Social Stewardship Standards for Sustainable Agriculture

by Elizabeth Henderson

The movement for organic and sustainable agriculture has done a tremendous amount of work over the past two decades creating production standards for organic farming and processing. Local groups of farmers and consumers in many corners of the globe have hammered out standards that satisfy consumers? desires for food produced without toxic inputs while holding the farmers to high but practical ecological methods. These diverse local efforts have fed into national and international standard setting. The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), a federation of over 700 organizations from over 100 countries, serves as the forum for continuing discussion and improvement of international organic standards. In its ?Principles of Organic Production and Processing,? IFOAM includes statements on importance of the quality of life for everyone involved in food production and ?progress toward an entire production, processing and distribution chain which is both socially just and ecologically responsible.? Little has been done, however, to articulate what social justice should mean for farmers and farmworkers. In July, a small group of us who believe it is time to focus on social justice sat down for two days at Peacework Organic Farm to brainstorm on how to incorporate this into the standards of organic and sustainable agriculture.

Rapid industry expansion into organic food production, economic concentration, and the escalating governmental regulatory bias against small-scale farms and farm workers lead us to view the development of the social/equity component of sustainable and organic agriculture as urgent. Many consumers of organic foods believe that in buying organic products, they are supporting small, local farms which hold social justice as an important value. More and more, however, the marketplace is offering the public the products of organo-agribusiness, produced more or less conscientiously with organic production methods, but with the usual food system business practices. Small farms and handlers need to find additional ways to differentiate themselves and their products in the marketplace so that consumers can vote with their dollars for a just, as well as ecological, food system. The fate of small family farmers and farm workers are inextricably tied.

As a basic set of values, I offered the group the ?Values and Principles? developed by a group of farmers I participated in last winter :

  • ?Commitment to farming with respect for the constraints of the ecological systems
  • Commitment to place - the farm is not a moveable unit of production, but a neighborhood presence
  • Decisions are made with knowledge of their ecological impact
  • Farm systems that respect the requirements of nature, farm family needs, and personal values and goals
  • Farming goals that address the community, the environment, education and quality of life as well as profit
  • Commitment to farming as a way of life, not simply a means of making a living
  • Commitment to sustainability, the regeneration of rural and farming communities, and the value of genetic diversity
  • Respect for the ethological needs of all livestock (i.e. the ?five freedoms:? freedom to stretch all limbs, freedom to groom, freedom to turn around, freedom to access adequate ventilation, light, food and water, and freedom to access company of like kind)
  • Love and repect for nature and the soil
  • Love and respect for hard work
  • Concern for social justice and social and ecological responsibility
  • Reverence for all life - human, animal and vegetable
  • Humility about the place of human beings in the scheme of nature
  • Dedication to recycling, and to blockquoteconserving and improving the quality of air, water and soil.?

As action goals, we agreed to write a draft of standards for farm workers, farmers, interns and apprentices, and child labor. Richard Mandelbaum of CATA, the Farmerworkers Support Committee, has written a draft for the farmworker piece. Michael Sligh has sketched out farmer standards. Jennifer Bannister is contributing ideas from the experience of Fair Trade. Kelly Flegel offered to work on fair pricing for farm products. We have yet to finish drafting all these pieces, but our goal is to produce a discussion document by early fall, 2000. We will circulate this document as broadly as possible in the interests of heating up the dialogue on these vital issues in our movement.