Friday, January 25, 2008

Put our Harvest on Hope: Hope in People

It is important that we talk, often and enthusiastically, about the positive developments that are going on around the world. For one thing, it does seem that more and more people have woken up to what has happened to our food, have begun to comprehend the almost unbelievable mess we have made. And so people are starting to protest. To protest against the insults being perpetrated, in the name of progress, against people, animals, and the environment, and the unsustainable demands that are being made on our children's future, the future of our planet. Some of these protesters took on awesome tasks: like Percy Schmeiser, who took on Monsanto; and the two New York teenagers Jazlyn Bradley and Ashley Pelman who stood up to McDonald's. Of course, there are countless cases when people have fought against injustice and lost. Robert Kennedy won his case against the pork barons, only to have the rug snatched from under his feet when the legislation was subsequently changed to allow them to continue polluting. But every time a stand is made there are more people who hear aboutwhat is going on. More people who can work in their own way to make a difference.

I find hope in the people who join forces to buy farmland to save it from development and those who pull genetically modified crops out of the ground. Others organize and operate the farmers markets and cooperatives. Some are involved in the Slow Food movement, and many restaurateurs, such as Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and Tod Murphy of the Farmers Diner, are changing the world one plate at a time. It seldom makes front-page headlines when a company opens an organic food line, when a restaurant chain commissions its produce from a local organic farmer, or a household decides to join a Community Sponsored Agriculture group, a CSA, yet these are the actions that bring me hope, for they are already making change in the world.

Diet Start

There is hope, also, in the resilience of nature, her ability to repair the wounds we have inflicted. TACARE, the Jane Goodall Institute's program to improve the lives of the villagers living around the Gombe National Park, is a perfect example, for innovative techniques have restored life and productivity to land that had been overfarmed and abandoned, most of the topsoil washed away. It is harder, and takes a very long time and very hard work, to rescue land that has been polluted by years of chemical poisons, but it can be done.

And there is hope in the growing number of people who care, and do something about it. The wonderful mother- daughter team, Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, in their book, Hope's Edge, describe "a new social mentality" that has been developed in Belo Horizonte, the fourth largest city in Brazil. There was a time when one fifth of the children there were malnourished and poverty was rampant. Then, in 1993, Belo became "the only city in the capitalist world that has decided to make food security a right of citizenship" (my italics).

The city improved the way the food market worked. It provided all the students in the city's schools four nutritious meals per day, with ingredients mostly from local farmers. The city set up produce stands for some forty local farmers. It owns and operates the Restaurante Popular, which serves 6,000 meals a day at less than half the market price. This is all made possible by the twenty-six warehouse-sized stores that sell local produce at fixed prices—often half the price of nearby grocers. These stores are on government-owned prime urban real estate rented out to entrepreneurs at rock- bottom prices—the government reserves the right to setthe price, and the vendors must make weekend deliveries to the poor.

There is a Green Basket program that links hospitals, restaurants, and big food buyers to local, organic growers.

There is a local food council that helps to form partnerships with church and labor groups, and advises the government on ways of improving the food system. The entire program consumes only 1 percent of the city's budget and it is reckoned to be extremely cost-effective—the children do better in school with the opportunity of being productive citizenswhen they leave, and the entire population of the city is far healthier.

Indeed, the human brain, this organ—the spongy mass of gooey cells we all house in our skulls—is capable of the most wondrous technologies. Unfortunately, when there is a disconnect between mind and heart, technology can be— and has been and is being—used for evil purposes. Unless our intellect is bonded closely with our feelings of love andcompassion, although we may still be very clever, we shall not be wise.

Fortunately, my constant traveling gives me many opportunities to meet many of the wise, such as Dr. HugoHubacec and Dr. Peter Kromer, who came to see me in Vienna in the spring of 2005 to explain their remarkable technology. "SIPIN Technology" can revolutionize farming inarid conditions and greatly reduce hunger. Because no sophisticated machinery is involved it can be used easily by the local villagers.

SIPIN is a water-absorbent, natural silicate powder that is adjusted to the local conditions and used in combination with local soils. It is applied in the area around the plant's roots, and covered with local earth or sand. Over time SIPIN turns into amorphous clay minerals and stable, natural clay-soil compounds. These show high water absorption. After treating the roots of one plant, others can be planted in the same place without further applications for at least three years. It is possible to save up to 75 percent of the water otherwise used to sustain the crops, which, in a dry area, can save lives. By using SIPIN, the available water resources can nourish three to four times more people. "We do not want SIPIN to be marketed by one of the big corporations," Dr. Hubacec told me. "This is just to help people." It was an exciting meeting and we plan to work together to take this remarkable technology to places where it is so desperately needed.

... andjoyohoxing