US Food Sovereignty Alliance IV National Assembly: Land Trusts, Collectives, and Hope

Alyshia Silva and Erik Hazard | 11.02.2018

This October, on the lands of the Lummi and the Nooksack peoples of Coast Salish Territory—in the place now called Bellingham, Washington—we all took another step forward toward food sovereignty. The fourth national, bi-annual Assembly of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) was hosted by Community to Community (C2C), an organization fighting for farmworker and immigrant rights. The Assembly brought together over 140 US organizations and international allies committed to ending hunger, rebuilding our local economies, and democratizing our food system.

As a people’s think tank, we were excited to learn from each other, engage in analysis, and formulate strategies for transforming the food system.  Our mornings began with powerful místicas borrowed from the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST). Místicas are rituals that help ground us politically and spiritually in a greater, collective movement for justice. Our final mística ended with participants voicing their desires for the future, such as an “End to suffering and the beginning of prosperity,” along with other hopes like “clean air, clean water, and clean food.”

Plenaries featured frontline farmers who are fighting neoliberal capitalism and building food sovereignty. During one of the plenaries, Rosalinda Guillen spoke clearly of the dire situation we face, as “the crisis of capitalism is becoming cannibalistic, creating desperate behavior by corporations to dig even deeper into the wealth of poor communities and poor workers.” Fausto Torres of La Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo (ATC) in Nicaragua reminded us that we “can overcome these crises with social mobilization.” Joan Brady of the National Farmers Union in Canada highlighted how food sovereignty serves as a “framework for change. It gives us a picture of what the future can look like.”

Beyond the plenaries, Food First engaged in workshops on agroecology, political education, and the rights of food chain workers. We also marched in solidarity with farmworkers who recently were subject to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E) raid.

The crisis of capitalism is becoming cannibalistic, creating desperate behavior by corporations to dig even deeper into the wealth of poor communities and poor workers.

The issue of land – its inaccessibility and inequitable distribution – was prevalent throughout the assembly. Neil Thapar of Sustainable Economies Law Center told Food First “no matter where you went […] people were questioning current land ownership patterns and calling for an alliance-based response.” Doria Robinson of Urban Tilth in Richmond, CA, posed this question early during the assembly: “What does democratic governance of land look like? How can we create a fund to allow communities to control land? We talk about needing a just transition in agriculture, but what does that look like?”  Eventually, Rosalinda Guillen asked later in the assembly “So, what are we going to do about it? How about we explore the concept of a USFSA National Land Trust?” On the final day, the alliance eventually resolved to create a “Land, water, and agroecology” collective to explore the potential of a USFSA National Land Trust.

What does democratic governance of land look like? How can we create a fund to allow communities to control land? We talk about needing a just transition in agriculture, but what does that look like?

Other collectives were also formed, which will bring regional members together on the national level to focus on issues of political education, narrative building, and international solidarity development over the next two years. The creation of the new collectives by consensus reflected the type of coordinated and unified political decision-making needed for the food sovereignty movement to take root and grow here in the United States.

Our weekend ended in celebration as the USFSA awarded the US Food Sovereignty Prize, honoring two grassroots organizations. The Food Sovereignty Prize is a people’s award that celebrates frontline communities that build resilience, forge equity, and spread agroecology in the food system.  This prize is an alternative to the corporate-driven World Food Prize which promotes ecologically-damaging Green Revolution technologies and market-driven solutions to the problems of hunger, malnutrition, and climate change.

Please join us in celebrating the honorees of the Food Sovereignty Prize, Black Water Mesa Coalition (BWMC) and our good friends, Organización Boricuá. BWMC works to restore indigenous food sovereignty, develop energy democracy, and uplift youth leaders among Navajo and Hopi Communities in Arizona. At the ceremony, Roberto Nutlouis of BWMC made clear to the audience that “We need to notify humanity that we need to drastically change the way we do things, especially getting away from fossil fuels, and the food system is one way to begin that transition.”

Boricuá was celebrated for mobilizing Food Sovereignty Brigades to clear roads, rebuild farms, and deliver food to desperate rural communities after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. (In June of this year, Food First partnered with Boricuá and SOCLA—the Latin American Scientific Society for Agroecology—to give workshops in agroecological reconstruction in Puerto Rico following Hurricane María). During the award ceremony, Jesus Vazquez of Boricuá spoke of agrecology creating a “space to organize and deepen our struggles,” especially in a colonial context. Vazquez also highlighted how Boricua’s work, which keeps farmers and activists connected to each other and the land through agroecology, can “serve as a vehicle of transformation towards a sovereign, free, and just Puerto Rico.”

We need to notify humanity that we need to drastically change the way we do things, especially getting away from fossil fuels, and the food system is one way to begin that transition.

As a people’s think tank we value the Assembly because we learn directly from frontline struggles and can mutually reflect on the ways we can support the movement for food sovereignty in the United States. With our mission to “end the injustices that cause hunger,” we constantly ask how best to amplify the voices of grassroots leaders, communities, farmers, and food workers to combat injustices in the food system? How do we imagine a food system in which people and communities can determine how their food is produced, distributed, and consumed?

The US food sovereignty movement builds community power to counter the capitalist food system that treats food as a weapon, and squeezes farmers, exploits workers, and marginalizes communities of color. A rigorous, structural analysis that explains the root causes of why people go hungry in a world of plenty helps to inform the strategies and actions of the growing food movement. Sharing and amplifying the stories and actions of frontline communities—the real experts in social change—are necessary to forging counter-narratives to market-led, corporate solutions to our food system’s problems. Ultimately, transformative structural change towards food sovereignty can only come from the ground up by a deeply informed, broadly-based social movement.


Thank you to Neil Thapar who provided clarity on parts of this blog.