Mark Winne's Speech to the CFSC Annual Conference
Dear ACGA members:
Mark Winne is the executive director of Hartford Food System and president
of the Community Food Security Coalition. This is the speech he delivered at
the recent conference in Chicago. I think that is important for us to think
more about community gardening's place within the context of the food
security and social justice movements.
U.S. COMMUNITY FOOD SECURITY COALITION ANNUAL CONFERENCE, OCTOBER 1999
A Bonfire for Change
Mark Winne's Speech to the CFSC Annual Conference
Chicago, Illinois -- October 16, 1999
I wish to thank you all for the opportunity to be the President of the
Community Food Security Coalition for these past two years. Though my hair
is even grayer than when I began, it has been a very rewarding time for me.
I must say that we have come a long way since that day just over five years
ago, right here in Chicago, huddled together for warmth against the cold
Lake winds, gnawing on frozen danish and sipping cold coffee, to hatch this
idea that has become us.
I am proud to proclaim, after much travail, brooding and bickering, that we
are indeed a movement -- the Community Food Security movement. We are a
movement comprised of individuals, single organizations -- big and small --
and local coalitions who, locally and nationally, express a vision of a
just and sustainable food system. We practice community food security in a
way that makes the most sense to each of us and best suits our communities'
circumstances. But we are, nevertheless, part of a movement, one that has
chosen to define itself as much by its actions as by its ideas and values.
We are a movement that stakes out a big turf -- one that includes a
neighborhood, maybe only a few city blocks, perhaps a rural county, and,
most importantly, the people who reside in these places. We ask why they
may not have enough to eat, or why there are not enough healthy and
affordable places to buy food, or, like all of us, why they often choose
the wrong thing to eat.
We are a movement that moves in other directions as well. We stake out
territory in the boardrooms of the world's largest food corporations and
ask who is making the decisions about our food system, and why they need to
engineer our food supply, and why, for instance, they invade and brand our
schools with the claptrap they call food, and why the bottom line is the
only place they draw the line. We are audacious enough to stake out the
farm fields as our turf and ask why family farms are crushed by the
indifferent behemoth that is industrial agriculture; and why farm workers,
who stoop all day for our food, must suffer the added indignities of
substandard housing, low wages, and unsanitary and unsafe working
Because we stand for and against so much, there are many people who, of
course, wonder who we are. "If you are all these things," they say, "how
can you be anything?" With perhaps a trace of smugness, I respond with a
paraphrase of a remark made by, I think, F. Scott Fitzgerald that one sign
of genius is to be able to hold two or more very different ideas in your
head at one time and not go crazy.
But to those who would ask, and they have, if the Community Food Security
movement is the "small is beautiful" movement, I would say no because small
is ugly. We are gigantic and comprehensive, not dwarfish and fragmentary.
We seek to be as all embracing and all encompassing as necessary to address
the many injustices that befall our food system.
To those who would ask, and they have, if we are "for food stamps?" I would
say yes, by all means. No philosophy, no matter how profound, is worth a
dime if you don't have the means to secure food. The stronger and higher
our Nation's safety net, the more valid is our claim to be among the great
nation's of the earth.
To those who would ask, and they have, if we believe that community gardens
and small-scale urban agriculture are the best way to feed the hungry, I
would say that by themselves, no, of course not. But if you deny the magic
of people coming together in community to raise some of their own food,
deny them the pulse of the seasons marked by the productions of the earth,
then you run the grave risk of denying your own soul.
The answer to these questions and the solutions to the many indignities of
our food system lie with all of us. The answer is in and among us, between
the various food and agriculture movements, between ideas, and in the
struggle to find a common voice. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "there
is no history, only biography." The stories of our food system are our
stories, stitched of a local fabric into colorful patches, assembled by
many hands into the larger quilt that is the food system -- our food
But I hesitate for a moment, not wanting the anger I feel toward such
things as the obscenity that is hunger and the callous indifference with
which we treat our farmland, to overwhelm my heart and mind. I don't want
to be consumed by the disdain I often feel for corporations that put the
shareholders' interests before the public's interest. I need to check my
bad Karma at the door and remind myself of what Martin Luther King, Jr.
once said in the face of overwhelming white hatred and racism, in the face
of club wielding sheriffs and barking German shepherds: "I've decided,"
said King, "that I'm going to do battle for my philosophy. You ought to
believe something in life, believe that thing so fervently that you will
stand with it till the end of your days. I can't make myself believe that
God wants me to hate. I'm tired of violence. And I'm not going to let my
oppressor dictate to me what method I must use."
Yet, we are in opposition to the dominant food system -- a system whose
consequences we can't accept and whose values we don't share. Yet I
hesitate to call them my "enemy", thus objectifying them and assigning to
them monstrous and subhuman proportions. In the face of a peril so great
and a threat so entrenched, I'm not sure that we can only rely on weapons
of moral superiority. Our arrows of outrage, no matter how well aimed,
will only glance harmlessly off their iron shields. What weapons then can
we muster? What arrows can we draw from our quiver? We must first listen.
We must cultivate the daintiness of ear to hear the words of our so-called
enemies, and certainly the words of our friends in other food and
agriculture movements, our government allies -- politicians and
policymakers --and first and foremost, the grass-roots, the people we claim
to serve, the ones we offer to represent, the ones who pay the social costs
of a system gone awry. We must be cautious of the benighted purveyors of
goods and services to the so-called "downtrodden." Our true constituents
must be included in our work.
This room today is comprised of local community food security leaders.
Through your actions you have developed alternatives, re-defined the
debate, and influenced decision-makers in your own communities. Your good
deeds and powers of persuasion, indeed, your very persistence, have worn
away the rock of resistance. And as a movement, made up of all of you, the
Community Food Security Coalition and our sister organizations have
influenced our national leaders, affected our food policy, and shaped the
national dialogue on food, hunger, agriculture, and, yes, the umbrella for
it all, community food security.
But in spite of our progress, I'm afraid that the greatest injustices are
yet to come. The grinding of a man's spirit under the corporatism of
modern life and the exigencies of the free market will rob us of our
freedom like no oppressor of the past. We will be branded and
"market-niched," calibrated and concentrated until all the juice of our
humanity is squeezed from us. The greatest test of our resistance will be
how we oppose the insidious force of a global food system that creeps in on
cat's paws, a global food system that cynically suggests that without
bioengineering we will not be able to save a hungry world from starvation,
and a global food system that veils its deeds in trinkets and beads given
to the malnourished and their representatives.
We will be sorely tested to preserve our humanity in the face of this quiet
terror. But through food, through building local food systems that build
local self-reliance, by addressing suffering and injustice in our own
backyards, as well as through the resources we can glean from government, I
believe we can beat back the alienating forces of a globalized,
homogenized, and sterilized food system. For our greater task is to
eliminate the distance between us and our food, between us and our fellow
movements, and between us and the members of our own communities. For
Martin Luther King reminds us that, "When an individual is no longer a true
participant, when he no longer feels a sense of responsibility to his
society, the content of democracy is emptied. When culture is degraded and
vulgarity enthroned, when the social system does not build security but
induces peril, inexorably the individual is impelled to pull away from a
One thing I can say for certain about the community food security movmement
is that it is a soulful movment . I feel the heat of our collective
passion for a just and sustainable food system. As we show the world what
we can do to build food security in our hometowns, block-by-block, field by
field, let's also craft a national food policy that embodies the best
intentions of farm, food, anti-hunger, nutrition, social justice, and
environmental advocates. Toward that end, I am confident that we can join
hands with like-minded movements and together, with persistence and love,
oppose the forces that crush local food systems, that accept hunger and
promote unhealthy diets, that denigrate our environment, and that break our
As a practical, but far-reaching first step, we should continue the
process that we started right here in Chicago in 1994. We should work for
a 2002 Farm Bill that will be a People's Farm Bill, a farmer's farm bill, a
farm worker's farm bill, and an undernourished mother's farm bill. It will
be a food policy that is true to the principles of community food security.
It will be a crazy-quilt farm bill, no doubt, whose patches will be as
colorful as this nation and as outrageous as the ideals that guide our
movements. Pick up the needle and thread, start stitching, keep up your
good work, stay strong, keep each other warm and safe, listen, learn, love,
and together, let's build a bonfire for change.
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