'Hope' is an idea we see bandied around from religious texts to the mouths of presidents. This 'hope' can leave us with a flaccid trust in others to act on our behalf; it can leave us hopeless. And yet hope is what we found in the mountains of Austria at the Reclaim the Fields (RTF) gathering in November. Trebor Golan reports.
For five days, food-growing groups from around Europe met at the Wiesenhoisl collective farm outside Graz to work together on issues such as food autonomy, access to land and seed sharing. Five of us joined the meeting from land projects in the UK, learning about the politics of the three-year old network and sharing our own stories, skills and strategies.
Through these exchanges, by working and playing together, we formed strong connections, drawing inspiration from one another's struggles and tales of resistance.
In the Autumn forests of Austrian mountains we discovered a mutual empowerment and new energy to bring RTF back to the UK. It is these networks of collective action and a culture of 'We are Everywhere' that brings hope to our fight for social and environmental justice.
Reclaim the Fields
Reclaim the Fields was born out of a group of European farmers and landless people linked to the international peasant movement La Via Campesina. Over the last three years it has brought together young farmers, city gardeners, seed-savers, and land squatters, from all over Europe to reclaim control over food production. Autonomous collectives from different European countries work in a structure described as a ‘constellation’. There is no one lead star and the network co-operates to support stars (or collectives) that are not shining as brightly, and to bring new stars into the constellation.
The network aims to create alternatives to capitalism through cooperative, autonomous, real-needs focused small-scale production- with an emphasis on putting theory into practice and linking local initiatives with global movements.
Reclaim the Fields hosts a summer camp every two years around the principles of self-education and skill-sharing, ending in a mass direct action.
As corporations in the seed industry work to extend seed patents for all cultivated crops, RTF has set-up a seed bank to encourage the exchange of ‘illegal seeds’ outside of prohibitive laws. This type of direct action not only questions the law-makers that support profit-making from growing plants, but also builds strong networks around the idea of mutualism in exchange.
A UK star is born
Five food-growers from the UK, brought together by the burgeoning Community Food Growers Network (CFGN) based in London, made the 24-hour coach trip to the Wiesenhoisl farm.
In our rucksacks we took copies of the CFGN draft manifesto to get feedback from the various collectives. The document outlines the goals of the network – such as the promotion of sustainable forms of food production, and long-term tenure of land to facilitate investment in food growing projects - taking inspiration from the OrganicLea co-operative in Walthamstow, London.
We told the stories of our projects; ‘Common Ground’, a university growing space in Kings Cross, and ‘Grow Heathrow’, a squatted community garden in Sipson next to Heathrow airport.
We explained the strategy of resistance at ‘Grow Heathrow’: to Occupy, Create, Resist.
To occupy land used for private enterprise and turn it into space for social need using ecological methods.
To create a counter-culture that questions state and corporate power, exploring and learning from each other by implementing mutualism, consensus, gift economies and solidarity in our every day lives. To open space for work, play and discussion with people in the local area; to create a vibrant garden of exchange rather than preaching political ideas.
In doing this the collective at Grow Heathrow aims to build resilient communities that are self-sufficient and able to defend themselves from threats such as peak oil, climate change, and also creatively resist eviction.
Resistance is Fertile
During the five days we picked beans from the farm, sung by the fire (in many languages) and participated in various workshops and planning meetings around access to land, gender and consensus in peasant communities, ‘beet the system’ and extending seed exchange networks.
We began planning a very exciting 2011 summer camp (the location will be announced in the new year), and formed the Reclaim the Fields International Day of Action for the 17th and 18th of April to coincide with the International Day of Peasant Struggle.
We return to the UK in the glow of the Reclaim the Fields constellation, with new ideas and new hope, and with the determination to add a new bright shining star to the existing collection of collectives.
A UK Reclaim the Fields gathering is being organised for Spring 2011. This is a call-out to other projects involved in working around food autonomy, and those wanting to; so we can build our projects together, stronger in a network celebrating and learning from our counter-cultures of resistance.