CEC and county Food Action Network hold virtual webinar to examine the exploitation of agriculture
The Santa Barbara County Food Action Network presented a webinar on food sovereignty and food justice Wednesday evening. Panelists discussed the region’s agriculture as well as national problems in the industry.
The first question tackled what “food sovereignty” means.
Daniel Parra Hensel, adjunct faculty at Santa Barbara City College in the Department of Environmental Horticulture and co-chair for the Quail Springs Permaculture Board of Directors, said it’s “a global movement of farmers, fishers, indigenous peoples and landless workers that work to reclaim their power in the food system and rebuilding the relationships between people and the land between food providers and consumers.”
His definition comes from Lideres Campesinas, an organization based in Oxnard that seeks to support female farmworkers throughout California.
Teresa Romero, the environmental director for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, says food justice would reestablish indigenous people’s access to organic seed and control over their food.
“Food is medicine, and it’s how we care for ourselves, how we create wellness in our community,” she said. “And what has happened is we have been removed from our traditional food sources, and many of them don’t even exist any longer.”
She notes that people are starting to grow their own food, a trend also discussed by other panelists.
“The women farmworkers are doing things in their own backyard with items that are important for in their kitchen or even for medicinal purposes. That allows us to avoid chemicals,” Suguet Lopez, executive director of Lideres Campesinas, said.
Ms. Lopez said that avoiding chemicals yields fresher produce and wellness for the families that eat the homegrown foods.
“Women farmworkers. . . want everyone to have the opportunity to have access to healthy foods, and this comes from our ancestors,” she said. “We all come from a culture that respects plants, from our culture, from our countries.”
Ana Rosa Rizo-Centino, senior organizer for Food and Water Watch, said capitalism pushes the wages to unlivable levels.
“I used to work with my mom, and she used to be in charge of giving food to each child in the school. But what they paid her to be able to feed her own children was very low,” she said.
Mr. Parra Hensel explained that the colonization of indigenous land has created the farming practices seen today.
“We had this new farming system that is constantly being saturated with pesticides and fertilizers and a form of labor that is unjust and exploitative,” he said. “So really what that means is an unsustainable food system requires a steady supply of people without options that the system can take advantage of.”
Panelists expressed a desire for a focus on local agriculture.
“I think that one way to help support smaller farmers is to build locally-driven food hubs that can then distribute to local markets and support small farmers,” Ms. Romero said.
Alhan Diaz-Correa, community ambassador for the Community Environmental Council, said he wishes for a different public perception of food.
“They are trying to give us that fear that if we’re going to change the large system, it will affect us terribly, it will affect us negatively. And we really need to change that stigma,” he said. “We need to change that and know that food is local, that it’s grown locally and that we shop for it locally.”
Panelist Andrea Cabrera Hubbard was a farmworker previously and was subjected to poor conditions in that job.
“I have worked in the fields; I have been sprayed with pesticides and I have suffered,” she said.
She expressed the importance of organizations like Lideres Campesinas that help workers form a community and build confidence.
“I’m no longer afraid to express myself, or to tell my story. Because I have learned so much,” she said. “We get together with a community.”
The panelists hope their grassroots efforts will impact the industry on a larger scale.