Putting the DEMOCRACY into Food-and-Farm Democracy: A Food-and-Farm Bill for and by All Americans

Putting the DEMOCRACY into Food-and-Farm Democracy: 
A Food-and-Farm Bill for and by All Americans

(posted to food-and-farm list-servs on Nov. 11, 2013)

To:  Jasia Steinmetz, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
COMFOOD list-serv
cc:  Frances Moore Lappe, Small Planet Institute
Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (national organization based in Ames, Iowa)
Food Policy Network (national forum based at Johns Hopkins University – Baltimore, MD)
Advocates for Urban Agriculture (Greater Chicago)
Illinois Local Food and Farms Coalition  (Illinois)

Ms. Steinmetz —

I don't know if Frances Moore Lappe was able to answer your question about references for "effective actions" about power imbalance.  I, too, have been feeling the urgency to "democratize systems" — and to do it as peacefully as possible.   I appreciate your questions and framework and have a few thoughts, including a proposed plan.

I, too, appreciate Ms. Lappe's comments about power imbalance and her clear formulation about "the three conditions proven essential to human social problem solving — the continuous dispersion of power, transparency, and mutual accountability."   That's a good checklist for gauging our progress towards democracy.

Over the last year or so, I have identified some high-leverage action items that:  
—  promote the "democracy" part of "food-and-farm democracy"
—  ground "democracy" in the basic realities of our lives — the food-and-farm economy
—  are already being worked on (but not necessarily as part of a larger plan)
—  would benefit from scaling up of all kinds, especially coalition-building around  FOOD + FARM + DEMOCRACY  

Taken together I think they form a plan for moving forward easily, quickly, and organically.  Individuals and organizations can get engaged on multiple levels.  In fact many of us  already are engaged at multiple levels, but not at a critical mass.   I've divided these leverage points into three categories:   

A.  SHORT-TERM:   2014 Congressional Elections:  Make Food-and-Farm Democracy a National Issue
B.  LONG-TERM:   U.S. Constitution:  National book club,  Amendment, and Constitutional Conventions
C.  ON-GOING:   Other Food-and-farm Democracy Tools:  Grow, Democratize, and Connect

ANYONE INTERESTED?   The three categories are described briefly below.  Over the next few weeks, I will flesh out each one in separate emails.   I would be interested in participating in any group effort that wants to actively implement any or all of these areas.   Obviously, the 2014 elections is the most time-sensitive area.   It's also the simplest one to implement.

Unfortunately, I have no resources to convene or support such a group, other than my own time and effort.   If anyone wants to put a stake in the ground, let us all know, so we can gauge collective interest and get to work (if there is enough interest).  

Or, if someone already has put a stake in the ground on any one of these, I'm happy to join a current effort.   Just point us in the right direction.

Here's my suggested plan for moving us towards a real democracy:

A.  SHORT-TERM:   2014 Congressional Elections:  Make Food-and-Farm Democracy a National Issue

1.  CONCEPT:  Issue, Platform, Candidates

    a.  Brand the Issue.  Take control of the framework — and become a critical mass.  Currently, "food-and-farm democracy" is not on most lists of national issues.  Food-and-farm issues usually show up as:  Hunger, Agriculture, Poverty, Nutrition, Jobs, Social Justice, Civil Rights, Public Health, Environment, Sustainability, Economy, etc.   "Democracy" shows up as Civic Engagement, Government Reform, Community-based, Transparency, etc.   This is confusing to legislators, to media, to the average citizen.  Let's decide on one term and use it.

    b.  Draft a Non-partisan Platform.    
Short (3-6 points ?) that satisfies advocates of food security, farm justice, and participatory democracy (not just food, not just farm, not just democracy).

    c.   Identify Candidates.   Target all candidates (incumbents and challengers) for the U.S. House of Representatives  (435 seats, 435 races — every voter can get involved)

Here's the minimum organization that would be needed to mount a successful 2014 campaign to put "food-and-farm democracy" on the national agenda.  (If I left anything out, I hope someone will fill in the blanks.)
    a.  People:  Host organization, 50 state coordinators
    b.  Infrastructure:  website, list-serv, conference calls
    c.  Timing:  Target general election (Nov. 4, 2014).  
    d.  Tasks:  Brand over-arching issue (food-and-farm democracy), create platform, identify candidates
    e.  Funding:   Is do-able without new funding if people can donate their time and use existing infrastructure

ACTION  Step #1:  Find a host organization with food, farm, and democracy credentials willing to provide 2-3 staff (coordination and webmaster)


B.  LONG-TERM:  U.S. Constitution:  National book club,  Amendment, and Constitutional Conventions
I personally believe that a national discussion about something real and where real power is at stake is the only way we are going to re-unite our country (and the only way that we will stop exporting the worst of American culture).  A Constitutional amendment that would connect directly to our food-and-farm economy and create democratic processes within that economy would be a very grounded, very exciting national conversation to have.   It would give us all a chance to re-think the foundations of our country and identify the places where our legal structure (public policy) does not match the American (human) dream or the legal structure of life (natural laws).

1.  National book club:  Everyone in the U.S. read the Constitution.
2.  Propose an amendment from the food-and-farm democracy perspective.
3.  Constitutional Conventions in every state.  

ACTION Step #1:   Find a host organization to sponsor a national book club on the U.S. Constitution.
Create a coalition of co-sponsors.


C.  ON-GOING:  Other Food-and-farm Democracy Tools:   Grow, Democratize, and Connect
There are many people already working in all of these areas.  All would benefit from a variety of scaling up activities — more funds, more outreach, more partnerships, more democracy, etc.   Collectively they will all have a larger impact if connected to each other, if organized and operated with democratic processes, and if connected to an umbrella organization  — a food-and-farm democracy coalition — in order to create a critical mass.

Food-and-farm systems (as systems):  planning, professional development, communications
Public banking
Participatory budgeting
Food-and-farm councils, food-and-farm action groups, policy councils
Co-ops of all kinds
Farmers markets

Farm-to-school:   cafeteria, curriculum, school garden
Women's leadership
Electronic technology: websites, publicly archived list-servs, conference calls, surveys, film, webinars
Spiritual technologies to re-connect with the universe, the Earth, each other, and ourselves:  dreams, intuition, coincidences, shamanism, prayer, meditation, blessing, divination
Re-thinking government:  Subsidiarity principle, Open Meetings acts, data transparency, timely data access, Pre-cautionary Principle

Living wage campaigns
Mass actions:  strike, sabbath, sabbatical, interruptions, service projects, elections
Partnerships with anyone and everyone (because everyone eats and everyone lives on the Earth)
Shared resources:  merging, umbrella organizations as fiscal agents for smaller projects, incubators of all kinds
Crisis budgets vs. Prevention budgets
Public events:  conferences, workshops, listening sessions, regular government meetings at all levels

Measurement, indicators, evaluation
Meeting facilitation, dialogue & deliberation techniques
Lobbying, legislative pipeline, civics
Community schools, living skills curriculum
Research:  data needs, collaborative research, research on research

ACTION STEP #1:  Just keep plugging along and connecting to each other, other sectors, other networks.   Pretty soon our network of networks will equal critical mass.   


I hope this provides some ideas for democratizing our systems — starting now, building on what's already in place, bit by bit.   I look forward to any thoughts, comments, and other ideas you (or anyone else) might have.  


What to ask legislators?? ADM asking State of Illinois for $$$ to relocate in Illinois

What to ask legislators??   ADM asking State of Illinois for $$$ to relocate in Illinois
October 8, 2013  (posted to food-and-farm list-servs on Oct. 4, 2013)

Advocates for Urban Agriculture (Greater Chicago)
Illinois Local Food and Farms Coalition  (Illinois)
Good Greens  (USDA FNS Midwest Office – serving 6 states:  OH, MI, IN, IL, WI, MN)
Illinois Farmers Market Assn.  (serving all 300+ Illinois markets)
COMFOOD (international list-serv based at Tufts University – Boston, MA)
Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (national organization based in Ames, Iowa)
Food Policy Network (national forum based at Johns Hopkins University – Baltimore, MD)

Thanks for the responses to my question about what to say to our Illinois state legislators who might be considering ADM's request for yet another government subsidy — this time to move their headquarters. Below are the raw responses.

Synthesizing these responses, I would recommend that "local food" advocates ask their legislators the following questions.   Again, this learning can apply both to Illinois residents and people in other states:



1.  How did ADM get a public hearing on their request for Illinois funds to help them relocate in Illinois?

2.  Given that the Illinois General Assembly is not in session, how and why do these public hearings get scheduled?

3.  Who in the Illinois General Assembly is responsible for scheduling such hearings?

4.  How much did that public hearing cost the State of Illinois?

5.  How can local foods advocates get such a public hearing on funding various "local food" programs in Illinois, including funding the Illinois Local Food, farms, and Jobs Council?  

6.  What other questions about the operations of the Illinois General Assembly and about getting the attention of other State of Illinois officials should the Illinois local food advocates be asking?


QUESTIONS FOR LEGISLATORS IN OTHER STATES.  Similar questions can also be asked in other states.  My experience in Illinois has shown me that legislators are very happy to help educate constituents about the legislative process.    Sometimes we don't even know what to ask for — a hearing, a bill, a resolution, a meeting, a rule tweak?

1.  GENERAL:   How to move the local food agenda up on the state's priority list — for $$, for attention, etc.?

2.  SPECIFIC.   If ADM makes a public request for $$$ to move to some other state, local food advocates in that state can ask their legislators the same questions Illinois people should be asking.

Maybe we need a "Just Say 'No Home' to ADM"  campaign in every state until they're willing to sit at the "local foods" decision-making table and commit to following core "local foods" principles..     

ADDITIONAL AREA OF INVESTIGATION.    ADM'S investment in their home community
(compared with other large corporations)

Per the suggestion by Respondent #2, it would indeed be interesting to compare the local investment that ADM has made in Decatur over 40 years compared with the local investment that State Farm Insurance has made in Bloomington-Normal, especially in the area of local foods.   I know for a fact that State Farm helps to fund the downtown farmers market.  I do not know the amount of investment, but Respondent #2 seems to be suggesting that State Farm has given a lot back to the Bloomington-Normal community.

State Farm's community-mindedness also extends to Chicago, where they have been operating a large cafe and meeting space in a very densely populated area of Chicago (Lincoln Park).   The cafe is called Next Door  and offers free meeting space to all kinds of groups, coaches, classes, etc.   It's become a real community center and the coffee is not bad.   I believe they are using their presence to tap into financial issues and trends of the next generation.  They also provide free answers to financial and insurance questions.     Check out:  https://www.nextdoorchi.com/

PS  If an Illinois legislator would like to get additional perspective from Respondent #1, I can help to facilitate that connection.    

Respondent #1.  A senior staffmember of a national non-profit located in Chicago:
Yes.  We're opposed to this.  There are lots of reasons and lots of ways to message it, but the most basic one is this:  corporate tax breaks are really "expenditures";  they need to be measured against all of the competing expenditures in the state budget in terms of the state's priorities (health care, human services, education, accessible tuition at the universities, public safety, state parks, etc).  ALL of those priorities have sustained deep and damaging cuts during the present fiscal crisis.  And the parts that haven't been cut have simply been stiffed by late payments.  In that context, to even ask for this kind of expenditure and expect it to be taken seriously is pretty outrageous.  They haven't even tried to make the case that this expenditure is a priority, nevermind that it outweighs other priorities.  They go straight to the blackmail.  

Respondent #2.  A staffmember of a large non-profit in Chicago (with a national reputation).

A lot of the economic development literature these days says that the best way to attract businesses is to attend to the local assets, including schools, parks, culture, healthcare, etc.

Just the other day somebody reminded me what a dump Decatur is, so it's not surprising that they want to get out of Dodge, although it would be interesting to see what sorts of local investments they've ever made and to compare them with, say, State Farm in Bloomington.

Respondent #3.   Kelly Pierce, Chicago area 
My experience has found that opposing alone isn’t as successful as other approaches. Let’s face it. ADM is as big as it is because people buy lots of processed food and feedlot meat. Often ignored proposals from the alternative perspective, such as urban ag or local food might be taken more seriously now so lawmakers can feel what they are doing is balanced.  What are some legislative proposals from our side that have been developed that could be advanced?

Your message is a little misleading.  ADM has grown significantly in Decatur with corresponding job growth. The newspaper articles suggest the community has benefited from this growth.  Now it is a global company and needs the benefits of a large city region, such as major airports, and high level expertise in such areas as technology, finance, and marketing.