Apr 16, 2015

What Happens when the Local Food Movement Turns Against Itself?

In Henry IV, Part One, Shakespeare tells the story of a rebellion turned against itself. Bolingbroke and his compatriots were successful in overthrowing the king of England. Things should have been looking rosy for the new king, Henry IV, but instead he finds himself facing threats from a very unexpected quarter. It seems that his brothers in arms, those with whom he set out to create a new land, had turned against him. Why?

Well, for the very reasons that one might predict. They disagreed with how the new king was conducting affairs, which evolved into the most basic of motivations--jealousy and competition. 

Why have plays such as this continued to resonate with audiences? After all, very few of us are actually kings, or hope to be! They continue to speak to people because kings or not, the experience of fighting the good fight, only to find yourself at odds with the very people with whom we have fought that fight is almost universal.
For us at Swede Farm, nothing has brought this experience into sharp focus as has this fundraiser. When we began the dairy, it was with two goals. The first was to provide for our family. The second was to, by succeeding, help further the revolution against big agriculture and a factory farm system of food production. We wanted to see more people aware of small-scale, sustainable agriculture and the importance of supporting local farms and local farming communities. We were not alone, there were others in the fight, and we wanted to see the numbers swell even further. Our mission statement from the very beginning has stated that we wanted to share freely with others, we were open to supporting and mentoring those who would stand with us in the fight and work to provide local food to our surrounding communities. In the beginning, the battle was glorious and empowering, full of the excitement of shared goals. We saw successes and the future seemed bright. Then, there began to be signs of discontent. In the beginning, differences were overlooked as we each took a different front in the battle. We were at war with an entrenched system and each farm was a battlefront. As the months stretched into years and the reality of fighting a battle that was muddy, bloody and long took it’s toll, these differences began to take on a bigger meaning. Instead of the differences of each farm being seen as a different way of waging war against the common enemy, the differences came to be seen as proof that the other farms were, in fact, the enemy. The sense that there was only one way to wage battle turned the fight into cannibalism, each farm seeking to undermine the other. 

We cannot get away from the reality that there will always be some measure of competition. In order for small farms to survive, they will be fighting, at least in the beginning, for the same food dollars. What we absolutely cannot forget is that when we turn that fight inward towards each other in competition, we lose the ability to fight against our common enemy. Each battle won against “big ag” and the established way of bringing food to the public brings more converts, which translates to more money and security to small farms. Each farm that comes under attack due to backstabbing in the name of competition means that the battle for sustainable agriculture is weakened. We will not all fight in the same way and how we do business will reflect this--but we cannot forget that other small farms are not the enemy! Our fundraiser was not begun (contrary to what some have said) in order to persevere over our local food competition. Our fundraiser was begun so that we would be able to remain in business precisely because we feel that our farm is not just about providing for our family, but also about a bigger battle being waged. We had other jobs and careers long before we began farming. From pension administration to midwifery, we have always provided for our family. We did not leave these careers for farming in order to become wealthy, we did it because we believed in teaching our children how to be self-reliant and we believed that change needed to take place in how our nation sees farming and community. We do not desire to win over our local competition, nor do we desire to keep others out of the local food market. More successful farms translates to more stable food markets which means a better chance of retaining consumers. More consumers converted to shopping locally means more chance of success for new local farms. Each local farm that goes belly-up does not mean more customers for the farms that remain, it means a lessening in the collective power of the movement. Is gaining a short-term battle for an individual farm worth risking the overall war? 

We do not think so, and we are thankful for our supporters who seem to agree with us. May we never forget, as did those who fought with Henry IV seemed to do, that winning a small battle may come at the risk of losing the bigger war.


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