By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, October 24-30, 2004
Over the October 15-18 weekend I participated in a Bioneers Conference in breathtakingly beautiful northwest Michigan.
The Bioneers are solution-oriented, locally-grounded environmental visionaries committed to restoring our relationships with one another and with the Earth.
Every fall they convene a huge conference of several thousand in Rafael, California, featuring nationally known speakers who are beamed via satellite to 15 different sites where local residents organize local conferences with their own keynoters and workshops.
I keynoted the Traverse City Bioneer gathering of about 400 people.
With about 40 young people, I also attended a workshop on "Greening the City: One Roof at a Time˜ led by Angie Durhman, a graduate research assistant at Michigan State University. Her Power Point presentation explained the benefits of green roofing and provided hands-on information on what plants to choose (because they require little or no watering), drainage issues (e.g. of sloping roofs), and useful data on where green roof technology is being pursued. In Europe, especially Germany, it has been in use for decades. Locally the Ford Rouge plant is an outstanding example of how green roofing contributes to urban environmental sustainability.
Another exciting workshop was the one on "Food for Learning˜ led by Patty Cantrell and Diane Conners of the Michigan Land Use Institute. They described how 400 schools in 22 states are creating a nation-wide movement to link farms to schools with the aim of providing more nourishing school lunches for children and also a market for local farmers.
By using federal monies for school lunches to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables these projects are helping small farmers to stay in business while also helping to stem the alarming increase in childhood obesity (and diabetes). Studies show that where children meet with local farmers and eat their produce, they begin preferring fresh cherries, apples and new varieties of potatoes to pizza.
The speakers beamed on a huge screen from California were awesome. They included Amy Goodman, the executive producer and host of Democracy Now; John Mohawk, director of Indigenous Studies in the Center for the Americas, Wanjia Maathai, daughter of Wangari Maathai who has just received the Nobel Prize for founding the Green Belt Movement in Kenya; and social entrepreneur and author Paul Hawken.
The presentation by Thomas Linzey which concluded the Saturday satellite session was especially exciting. Linzey, the co-founder and president of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, explained how small farmers in more than a hundred rural communities in Pennsylvania are empowering themselves by incorporating into their local charters the inalienable rights of Nature and of local communities to farm their land based on community rather than corporate values.
Trying to regulate corporations, these farmers have concluded, actually gives them permission to keep destroying our environment and our communities. "For example, when Pennsylvania established a regulatory permitting system for factory farms, it solely required permits for manure loading rates on farmland. By its very nature, it failed to address the economic, cultural, or social issues that arise when family farmers in rural communities are exterminated by the four agribusiness corporations that now control over 80% of the beef, hog, and poultry production in the United States."
The Abolitionists didn't ask to regulate slavery or ask for a Slavery Protection Agency (SPA) Linzey explained. They demanded that slavery be abolished. Similarly local municipalities in Pennsylvania are creating a new vision of democratic agriculture by declaring the inalienable rights of the Earth and of local communities.
It's a fundamentally different approach that promises to take away the power that corporations have usurped by using the 14h Amendment.