America’s food system is in crisis. Industrial agriculture has caused environmental degradation on a massive scale, and corporations pushing processed foods have encouraged widespread sickness and obesity in children and adults. Every effort should be made to return power over the food system to the community level as a step towards individual food sovereignty. Food sovereignty asserts the right of people to define their own food systems. Advocates of food sovereignty, like SFC, put the individuals who produce, distribute, and consume food at the center of decisions on food systems and policies, rather than the corporations and market institutions we believe have come to dominate the global food system.
Today, the Austin City Council was to hear zoning recommendations for urban farming within the city limits. Urban farm advocates and neighborhood organizations seeking to preserve quality of life in Austin neighborhoods have engaged in heated debate about land use and commercialization within our city core. At Sustainable Food Center, we believe that backyard, school, and community food gardens, as well as urban farms, serve as catalysts for community growth and benefit everyone, offering opportunities for economic development and neighborhood growth for property owners and residents where they currently live, as well as opportunities for independence from a broken food system.
For almost 40 years, Sustainable Food Center has worked in East Austin providing free seeds, compost, and training on organic food production so that families can feed themselves affordable, accessible, and healthy food; training community members to be promotoras (community health promoter) in their neighborhoods, providing cooking and nutrition education, and supporting small family farms in growing sustainable fruits and vegetables as well as humanely raised animals for the consumption of lean, clean protein.
We believe that the community’s inherent power and leadership is the foundation for a truly equitable and sustainable food system. These neighborhoods are where real change happens; it is here that we will see historic changes in what and how our community eats. This is an opportunity for our neighborhoods to lead our community in a return to the way indigenous communities have been feeding themselves from the beginning, before reliance on an industrial agriculture system which contributes to poverty, hunger, disease, and degradation of our natural resources.
SFC encourages urban farms to support their neighbors by actively pursuing opportunities to share affordable food as well as knowledge, seeds, and transplants with others who would like to learn how to grow food, becoming a resource for further neighborhood development. Many neighborhood members have long family histories of sustainable food production and have valuable information to share with one another.
In addition to opportunities for collective community growth, food production is a means for individual self-sufficiency and greater economic independence. Families who grow their own food have the opportunity to supplement their incomes and increase individual access to healthy, fresh food outside an agricultural system that encourages the consumption of unhealthy, processed, food-like substances.
SFC believes that access to healthy, affordable food is a basic human right. Food sovereignty argues that our current food system is broken—not just because of its ecological dangers but also from a fundamental lack of democracy in the food system. The food system works for a small elite who profit every day, while those of us on the consumer and producer ends have little to no control over the way the system functions or whether we can receive justice within it. Growing food ourselves is a necessary step towards achieving sovereignty.
Whether for the consumption by their own families and neighbors or for sale to the public, SFC supports the right of community members to grow food in all residential neighborhoods in Austin. This conversation between residents and city officials has been a welcome and valuable opportunity to explore where our values as a community lie.
SFC envisions a future where more community members grow their own food, where people in all neighborhoods have access to fresh, healthy food, and where everyone has the freedom and the opportunity to work towards greater food sovereignty and self-sufficiency. The wider our networks, the more common our concerns, and the less divided we stand, the more likely we are to achieve food self-reliance and community self-determination. We urge everyone to join together in taking back the power of food by planting the seeds for a stronger and more vibrant food system for all in our community.