|Back to Home||Feature Article - December 16, 2010|
NFU Local 316 promotes resilienceby Julie Druker
Photo: author, activist and farmer Aric McBay
The National Farmer Union Local 316 has made headlines this year many times over. First, for spearheading the protests and blockades to fight against the closure of Canadian prison farms, centered around the Frontenac Institution's farm in Kingston (which landed NFU members on the front cover of the 2010 NFU's National Convention catalogue), but also for the numerous projects they have initiated, like the New Farm Project, Food Down the Road, Open Farms and the Local Harvest newspaper among others. All of the projects are centered around the idea of creating a more sustainable, resilient local farming community.
It was with that idea in mind that author, activist and small scale organic farmer Aric McBay, who farms at the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm “Root Radical” near Kingston, spoke on the topic of “Building Community Resistance” at the NFU Local 316's AGM that took place on Dec. 9 at the Sydenham Town hall.
In his talk McBay who was one of the organizers of the Save Our Prison Farms campaign (SOPF), highlighted the two main trends that he believes demand a new focus on community resilience: 1) ecological collapse i.e. climate change and the rapid decline of soil and ground water across the planet and 2) energy decline and peak oil, both of which are eroding farmers’ abilities to rely on synthetic fertilizers as a way of maintaining the soil in which they grow their crops.
According to McBay, resilience needs to be developed on four separate fronts. The first is social and cultural, by which McBay means the need for the community to develop a strong love for the “daily culture” of farming. He said, “People need to have a strong belief that their culture is one worth preserving and this means a love of the work they do and a love for the land.”
As an example of this type of resilience McBay harkened back to the Irish farmers, who successfully fought to take back their farm land from the government in what were called the Irish Land Wars, which followed the potato famine of 1845 that had devastated the country.
As a more current example of this kind of effort McBay cited one of the main objectives of the SOPF campaign to maintain the 800 acres of prime farmland at the Frontenac Institution as farmland instead of allowing it to be developed into a mega prison.
Secondly, McBay pointed to the need for economic resilience, and the movement away from “debt and interest” models of farm expansion, which he says can lead to total economic collapse in emergency economic situations. He cited new, successful projects like the New Farm Project, in which the idea of “passing on the gift” allows farmers to receive debt and interest free gifts of equipment, livestock, seeds and other tools which help them to maintain economic resilience, rather than incurring large debts and unmanageable interest payments when acquiring new tools.
Next he spoke of the importance of “small scale economics”, where “there is a direct relationship between farmers, processors and eaters.” He used the example of Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSAs), which maintain loyal customers and therefore have the ability to withstand the negative effects of large scale downturns and crisis such as mad cow disease, bird flu etc.
Thirdly McBay spoke of political resilience and the need for communities to uphold and maintain strong democratic principles, especially in times of economic crisis. He focused of the historical trend of major power shifts that occur during times of economic crisis and the tendency of democracies to fall into fascism as happened in the 1930s in Italy and Germany.
He also pointed out that strong organizations can make issues more political and cited the example of the SOPF campaign, which proved that organizations like the NFU and the many others involved were, “not afraid to disagree with the positions of the current government”. A total of 24 individuals from various organizations were arrested during the blockades at the Frontenac Institution.
Lastly McBay spoke of the need for ecological or agricultural resilience and the importance of communities having the ability to feed themselves. McBay highlighted the importance of subsistence, diversity, and the sharing of knowledge and education. Again he used example of the Irish potato famine of 1845 where the spread of a single disease through a single crop pushed millions of people into starvation. “Communities that are resilient tend to be decentralized, small scale and diverse and tend to avoid short term comprises that will diminish their long-term goals.”
McBay summed up his thoughts this way. “One of the ways you can create resilience in the long term is to give people an opportunity to see a new successful vision and then give them a way to work towards that vision and also give them a definite role to play.”
McBay will be doing just that come January. As one of the three facilitators who led the civil disobedience training sessions during the SOPF campaign, he, along with Pam Cross and Matt Silburn, have since formed the 2011 Cataraqui Resistance School and together will be offering a 12-week course beginning in January, 2011 with the hopes of “nurturing a resistance movement that understands its history, learns from the success and failures of others and one that can effectively confront the current economic and political system.”