Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Visit to a High School in Bamako

In Nyeleni, I interviewed two young men about a program they had started in a Bamako high school to encourage girls’ education. The program includes a scholoarship program for girls as well as a curriculum about agriculture and agroecology. The idea, as the director of the program explains, is to encourage the girls interested in agriculture as a way to support their interest in working on development in Mali.

They arranged for Amadou Diop and Ben Burkett (both from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives) and me to speak to the students at Ecovie, the school that houses the program. I reached deep into my memory of French (I even remember how to say “precautionary principle”!) to give a talk to more than 100 high school kids about what food sovereignty means and why it is relevant to them. We began by asking if any of them knew what the term meant. One bold girl stood up. “It means people in a country being able to feed themselves and have enough to eat before they export all their food.” Not too bad as far as definitions go; that’s certainly a big part of it. Needless to say we were impressed!

Among questions they asked us were whether GMOs held promise to help feed Africa, what a healthy diet is, and what they could do practically to improve the economy and environment in Mali. On the GMO question, we shared with them what we know from our experience with GMOs here in the States: that all of the evidence so far raises serious concerns about the environmental and health impacts of the technology. We also stressed--as folks at the Forum had talked about--that another huge concern about the introduction of genetically modified foods in Africa is that it creates dependence on buying seeds and paying technology fees from the very farmers with the fewest financial resources in the world to do so. We talked about how this would disrupt the age-old traditions of seed saving and sharing that are the building block of successful farming.

Images: That's us, on the dais, and the banner for the talk.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Misticas

Every morning of the Forum, a group of delegates has presented a mistica—a performance, often with song and ceremony, to celebrate food traditions and cultures. Today, more than two dozen pastoralists and nomads, in their traditional dress, proceeded down the aisle in the main amphitheater, chanting and singing. On stage, several of them sang songs, including shepherds from Italy and a pastoralist from North Africa. Yesterday, the Japanese delegation set up a beautiful tea ceremony and explained the rituals of the ceremony as they poured the steaming water into delicate cups. The first day we witnessed a display of seeds, representing the honoring of seed saving that dates back to the dawn of agriculture.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Burma Superstar

I just had lunch at my favorite restaurant in the San Francisco— Burma Superstar. Everything that I have ever eaten there has been thoroughly satisfying. But I highly recommend the Samusa Soup. Ambrosial.

Dispatch from Mali on

Read my post on my brother's Guerrilla News Network here.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Nyelini Report

See more here:
And read more here at my friend Corrina's blog: I'll write more soon. I've been particularly interested in hearing from the Africans about the opinions about transgenic foods and their resistance to the technology. That's certainly a perspective you don't here in the States.

The Food Forum has begun (and we have Internet!)

We made it to Nyelini--the Forum for Food Sovereignty I'm attending near Bamako, Mali! After a multi-day journey, everything is up-and-running here--we even have Internet (as you may have surmised).

I will spend the next few days learning from the more than 500 delegates, from more than 90 countries, here to discuss the concept of food sovereignty and figure out ways to work together to promote the political and economic concept throughout the world.

At the opening ceremony, as the dust settled from the day’s heat, you could hear the murmuring of translators: Behind me a Sri Lankan delegation hunched together to listen to the translation of a West African pastoralist; beside me an Algerian listened into her earpiece to indigenous youth activist from Jakarta share his stories about the loss of traditional culture; nearby I heard the Korean delegation's translator interpret the presentation from an American fisherman who made the connection between his loss of livelihood and the globalization and industrialization of fishing. From the front of the amphitheater, four people simultaneously translated the testimony into the forums official languages: Bombara, Spanish, French, and English. The delegates represent North America, Latin America, Asia, South Asia, Africa, Europe; every major language in the world; every major religion. The morning welcome session ended with the co-coordinators, arms draped across each other’s shoulders, saying: if we as Iranian and Americans can get along, any of us can.

The delegates are divided into working groups from six sectors, including farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, indigenous, migrant workers, consumers and urban movements. Throughout the meeting, women’s rights, environmental concerns, and the importance of youth development and participation in the movement will be woven into conversations about seven chosen core topics: trade and local markets; technology and local knowledge; access to and control of resources; sharing territories; conflict, war, and occupation; social conditions and forced migration, and production models to promote food sovereignty.

Over the course of the next five days, these sectors will engage in dialogue around three key questions: “What is it that we’re for?” “What are we fighting against” and, “What can we do together?” By the fifth day, organizers are working toward a united statement about the shared goals.

I'll be writing missives from the Forum throughout my time here and posting here where you can find them. The first one should be up this afternoon at my brother's news site:

I'm off to attend the session about trade and local markets. More soon...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Who's Here?

Unlike the World Social forums, Nyeleni is an invite-only forum. Unlike most of the invite-only events out there, this isn’t exclusively for the rich or well-connected. The organizers made it a closed Forum so that they could control the size (already 600 people is an amazingly huge number to house and feed every day). It was also a closed Forum so that the organizers could ensure that the delegates were as diverse as possible, with a mix of regions (Europe, North America (Canada, USA, and Mexico), Latin America and Caribbean (without Mexico), Africa, Southeast-East Asia, South Asia, West-Central Asia) and sectors, and a balance between men and women. They succeeded.

Some of the delegates from Nyeleni...

Shasha Sail, World March of Women (India)

Muhammad Ikhwan, Federation of Indonesian Peasant Union (Indonesia)

Ayumi Kinezuka, farmer, Japan Family Farmers Movement (Japan)

Arthur Williams, Friends of the Earth (Sierra Leone)

Omer Doana, Union of Agricultural Workers Committees (Palestine)

Xiomara Agiular de Zelaya, Coordinadora Nacional de Officiales en Retiro (Nicaragua)
Sven Borkhus, Mayor of Alvdal, Norway

Fanta Sinayoko from Selingue, one of the masterminds of the meals for Nyeleni

guava @ a farmer's market in kona, hawaii

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On the Road to Mali

I’m sitting in Washington DC about to grab dinner with a friend before heading to Paris then Mali to attend the weeklong international conference on food sovereignty convening farmers, fisherman, union and civil society leads, and social movements from around the globe.

When I’ve mentioned this conference, the most common reaction has been, “What does 'food sovereignty' mean?” followed at close second by “So, what difference does it make?” And, coming in third? “What difference does it make to me?”

In a week from now--having met many of the 450 people from 98 countries--I’ll have a lot more to say about the concept, but here's an initial explanation. (I’ll be adding my links here on this blog to various other websites and news outlets where I’ll be posting my reflections.)

John Kinsman, a indefatigable Wisconsin dairy farmer and a founder of Family Farm Defenders, put it well when he said food sovereignty is the simple idea that farmers and fisherfolk everywhere have a right to control what they grow, how they grow it, and what they do with it. It’s also the idea that we eaters-of-the-world have the right to access to good, clean food that is affordable, too, and that farmers have the right to a fair price.

In an increasingly global market for food--a market controlled increasingly by fewer and fewer corporations with more and more power over the food chain—the food sovereignty for all of us is being seriously comprised. It is this concern about the threats to food sovereignty that is partly driving this week’s conference in Mali.

Off to Mali

Corinna Steward from Grassroots International and Deb Eschmeyer from National Family Farm Coalition, at the booming Busboys & Poets in Washington DC, leading a participatory workshop about just what "food sovereignty" means... more on what it does mean soon. We head to Mali (via Paris) tonight, so more from a much warmer me soon.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mardi Gras with Bryant, Farmer Brown, and Friends

Celebreate MARDI GRAS with Bryant and friends on February 20th (that's tomorrow!) for a 3-course meal, live brass band, handmade cocktails, art installations, and djs at Farmer Brown's in San Francisco. Partial proceeds go to both a local and New Orleans non-profit. I wish I could be there. It is going to be amazing. There are a few tickets left, so call 415-409-3276 to book your spot. ($20 pre-sale, $25 day of). 5pm-1am.

I'm in DC at the National Family Farm Coalition meeting. Just heard from agricultural activists in Venezuela who shared some of the amazing work that they've been doing there (will post more on it here or elsewhere in the blogosphere). And, heard about this new book, Food Fight: A Citizen's Guide to the Farm Bill, which I won't have time to read for a little stint, but wanted everyone to know about. Sounds really interesting. The countdown has begun for Mali and the North American delegation for the Food Sovereignty meeting is having a launch party tonight at Busboys & Poets. If you're in DC, come on down!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

New York City: Event Tonight with Venezuelan Agroecological Leaders

The Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle invites you to join us for an evening with two special guests from Venezuela, Braulio Álvarez, campesino leader and member of the Venezuelan National Assembly, and Miguel Angel Nuñez, a leader of Venezuela’s “Agroecological Revolution.”

Introductory remarks will be given by William Kramer, Adjunct Professor and Researcher in Globalization and Labor Studies at Rutgers University. Come learn about land reform, sustainable agriculture, and the struggles of farmers in Venezuela from these two incredible individuals (see bios below). Also learn about the movement for food sovereignty throughout Latin America and around the world. Special thanks to World Hunger Year and the National Family Farm Coalition for helping to sponsor the visits of Miguel Angel and Braulio.

When: Thursday, February 15th, 7-9 PM
Where: Local 1199, 43rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, Midtown Manhattan
**Wine and snacks will be provided - please feel free to bring something to share**
**This event is free and open to the public**
Questions? Email:

Braulio Álvarez is a founding member and national coordinator of Venezuela’s largest peasant group, CANEZ, and is the Vice President of the Permanent Commission on Economic Development of the National Assembly of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Born into a farming family in the state of Yaracuy, Venezuela, he has worked tirelessly throughout his life to organize peasants in the struggle for land, livelihood, and dignity. He is a leader of the Latin American coordination of campesino groups (CLOC) affiliated with the Via Campesina global peasant movement. In his capacity as a member of Venezuela’s National Assembly, he leads the Special Commission on the Investigation of Assassinations of Campesinos, Fisherfolk, and Indigenous People. Since the passage of Venezuela’s Law of the Land, over 100 campesino leaders have been assassinated by paramilitaries, and Álvarez himself has been the victim of two assassination attempts.

Miguel Angel Nuñez is a pioneer in Latin America’s agroecology movement and is the founding director of the Institute for the Production and Investigation of Tropical Agriculture (IPIAT) in Venezuela. He partners with rural communities throughout the country to reclaim traditional crop varieties and agricultural practices as part of a broader move in Venezuela’s political process to promote “development from within.” As an advisor to President Hugo Chavez, Nuñez works to promote a national shift from a Green Revolution-style model of industrial agriculture to a model based on principles of sustainability and participatory democracy. At the international level, he works to raise awareness and build support for what he has dubbed Venezuela’s “Agroecological Revolution.” (For further information)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Join me in DC on Monday to Celebrate Food Sovereignty

a two-part event at Busboys and Poets Monday, February 19, 2007
Both events will be held at Busboys and Poets2021 14th St. NW
The National Family Farm Coalition and Grassroots International co-present a workshop about the domestic campaign on Food Sovereignty. Innovative tools and methods will be shared to scale up the ongoing work for justice in the food system.
Immediately following the workshop from 6:30 - 9:30 is a dinner celebration and "send-off" for the U.S. delegation participating in the “Nyélení 2007 - Forum for Food Sovereignty” in Mali, Africa from February 23-27. The U.S. delegation represents farmers, farmworkers, fisher-folk, NGO's, faith based and citizen/consumer organizations. A 45 person delegation from North America (U.S., Mexico, and Canada) will be joining 450 delegates from around the world in Mali. To learn more about Nyélení, visit
The dinner is co-hosted by Busboys and Poets will present the local, regional, national and international approaches to food sovereignty through the voices of those attending the Forum. A celebratory feast of family farm raised food reflects the cultures represented by the delegation through the sourcing and/or donations of Louisiana shrimp, humanely raised poultry, wild rice, local salad, and cheese from Cedar Grove/Family Farm Defenders in Wisconsin. RSVP to NFFC at by Thursday, February 15th. Click here to RSVP now and include the event(s) you plan to attend.
We are asking for a $20 minimum donation (included in registration for NFFC meeting attendees) for the dinner celebration. There is no charge for the afternoon workshop. You will also have the opportunity to bid on items donated by family farmers and local supportive businesses at our silent auction. For more information and
Questions? Call 202-543-5675 or e-mail

Love Your Valentine--Not Toxic Flowers!

Celebrate Valentine's Day by checking out Jason Mark's latest piece for "Unhealthy Flowers: Why Buying Organic Should Not End With Your Food. Conventionally grown cut flowers are often raised in environments that are unhealthy and abusive to workers. Responsible alternatives have been difficult, if not impossible, to find -- until now."

Big News on GMO-Front--Press Release from the Center for Food Safety

I'm happy to post this press release from our friends at the Center for Food Safety.

Contact: Joseph Mendelson, Center for Food Safety (202) 547-9359 (Note: Individual farmers and representatives of organizations who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit are available for comment).

Precedent-setting Decision May Block Planting, Sales of Monsanto Alfalfa
Washington, DC (February 14, 2007)­--In a decision handed down yesterday, a Federal Court has ruled, for the first time ever, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to abide by federal environmental laws when it approved a genetically engineered crop without conducting a full Environment Impact Statement (EIS).

In what will likely be a precedent-setting ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer of the Northern District of California decided in favor of farmers, consumers, and environmentalists who filed a suit calling the USDA's approval of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa a threat to farmers' livelihoods and a risk to the environment. Judge Breyer ordered that a full Environmental Impact Statement must be carried out on "Roundup Ready" alfalfa, the GE variety developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics. The decision may prevent this season's sales and planting of Monsanto's GE alfalfa and future submissions of other GE crops for commercial deregulation.

Judge Breyer concluded that the lawsuit, brought last year by a coalition of groups led by the Center for Food Safety, raised valid concerns about environmental impacts that the USDA failed to address before approving the commercialization and release of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

In his ruling, the judge consistently found USDA's arguments unconvincing, without scientific basis, and/or contrary to the law. For example:
· The judge found that plaintiffs' concerns that Roundup Ready alfalfa will contaminate natural and organic alfalfa are valid, stating that USDA's opposing arguments were "not convincing" and do not demonstrate the "hard look" required by federal environmental laws. The ruling went on to note that "…For those farmers who choose to grow non-genetically engineered alfalfa, the possibility that their crops will be infected with the engineered gene is tantamount to the elimination of all alfalfa; they cannot grow their chosen crop."
· USDA argued that, based on a legal technicality, the agency did not have to address the economic risks to organic and conventional growers whose alfalfa crop could be contaminated by Monsanto's GE variety. But the judge found that USDA "overstates the law…Economic effects are relevant "when they are 'interelated' with 'natural or physical environmental effects.'…Here, the economic effects on the organic and conventional farmers of the government's deregulation decision are interrelated with, and, indeed, a direct result of, the effect on the physical environment."
· Judge Breyer found that USDA failed to address the problem of Roundup-resistant "superweeds" that could follow commercial planting of GE alfalfa. Commenting on the agency's refusal to assess this risk, the judge noted that "Nothing in NEPA, the relevant regulations, or the caselaw support such a cavalier response."

"This is a major victory for farmers and the environment," said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. "Not only has a Federal Court recognized that USDA failed to consider the environmental and economic threats posed by GE alfalfa, but it has also questioned whether any agency in the federal government is looking at the cumulative impacts of GE crop approvals."

"This is another nail in the coffin for USDA's hands-off approach to regulations on these risky engineered crops," said Will Rostov, Senior Attorney of The Center for Food Safety, which just last week won another judgment calling for USDA to provide more environmental documentation for any new GE field trials.

"This ruling will help protect my rights as a consumer to choose, and I choose organic foods whenever and wherever I can," said Dean Hulse, Fargo, ND-based spokesperson for Dakota Resource Council and the Western Organization of Resource Councils. "The decision rejects Monsanto's claims that transgenic crops are safe for the environment. Many people have been skeptical of those claims, and now we have a judge who's skeptical as well – a judge who has actually studied the facts."

The suit also cited the urgent concerns of farmers who sell to export markets. Japan and South Korea, America's most important alfalfa customers, have warned that they will discontinue imports of U.S. alfalfa if a GE variety is grown in this country. U.S. alfalfa exports total nearly $480 million per year, with about 75% headed to Japan. The Court disagreed with USDA's assertion that exports to Japan would not be harmed by deregulation of GE alfalfa.

"Today's ruling reinforces what Sierra Club has been saying all along: the government should look before it leaps and examine how genetically engineered alfalfa could harm the environment before approving its widespread use," said Neil Carman of the Sierra Club's genetic engineering committee. "That's just plain common sense."

Alfalfa is grown on over 21 million acres, and is worth $8 billion per year (not including the value of final products, such as dairy), making it the country's third most valuable and fourth most widely grown crop. Alfalfa is primarily used in feed for dairy cows and beef cattle, and it also greatly contributes to pork, lamb, sheep, and honey production. Consumers also eat alfalfa as sprouts in salads and other foods.

"We applaud the decision of the Court," said Bill Wenzel of the National Family Farm Coalition. "It's unfortunate that we have to turn to judges to do what's right for farmers while the USDA carries water for the biotech companies."

Pat Trask of Trask Family Seeds, a South Dakota conventional alfalfa grower and plaintiff in the case stated: "It's a great day for God's own alfalfa."

The Center for Food Safety represented itself and the following co-plaintiffs in the suit: Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council, Trask Family Seeds, and Geertson Seed Farms. For more information, please visit .

Friday, February 09, 2007

bryant's california hurricane

Bryant's California Hurricane

* 2 ounces light rum
* 2 ounces dark rum
* 1 ounce fresh naval orange juice
* 2 ounces fresh blood orange juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 tablespoon agave nectar
* 1 tablespoon pomegranate juice

Shake all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a hurricane glass. Garnish with a blood orange slice.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ode to the Bookstore

An interesting (and sad for us) piece about bookstores in the Los Angeles Times today. We made a commitment when we went on the road with Grub that we would only go to independent, non-corporate chains on our tour. And we did. Now, many of the places we hit -- including our launch at Coliseum Books in New York City -- and that my mom and I went to for the Hope's Edge tour are no longer. It's so sad to see them go: Independent bookstores were such an important part of the community-building element of the Grub tour and a central part of the vision of local control and community-based businesses that is integral to the food system (as well as the 'idea system'). --Anna

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Farm Eye for the Farm Guy

What happens when Queer Eye for the Straight Guy meets the farm? My friend Ben suggested I listen to This American Life's story about a farmer [search the bottom left list for the term "farm guy"] with troubles, and a wise farm guy's attempt to help him. The story is revealing about just what it takes to make it as a farmer, and though I don't want to give away the ending, let's just say it isn't a fairy tale. I listened to the story in preparation for heading to Full Belly Farm today, to visit the 200-plus-acre farm two-hours Northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area where I'm staying this week. Full Belly's bustling operation definitely reminded me of all it takes to make a farm work and the brilliance of re-thinking the one-family-farm into a multi-family-farm operation. (At Full Belly, two couples form the basis of a four-person partnership while they also work with a neighboring farmer and his wife. Every year, their team is bolstered by four to five interns who live on the land and by 30 to 40 full-time employees, some of whom have been there for more than a decade).