Nothing Is Sustainable If We Can’t Sustain Our Own Bodies

CHERYL LYON – And feeding the bodies of the world is exactly what farmers do. But agriculture is at a defining moment in this time of climate crisis.

Such was the focus of the “Community Conversation on Sustainable Agriculture” held October 10, 2023 at the Peterborough Public Library. The quote in the title of this article is from a participant. The event was facilitated by Peter Pula, Convenor of A New Commons, and Founder of Axiom News. Peter is familiar to many locally from his past work with Peterborough Dialogues.

Area farmers, Peterborough Kawartha Economic Development, Trent University’s Community Research Centre and Seasoned Spoon Café, plus Peterborough GreenUp all dove into rounds of spirited conversation, starting with the question, “what crossroads is sustainable agriculture at?”

The complexity of crossroad decisions now facing agriculture quickly became clear in the opening discussion. Participants raised key concerns, including how to make decisions when the climate future is so uncertain. Does handing over food system decisions to a central government and other authorities really work for sustainability? Can we localize enough food production before the current global system fails?

Welcome board
illustrated by Yvonne Hollandy of Axiom News

Creative proposals rapidly emerged. One envisioned a shift from individually-owned farms to co-operative/community farms collaborating in a “commons” of fields and equipment, and keeping more farms from disappearing as fewer daughters and sons go into agriculture by inheritance. Another looked at the need to invest in experimentation during this age of rapid change and adaptive learning. A better food system within a generation might be achieved if “kids on farms” became part of early, practical education.

Participants then explored their doubts and reservations about the opening discussion. One used the term “coloniality” to describe a barrier to new ways of thinking; that is, the long-standing patterns of system-centralizing power, a ‘colonization of thinking’ that underpins the economy of the modern agricultural system. Others named the ordinary person’s lack of understanding of the complex agricultural system and our general disconnect from food’s origins.

Participants agreed that we may be running out of time. Some rejected this use of fear as a motivator for action, preferring a reliance on “staying together” – community – as the answer in the face of hardship and change.

“Community” emerged at the end of the gathering as the best response to the closing question, “what experience do you want to have for yourself and others?”

One participant described “community” in terms of the simpler life experienced on her grandparents’ farm. The Trent Centre for Community Research (TCRC) reminded participants of its localization of research – a free service to inform and advance the future of agriculture in the Peterborough area.

Perhaps two closing comments summed up the deepest desires for the agriculture of the future: that
workers in agriculture feel supported, and that their community is at peace.

Nothing Is Sustainable If We Can’t Sustain Our Own Bodies © 2023 by Cheryl Lyon in the Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

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