now grows its own food for sale at farmers’ markets.

The book shines a light on the next generation of farmers, such as the team at Freewheelin’ Farm in Davenport, California, who aim to shrink their footprint at every turn, including delivering csa shares by bicycle to their subscribers. In Union Pier, Michigan, we are inspired by anarchistorganizer, fair-trade coffee roaster, and avid tax-resister David Myers, whose On-the-Fly Farm csa subsidizes low-income subscribers and who shares donated farmland with God’s Gang, a nonprofit organization that provides access to good food for displaced residents of the Chicago Housing Authority.

Along the good food road, we meet farmers saving seeds in Arizona and others producing heritage wheat in New York. We meet a sixth-generation acequia farmer who irrigates his land from the oldest “water right” in Colorado, a practice heralded as “water democracy.” We follow up with the South Central Los Angeles Farmers, whose riveting story of displacement was told in the documentary film The Garden and who have since reinvented themselves in Bakersfield, California. Finally, we are invited into the rare world of a radical beekeeper in New York’s Hudson Valley, whose goal is to rebuild the dna of the honeybee to strengthen it to resist disease. They, and many more, farm together now.

With numerous digressions and detailed research, Farm Together Now offers much food for thought to readers both well versed in and relatively new to this movement for change. Its greatest strength is in giving voice to the creative solutions and myriad moving parts that comprise our food system, all of which are inspiring a sea change against the industrial food machine.
—Naomi Starkman, Cofounder of

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