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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Working Together

There's a phenomenon that we run into wherever we go in Local Foods Land. Picture it: An outfit that nobody ever heard of comes out of the blue and announces their Big Event Where They'll Explain How To Fix Local Foods. Folks who've been working on these complex issues for years, even decades, feel shut out and insulted. This happens on both local and regional scales. Nationally, this has been happening wherever Jamie Oliver goes with his “Food Revolution.” I've heard innumerable complaints from hard-working, long-suffering folks. They appreciate what he's doing, but feel that his attitude, and lack of involving prior efforts, is a slap in the face to them.

The flip side is also true. Newcomers with new ideas can feel shut out. We've experienced this ourselves: Even back in the planning stages, there were loud voices from some Sustainability Old Timers that we could never do what we were talking about- it was just plain wrong, not How Things Are Done. Who did we think we were? We're thankful for folks like the Land stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings instructors who encouraged us. There are still organizations that want nothing to do with us as presenters, while others can't get enough of us. Blessings on them both.

Anyone who's read the works of Saul Alinkski or other great organizers knows that these sorts of problems are common in any Social Change movement. Don't kid yourself- in the last few years Local Foods has gone from a fad indulged in by yuppies and others of the “Comfortable Class” to a for-real Movement. It's as much about Societal Reform as the Civil Rights, Environmental, or Antiwar Movements. Community gardens, all manner of urban farming, Farmers' Markets taking SNAP benefits, churches buying CSA shares for poor families, these and more prove that this is a revolution against a broken food system.

We've seen how the problems I started out describing are hurting the Movement. They waste our time, energy and resources. They sap enthusiasm from our souls. When we're fighting or snubbing each other, we're building NOTHING. We need to talk and work together, respectfully, with our eyes on the prize. Certainly, we need to feel ownership of what we're doing, but we shouldn't get proprietary.

This doesn't mean that we need to move in lock step, all coordinated from on high by some central planning committee. I like John Michael Greer's word- dissensus. To be honest, none of us really knows what's going to work, so we need to each pursue our own visions and plans- but we can do that respectfully, purposefully and with coordination.

This isn't easy.

Another thing that I've noticed in Local Foods Land is many people of faith. They don't all have the same faith, but a shared concept of how things could and should be, embodied in whatever religious tradition works for them. I've sat at the table with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, and Druids, even some radical Secular Humanists, and what we had in common was far more than what we disagreed about.

In fact, I don't believe that you can effectively work for change unless you feel you're “On a mission from God.” You need that moral compass when making hard choices. You need to feel that something bigger than you is backing you up when The Man says that you're nuts. You need to “hear that real, though far off, hymn that heralds the New Creation.”

As Shepherd Book said in Serenity, “I don't care what you believe. Just believe it!” I believe that we all have a huge task ahead of us. I believe that we'll hit both passive ignorance and active opposition. I believe that we must respectfully work together. I believe that we can do more than we think we can.

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