Putting the Culture Back in Agriculture

Reviving Native Food and Farming Traditions – Published on Toward Freedom, by Tory Field and Beverly Bell, June 10, 2013.

“At one point ‘agriculture’ was about the culture of food. Losing that culture, in favor of an American cultural monocrop, joined with an agricultural monocrop, puts us in a perilous state…” says food and Native activist Winona LaDuke.[i]

Her lament is an agribusiness executive’s dream. The CEO of the H.J. Heinz Company said, “Once television is there, people, whatever shade, culture, or origin, want roughly the same things.”[ii] The same things are based on the same technology, same media sources, same global economy, and same food.  

Together with the loss of cultural diversity, the growth of industrial agriculture has led to an enormous depletion in biodiversity. Throughout history, humans have cultivated about 7,000 species of plants. In the last century, three-quarters of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops have been lost. Thirty crops now provide 95% of our food needs, with rice, wheat, maize, and potato alone providing 60%. Eighty-five percent of the apple varieties that once existed in the US have been lost. Vast fields of genetically identical crops are much more susceptible to pests, necessitating increased pesticide use. The lack of diversity also endangers the food supply, as an influx of pests or disease can wipe out enormous quantities of crops in one fell swoop

Native peoples’ efforts to protect their crop varieties and agricultural heritage in the US go back 500 years to when the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Today, Native communities throughout the US are reclaiming and reviving land, water, seeds, and traditional food and farming practices, thereby putting the culture back in agriculture and agriculture back in local hands.

One such initiative is the White Earth Land Recovery Project in Minnesota, which is recovering healthy stewardship of local tribes’ original land base. They are harvesting and selling traditional foods such as wild rice, planting gardens and raising greenhouses, and growing food for farm-to-school and feeding-our-elders programs. They are reintroducing native sturgeon to local waters as well as working to stop pesticide spraying at nearby industrial farms. They are also strengthening relationships with food sovereignty projects around the country. Winona LaDuke, the founding director of the project, told us, “My father used to say, ‘I don’t want to hear your philosophy if you can’t grow corn’… I now grow corn.”

Another revival effort involves buffalo herds. In the 1800s, European-American settlers drove wild buffalo close to extinction, decimating a source of survival for many Native communities. Just one example of the resurgence is the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative, a cooperative of small-family buffalo caretakers, on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The cooperative sees its work as threefold, to “restore the buffalo, restore the native ecology on Pine Ridge, and help renew the sacred connection between the Lakota people and the buffalo nation.” At the national level, the Inter-Tribal Bison Cooperative is a network of 56 tribal bison programs from around the country with a collective herd of over 15,000 … //

… People from across the nation come to Tesuque Natural Farms to study agricultural production and to take workshops on pruning, beekeeping, poultry, soil fertility, composting, and other topics. Soon the farm hopes to create a research and education center, where people can come for three to six months.

Nayeli Guzman, a Mexica woman who worked at the farm, said, “What we’re doing is very simple. These ideas are not an alternative for us, they’re just a way of life… We need to all work together as land-based people.

“Creator is not exclusive, so there’s no reason we should be,” she said. “They tell us, ‘The more biodiversity you have, the richer your soil is going to be.’ It’s like that with people. The more different kinds of people you have, the more able we’re going to be to survive. We can’t compartmentalize ourselves. That’s what industrial agriculture does.”
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Links:

Next we’ll be saying the poor don’t need to eat: Benefit cuts made Kenny depend on food banks. It’s just take take take with some people, isn’t it? – Published on The Independent, by Mark Steel, May 30, 2013;

Adiós Alemania: Many Immigrants Leave Germany within a Year, on Spiegel Online International, by Sarah Sommer, June 13, 2013: Is Germany a dreamland for immigrants? Not entirely. According to a new OECD study, more than half the Greeks and Spaniards who come to Germany leave within a year.

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