The agroecology and permaculture educator as a facilitator of building awareness about the food production system, especially in the cities
This exhibit is aimed to share, in a visual and synthetic way, some knowledge and ideas to take into consideration on the role of a Food Growing Educator.
It will also present some ideas from La Bolina’s repopulating experience through integration of migrants and agroecology, in El Valle, Granada, Spain.
As educators in food growing, we have various missions, in addition to teaching how to grow food. We have in our power the capacity to empower citizens and farmers, and provide them with the tools and knowledge to be pro-active actors in improving the food production system.
A widely spread image in cities is to see fridges in the supermarket full of pre-cooked or already assembled, single-use plastic packaged food, ready for people with very little time on their hands. The consumers see this offer as a salvation, sometimes even as healthy food (i.e. salads, sushi, precooked “home-made” meals). In reality, this food is only a reflection of the aggressive and destructive food production system on all levels; it is also a reflection of the frenetic rhythm many people are forced to experience due to the obligations they have towards the companies they work in. It becomes the accepted reality.
The description in this illustration refers mainly to occidental mainstream relation to food. Many people have access to food that has lost its essence or is filled with negative elements, such as pesticides, plastic particles, the labour of exploited persons, or a harmful treatment of land and soil.
A lot of the food produced is consumed in the cities, where a big part of the population lives. Many of these people have no culture of producing their own food or don’t know where their food comes from. In order to change the paradigm, the involvement of citizens is crucial. As educators, we need to work on this issue, especially on children and youth to raise awareness and consciousness about it and thus create a change of behaviour in citizens. Then, we can connect the urban with the rural. Both spaces need each other to strive in modern life.
The rural-urban connection is fundamental and as educators we can work on it through schools gardens, communal garden, management of parks, conferences, short courses, videos, urban agriculture, and other awareness building and educational activities.
TEAM BEHIND EDUCATOR
Collective actions and the team behind the educator.
Importance of a diversified team to create a successful food production initiative.
The Supermarket Culture is based on a strong “device”, it is a big “machine”, which touches many aspects of the production and commercialization chain (from seeds, through machinery, technology, and marketing strategies, to pressure on farmers, price fixing and public authorities unconditional support). It covers a wide stream of activities so it is able to exist. It is also built on the lack of time of people as the supermarket offers the easiness to access all needs in one big place. To be able to create an alternative to the Supermarket Culture, agroecology/permaculture and other trends have to be accessible to all people, and not only people that are activists or already sensitive to the issue, to democratize somehow those views on agriculture.
To have an impact on our surrounding, we need cooperation, collective and complementary efforts and to scale up the activities. We also need to educate the population about the issues at stake.
One example we give here is a team comprised of people/entities with diverse responsibilities, capacities and activities.
A collective can be created or separate entities/individuals can work collectively, so the sum of all efforts has a real impact on our surrounding, be it a village, a neighborhood, a city or a province.
Example of some elements needed to offer a scaled-up alternative:
- Permaculture/agroecology educator (courses, land management and planning, logistics)
- Commercialization coordinator (preparation of orders, market research, marketing strategy, accounting, connection with other growers)
- Communication and event coordinator (open days, workshops, cultural events, website and more)
- Activists or activists’ spirit
- Migrants (producers, buyers, story sharing and reflection)
- Volunteers (team support in land, preparation of events, communication and more)
- Funding coordinator
- Local and international authorities (public policies, offer of land and infrastructure)
- Consumers (people, shops, restaurants, school kitchens)
- Other producers (to diversify products)
- COVID19! (i.e.: awareness about limits of humans on this planet)
- And more…
Permaculture principles can also be applied to many, if not all, aspects of life. An example here during the execution of La Bolina’s project in El Valle, Spain.
Observe and interact: we started with the idea of offering training to migrants and afterwards providing a land and commercialization channels so the participants could get self-employment. When we knew the people better, through talking and sharing spaces, we realized the most basic need was to get residency papers, considered to be more important than a revenue-generating activity. So La Bolina changed its strategy and started offering a contract for some of the people interested in working in the area. It is important, when starting with an idea, to observe how people and the environment react to it and open channels for a flow of information which will allow to adjust the execution of this idea accordingly to new information.
Obtain a yield: important for the economic viability of any idea, especially when it is about creating job opportunities or inclusion of people.
Accept feed-back: some of the questions we had: how do we see food production, what do we want to change in us to change the world: commercialization ethics, working conditions that are respectful, power relationships, relation to food, and relation to money).
Use and value renewable resources and services: how to use existing resources on the land and in the villages: weed, wood, microorganisms, empty houses, motivation of people to see new things happening in the village, local knowledge and artifacts etc.
Integrate instead of segregate: include diverse people in a social project.
Use slow and small solutions: give time to root in the village, have loyal clients, give the soil the time it needs to regenerate, give time to produce and be active but also to hibernate and reflect.
One fundamental part of food production in most of the world is migrant work. In Spain, we have a very visible example of this model and its negative consequences on the social and environmental levels mainly.
The cheap labor that migrants represent, together with the lack of legal protection, make the current food production possible: cheap labor, cheap food, big environmental, social and cultural externalities that are neither included in the price nor known to many people who buy this food in Spain and all Europe.
To be a farmer and cultivate land is seen as a sign of failure by many people. For some migrants, it means a lack of advancement and not having reached the objective of creating a better life through migration. This is true if we take for example the plastic sea of Almeria in Andalucía, southern Spain or the fields in Huelva in the same autonomous community. The first challenge while working with migrants in a rural repopulation project and creation of sustainable livelihoods based on agroecology is to show them that working in agriculture is not a failure. Rather, it means joining a big movement in Europe related to the importance of the rural areas and the production of healthy food as a basic right and necessity for human life. Teaching them permacultural/agroecological or regenerative agriculture techniques will change their status: instead of representing cheap, undocumented labor with bad living conditions, they can be proactive actors in changing the system. In general, they are young people with a lot of energy, which can be put to the service of improving the whole system, while improving their social status as well.
While working with the migrant collective, we should apply the three ethics of permaculture.
- Teach and learn about Earth Care ethics.
- Create relationships through People Care ethics.
- Fair Share, through including potentially marginalized people in the movement of permaculture and sharing places in society.
We also have to be conscious about the demographical change seen in Europe and the decrease of young people in the rural areas to continue cultivating. The integration of migrants in the food production system as described in this text is an opportunity to address the disequilibrium that exists globally: injustice in the home country, land grabbing, desertification, lack of work opportunities to name a few. Participation of migrants shows how a different story in building societies that are more just, inclusive, and appreciative of all their members is possible.
Connection with one’s environment and nature
In the micro- and macrocosm, there are similar actions, reactions and impacts that happen at a small or large scale. The way we take care of ourselves and our bodies is reflected on how we take care of the planet, our habitat. (We are beings living in a body and our body lives on a planet). Many people don’t take care of their bodies and thus of the planet. There is a disconnection from the planet and an intellectualization of the human.
A lot of food nowadays feed the eyes or the taste buds. It does not feed the body cells and certainly not the planet. When we treat our body as an artificial entity, these actions have a similar effect on the macrocosms we live in. So, as educators, we can show ways of integrating positively in our environment while feeding our bodies. Our essence as being part of this planet (moving from ego to eco) should also be included in the interactions we have with participants of courses, whom we teaching and from whom we learn.
Many techniques are available that allows us to increase the participants’ knowledge in using the environment in a gentle, respectful way, while also identifying with some of the manifestations we can see in it. As example we have: microorganisms, compost, manure, reforestations and creating food forests, edges, no-dig techniques, proper design, water management – just to name a few.
However, it is not about pure ecology only; it is about preserving us as a species. For example, soil conservation techniques are important for it to be usable as a resource crucial for living; it is not a random action that ecologists “like”. So, in addition to sharing those techniques about integration with the environment, its preservation and regeneration, an emphasis can be put also on the similarities we have.
The tomato behavior, to take an example, helps us understand our connection to nature and the similarity of common life facts: the tomato, as many plants, emits scent to attract insects that will protect it from other dangerous insects; the plant, while getting used to its environment, improve its connection with local insects and can improve its security and adaptation to the area and its climate. It needs the time to adapt, get experience, make connections etc. – like humans in general (and migrants in particular). Through finding similarities like this one, we can begin to better understand our relation to nature, interconnectedness, and maybe begin to see ourselves less separated or different from our surrounding. From there, we can know how to create a respectful living space we are comfortable in. It is an elevation of our consciousness to a level where we can find tranquility and relaxation and where Life with the capital L can find all its meaning. Seen like this, the spiritual experience of realizing our wholeness and togetherness with nature through cultivating plants and food is a path that can change the behavior of people stuck in the Supermarket Culture, if only they make an effort to listen and see with an open mind.
This exhibit will, in a visual and synthetic way, share some knowledge and ideas to take into consideration by food educators as change makers in the framework of the food production system.
The educators have various missions including empowering citizens and farmers and providing them with information, tools and knowledge to be pro-active actors to create collectively a regenerative, sustainable, and fair food growing system.
Esta exposición pretende compartir, en una forma sintética y visual, algunos conocimientos e ideas a tomar en consideración por parte de lxs educadorxs en agroecología y permacultura para ser actores de cambio en el marco del sistema agroalimentario.
Les educadores tienen varias misiones y estas incluyen empoderar a la población y les agricultores así que proveerles con la información, las herramientas y los conocimientos para crear colectivamente un sistema agroalimentario regenerativo, sostenible y equitable.
Author: Habiba Youssef
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