I am a new farmer. I did not grow up farming. In fact, I did not so much as have an interest in gardening when I was a child. However, by the time I was in my early 20s I felt increasingly disconnected from the natural world and from myself. I was unsettled about which career to choose, jaded about the conventional paths laid out ahead of me, confused about how to best ‘make a difference’ in my community, and wondered what that really meant.
When I first applied to work on a farm for a season, I did so with little expectation that it would soon change my life. I was not only introduced to a whole set of relationships and emotions related to working intimately with the land that I didn’t even know I was missing, but I was also exposed to a political way of life that opened my eyes to a grounded, grassroots-led movement that was genuinely advocating for system change by waking up and feeding their communities each day. I was introduced to the term and practice of food sovereignty by an amazing farmer and teacher in the first year that I started working on her small-scale organic market garden. Through firm instruction and gentle guidance (likely unbeknownst to her at the time) she opened my eyes extensive knowledge about soil health, growing vegetables, and harvesting and washing produce with care, but also to a community of food sovereignty advocates that would shape my life in the coming years. This community spread from her farm and the land trust where she grows food, to farmers and farm supporters across so-called Canada, to farmers and peasants around the globe. Now, seven years later, food sovereignty is not only how I frame my worldview but is how I find community.
La Via Campesina, and the food sovereignty movement more broadly, is not like other social movement, nor is growing and producing food like other livelihoods. As a young person growing up in an era of massive systemic inequity, a changing climate, and a globalized world, living with food sovereignty as a foundation for political struggle and community is where I find hope, resilience, and real, transformative change. Feeling the soil in my hands and taking to the streets with thousands of people both feel powerful. Sharing newly harvested carrots and sharing knowledge about peasants’ rights both feel necessary. Through food sovereignty, we are not only advocating for food systems transformation, we are living that transformation and creating the food systems we want to see in our communities and regions. Through La Via Campesina, we are building relationships and solidarity that transcend the artificial borders of states, and of ourselves as individuals. Whether these relationships are built with fellow farmers who live down the road, or with those whom we meet only on computer screens, our capacity as a movement to build and strengthen these relationships is a measure of the strength and possibility of food sovereignty. As these relationships change, and political and economic circumstances change, so too does our struggle for food sovereignty, ebbing and flowing, adjusting, re-evaluating, expanding, never diminishing.
Through food sovereignty, our global community of peasants is a powerful political force. That we know is true. What we must protect and uplift are the relationships within that community, no matter the forces that attempt to divide our shared struggles. It is these relationships that form the foundation of food sovereignty and mobilize it. These are the relationships that help me through a scorching day in the field, and they are the ones that remind me why I farm. This is what I have learned in my short time as a young farmer, and what will continue to inspire me through the next 25 years and beyond.
By Jessie MacInnis, NFU Canada Youth President. This article is part of the 25 years of Food Sovereignty critical reflection series