Report from the USFSA First Annual Assembly


1st Assembly Summary

The 1st Assembly of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) took place in Oakland, CA on the 9th of November, 2011. The USFSA emerged from the 2010 U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, MI with the goal of promoting the principles of food sovereignty in the United States. Through this framework of food sovereignty, the USFSA seeks to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and allow people and communities to take democratic control of their food systems. Members of the USFSA, as well as leaders of organizations invited to the Assembly, gathered to create a platform for action in 2012 that would be meaningful to all people working for justice in the food system. We spent a full day of many discussions identifying challenges, opportunities, and shared issues that the USFSA could act on.

There were 75 people at the Assembly from 7 regions of the US—Northeast (14), Southeast (5), Midwest (10), Mideast (5), Northwest (25), Southwest (8), and DC (4)—and from 4 countries (Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and the US). Participants of the Assembly represented different sectors of the food system, including fishermen (1), farmers (21), urban gardeners and food justice activists (13), food and farm workers (9), and allies (31).

Challenges and Obstacles to Achieve Food Sovereignty

Despite the many perspectives, voices, and specific challenges facing everyone at the Assembly, two main challenges emerged in the discussion. The first was the dominance of agri-food corporations and their agendas, which have caused and worsened the many crises we face: joblessness, hunger, poverty, environmental destruction, and even climate change. Misinformation about food issues, as well as corruption in different levels of government, have enabled corporate voices to be the main voices heard in the US.

The second challenge concerns building the movement for food sovereignty. This movement is made up of many different people: farmers, farmworkers, fishermen and women, urban gardeners, people fighting for better food and food justice for their families and communities, and their allies doing research and suggesting policies. In order to really work together, we need to explain complicated issues in accessible language so that everyone can have a voice. But it also means spending serious time and effort to understand, acknowledge and identify how racism, classism, economic injustice, and sexism affect our work together. The Assembly reaffirmed that the USFSA needs to conduct its work in ways that undo racist and classist dynamics to achieve food sovereignty and food justice.

Opportunities for Change

Similarly, two opportunities for change were often brought up at the Assembly: the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon and the Food and Farm Bill. The Occupy moment has created a space to discuss and protest corporate dominance, and it could be an opportunity to draw the attention to the corporate consolidation of our food system and to educate youth about food issues. The Food and Farm Bill concerns major policies and laws that affect our food system, and it expires in 2012. Its renewal gives us an opportunity to put forward alternatives.

Emerging Priorities for the USFSA

As a result of discussions within and across sectors present at the Assembly (and informed by those who participated in consultation calls ahead of time), five key priorities emerged for the USFSA.  Three of the priorities were based on specific issues and demands, and two of the priorities were based on our internal process and strategy.

Issues and Demands

1.    Fighting Against Land and Resource Grabs and for Comprehensive Land Reform

Land is becoming increasingly valuable, and globally, small farmers are losing their land as it is bought by foreign governments, international corporations, and Wall Street investors. Small farmers in the U.S. are unable to stay on their rural farmland, and urban land is lost to the gentrification of cities and waterfronts. Farmers are losing control over productive resources (land, water, seeds) and rights to save, exchange and share those resources; fishermen have increasingly limited access to the water; community gardens are cleared for expensive housing and commercial development projects; and farmers from other countries are often forced to migrate to the U.S. to work as food and farm workers. Changes in land and fisheries use and ownership are critical for developing just and sustainable local food economies and ending hunger and poverty. As a common link to all struggles for food justice and sovereignty, efforts to win community access to and control over land, water, seeds and the oceans can enhance and frame all struggles.

2.    Immigrant Rights and Trade

Food sovereignty and food justice are intimately connected to immigrant rights because in the U.S., it is often immigrants who work in the fields, on our fishing boats, in factories and processing plants, and in our grocery stores. Moreover, many immigrants come to the U.S. to work in agriculture because our system of unregulated trade, along with our foreign and agricultural policies, have in turn displaced them from their land: any approach that seeks to address immigration within the U.S. must therefore address the issues of trade. The USFSA thus supports not only the right of immigrants to stay in the country to which they have immigrated, but also the right and ability to stay home, a right which is violated by trade rules and corporate interests.

3.    Rights of Mother Earth and Defense of the Commons

With each passing year, it is becoming more and more clear how the struggle for food sovereignty is interrelated with the struggle for the future of the planet.  We now know that the industrial agriculture system is one of the main contributors to climate change.  We also know that the people who are on the frontlines of the struggle for a just food system (i.e. family farmers, farmworkers, indigenous communities, and low-income urban communities of color) are the ones who experience some of the first and worst impacts of climate disruption – from droughts and floods, to soaring food prices, to contamination of precious land and water from the extraction of oil, gas, and coal.  At the same time that our communities experience some of the worst impacts, we are also the source of the best solutions to heal and protect our land, water, seeds, and food systems, as part of Mother Earth.  We draw inspiration from and commit ourselves to fight for the Rights of Mother Earth, a concept that has existed for thousands of years in indigenous communities around the world, and which has recently been described in depth through the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.  Across the country, our communities are developing creative and resilient ways to defend the planet and prevent harmful exploitation by unaccountable governments and corporations.  Examples include the cross-border struggle against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; local fights for public dollars to enable communities to harvest rainwater for food production; marine stewardship; efforts to preserve the centuries-old and ever-evolving ecological relationship between peasant/family farmers and local seeds, free from corporate control; and the global struggle for climate justice.  We look forward to finding ways to lift up these struggles from a local to national and international level.

Movement Building within the USFSA: Internal Practice and Strategy

4.    Popular Education to Build Public Will for Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty requires a transformation of many of the fundamental structures of our society – from the economic system, to racism and sexism, to national oppression and xenophobia, and more.  For each of the issues that we take on, we commit ourselves to using popular political education as a tool to build the understanding, solidarity, and public will required for the kind of systems change we need. The USFSA will take on its role to educate its members as well as the public about the different struggles in the food system in order to build support and understanding.

5.    Addressing Racism and Creating Leadership Structures that Reflect Frontline  Communities

As we all know, the food system in the U.S. is dysfunctional and unjust. Our own movement reflects many of these contradictions and divides – this is why the Assembly was so important and why members of the USFSA recommitted to work together to ensure that as social justice advocates, we are conscious of issues of privilege and oppression in our work together. We will learn more together about issues of race and racism, and will work together to create a leadership structure that reflects the grassroots base-building, frontline communities that are most impacted by injustices in the food system.

Throughout the Assembly, participants reaffirmed the value of a US Food Sovereignty Alliance as a space for grassroots and national groups to build their power together in the food system and to provide solidarity to each other’s struggles, particularly in the face of corporate domination. We will continue to look for opportunities to take action in solidarity with each other.

Organizations Present at the Assembly

Agricultural Missions
Applied Research Center
Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association
Black Urban Growers
CA Biosafety Alliance
California Food and Justice Coalition
Campesino a Campesino
Casa del Llano
Community Alliance for Global Justice
Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC)
Community to Community Development
Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
Family Farm Defenders
Farmworker Association of Florida
Food & Water Watch
Food Chain Workers Alliance
Food First
Food for Maine’s Future
Friends of the Earth
Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI)
Grassroots International
La Via Campesina-North America Region
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
International Indian Treaty Council
Just Harvest USA
Live Real
Movement Strategy Center
Massachusetts Farmers Markets
Movement Generation
Movimiento de Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST – the Landless Workers Movement of Brazil)
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance
National Family Farm Coalition
Northeast Organic Farming Association-NJ
Other Worlds
Pesticide Action Network
Portland Multnomah Food Policy Council
Presbyterian Hunger Program
Rooted In Community (RIC)
Rural Coalition
Shawnee Food Justice Group
South Central Farmers
Women Organizing Resources, Knowledge and Services (WORKS)
Tallahassee Food Gardens
Tulsa Indigenous Action
Urban Tilth