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  • Writer's pictureMilton Mills

The Food System Series – Part 2: Localization


In Part 1 of this series, we explored how the corporate capture of government, news media, and “mainstream science” has grossly underestimated the climate-extinction crisis. How we are now unconscionably behind on mitigation efforts and desperately* unprepared for the consequences.

*To illustrate, we showed how climate change, the mass extinction of species now underway, and the global decline of topsoil are all converging in a perfect storm that could cause catastrophic disruptions to the global food system. Yet no one in the government, mass media, nor mainstream science is sounding any serious alarm.

Of course it’s no surprise. As we learned in Part 1, the “corporate capture” of these institutions has rendered them unfit and untrustworthy to lead. It begs a most difficult question: how can we put aside our differences and work together to solve maybe the toughest crisis any generation ever faced?

To be clear: it’s a compounding crisis: we must (1) urgently scale up mitigation efforts commensurate with worst-case scenarios. And at the same (2), we must also scale up resiliency efforts commensurate with worst-case impacts; i.e., food system collapse, etc.

But (3), the traditional institutions that oversee such efforts have been corrupted by corporate capture. Indeed, about the only good news is that grassroots efforts are now emerging to build community-scale resources for mitigation and resilience.

These efforts are diverse but can generally be characterized as movements toward localization; i.e., the transition of local economies to enable the sustainable production and equitable distribution of core goods and services that help mitigate the climate-extinction crisis and improve community resilience.

For example, the UK-based Transition Towns initiative “works with community-led Transition groups to implement practical projects in areas such as [local-scale] food, energy, waste, transport, shelter, habitat protection, healthy ecosystems, mutual aid, community-building, and disaster relief.”

Similarly, in the US, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance partners with citizen-led groups to empower communities to produce local-owned banking, renewable energy, broadband access, community composting, community gardening, urban farming, food distribution and recycling systems.

The rise of these alternative, citizen-led institutions is a process called dual power – a natural movement towards “collective self-sufficiency” that emerges out of economic, ecological and/or revolutionary crises. Following are a few examples relevant to our concern about food system resilience…

In Syria last decade, amidst the outbreak of civil war, an experiment in dual power arose among some remote border towns in northern Syria. To protect and provide for their communities, local citizens formed volunteer militias and sustainable farming and alternative energy cooperatives.

Now, a decade later, these efforts have evolved to sustain over four million people across a region known now as Rojava; it’s about twice the size of Israel. It’s a self-governed, egalitarian “model society” bound by a shared commitment to eco-feminism, cooperative economy, and self-sufficiency.

Similarly in Cuba: when the USSR collapsed in 1988, the food system in Cuba collapsed soon after. Without Soviet fuel and petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides for Cuba’s industrial agriculture – and compounded by the punishing US blockade of food imports to Cuba – food scarcity became acute. But the Cubans have rebounded.

In the cities, residents use their yards and patios to grow food. The government allows use of public spaces for community gardens and urban farms. In exchange for land and water, a portion (~⅕) of the produce is reserved for local daycare centers, schools, and hospitals. Farm workers keep the rest to sell at produce stands located at the farm.

Unlike Cuba, Russia did not suffer a food system collapse when the Soviet Union collapsed. That’s because of their rich, 1,000-year tradition of Russian household agriculture called “dacha” gardening. Among Russia’s population of 146 million people, about 66% of Russian families do dacha (home) gardening.

Altogether, family gardening in Russia produces over half of the nation’s agricultural output, including 92% of potatoes, 77% of vegetables, 87% of berries and fruit. That makes dacha the primary sectorof Russia’s agriculture and likely the most extensive, resilient food system of any industrialized nation.

The localized food systems of Rojava, Cuba and Russia are all thriving today, continually improving local biodiversity and ecology, including soil fertility and carbon sequestration; as well as ensuring nutritional security and food sovereignty for local residents, especially in urban centers.

These examples prove that highly decentralized, small-scale, organic food production is not only possible, but optimally productive, resilient, and adaptive: from the arid desert climate of fledgling Rojava, to the warm, humid tropics of Cuba, to the colder northern climate of industrial superpower Russia.

And all three systems are variously supported and/or incentivized by their governments. Of course, as explained in Part 1, the corporate capture of the US government ensures that the interests of big meat and dairy (BigMEAT) corporations dominate the agenda of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

For example, EVERY YEAR, the USDA funnels $38 BILLION in taxpayer dollars to the meat and dairy industry, mainly to profit BigMEAT corporations. Even though the USDA knows full well that BigMEAT is a leading driver of chronic disease in America, as well as climate change, global deforestation, soil degradation and biodiversity loss.

The corporate capture of the USDA ensures there will be no meaningful leadership from the US government to localize food production. At least not commensurate with the compounding urgencies mentioned above.

If we want to achieve such urgent change, at this point it seems very clear: we must do as the citizens of those countries above have done. We must work together in our own communities and begin localizing the food system ourselves, bottom up, household by household, neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community…

In fact, the beginnings of such efforts may already be well underway in your own community. Indeed, some folks may be surprised to learn that throughout our history, local food systems have often been crucial to the sustenance and survival of traditionally oppressed peoples in the U.S.

In the third and final installment of this series, we’ll explore a few such efforts going today in U.S. communities. We’ll also introduce the people leading these efforts, whose values of ecology, equity and self-reliance seem vital for such a movement to grow and stay true to its purpose. We hope you’ll check it out.

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