Family Farm Defenders (Kansas Chapter)

Monday, July 8, 2013

"Urban Agriculture, Sounds great. Won't End Big Food Control of our Food and Agriculture."

In another recent Huffington Post piece, Rohit Kumar writes another naive piece asserting that in the US urban ag provides livelihoods and stimulates the economy.  Again, Kumar's work and the Huffington Post's lifting it up saddens.  There is no thoughtful or critical analysis but merely a jumping on the bandwagon of so called "urban agriculture in the US.  This is not good thought and is dangerous.

While urban ag may provide livelihoods and stimulate the economy  in Cuba, where urban farmers do not have to compete with Big Food and Ag, and are heavily supported by the government, even there, the reality of urban ag is mixed.

As well in Cuba and Africa, urban ag is primarily  a poverty survival strategy for the most part, amidst unjust global and local economic systems, benefiting a small elite and creating poverty livelihoods, more and more the case in the US.   For example, in the US, most of the new jobs created to end our most recent recession paid half the amount of the jobs that were lost.  Furthermore,  a large number of the new jobs that were created to end the US recession were Temp jobs as well. The social justice conditions of these jobs is furthermore deplorable, with wage theft, no benefits, no unions, discrimination, and no opportunity move up  are deplorable. They are largely staffed by Black and Latinos. 

While I have studied urban ag here in the US and around the world in its most famed home of Cuba as well as in East Africa and support it, Kumar's assertions are again premature and  naive in the US context and here is why.

Without challenging big food and ag, urban ag in the US and other capitalist countries where big food and ag run rampant, at best,  only creates a little extra income for a few lucky folks in the urban areas or provides another "poverty livelihood;"  at worse it is used as the justification for dismantling safety net programs like food stamps, consistent with the neoliberal agenda so that public spending can be spent ostensibly on things that matter, like the military and subsidizing a big corporate food system which is unhealthy, destroys livelihoods and our planet.

Show me someone making a living wage with benefits from urban ag in the US and I will show you a well supported nonprofit promoting urban ag like the one Kumar mentions in the above cited article,  Growing Power.  .

The only ones making decent livings with benefits in urban ag are the ones on tons of grants like Growing Power because small farmers cannot compete with government supported corporate food and agriculture.  While GP employees may be making a decent living and stimulating the economy, little urban farmers and gardeners are starving and living in poverty, unless this is a second income for them, because they can't compete.

Furthermore,  urban ag nonprofits will not take on the big food and ag system that is putting small farmers out of business around the world, ruing our health and environment, making it impossible for small urban farmers and gardeners to compete and creating virtual and real slavery.

This largely appears to be because they are heavily funded by the foundations of  the global, industrialized, corporate food system  like Kellogg and Walmart which, while they support alternative agriculture projects like urban ag and food hubs, community gardens and gardening, they fail to support the advocacy work which could dismantle the corporate food and ag system..

 Thus the urban ag movement is at worst merely window dressing by Big Corporate food and and ag for their continued nefarious hegemony.  At best, "urban ag" in the US that Kumar describes is merely a play at change, but without challenging our corporate global food system is not a serous threat to either or a serious contribution to our economy or livelihoods.

Kumar's article again jumps on the bandwagon and hype of "urban agriculture" without thoughtful analysis and experience.

This is dangerous as well because now our society wants to replace serious safety net programs for the victims of our  failing economic system (disproportionately children of color)  such as food stamps with "urban agriculture" and "growing your own."

While I support people doing whatever they can and have to to survive (and engage in these activities myself; there should be a basic human right to survive; I do not support this as a social policy to replace our safety net programs (guilt money for injust systems allowed to continue to operate),without also dismantling the corporate food system which keeps small and family and urban farmers poor and out of business, destroys our health and environment and perpetuates the amoral institution of slavery.

If people don't have food how are they going to get land? And why would leave an important thing like people eating and getting sufficient amounts of healthy, nutritious, culturally appropriate food to charity?  Why would this critical and vital key to our success be a critical and vital government priority?

Furthermore, most of those on food stamps are children.

A good one third are disabled.

Do we  really want to create a system where the poor have to grow their own food, while the 1% can do other things like educate themselves and their children  to continue an oligarchy?

Finally, a narrative like urban ag funded by charity and not our government largely (which is busy funding Big Corporate Food and Ag)  feeds into the neoliberal agenda of transferring safety net programs like food stamps, unemployment etc to charity, taking government funding away, which is then left to support our military and big corporations.  Dangerous policy, but the norm for the USA, home of the global oligarchy.

To really build the urban ag that will create livelihoods with benefits and stimulate our economy we need to dismantle our big government support for an unfair and unjust, environmentally dangerous, powerful,  and unhealthy big corporate food and ag system; otherwise alternatives can't compete and just stay little hobbies or module alternatives that the Big Corporate foundations can trott out to make it look as if they are working on building a truly healthy, fair, just and sustainable food, agriculture and economic systems when in truth they are keeping us distracted from challenging their hegemony over our food, our environment, our health and our wealth. 

This is antithetical to democracy.

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