Do you have the wisdom necessary for the journey?

April 5, 2015

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the great multicultural pilgrimage from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1995 under guidance of traditional native wisdom keepers. The journey was — and is — the Odyssey of the 8th Fire.

As the meme below attests, I’m moved this year to continue letting people know about the epic saga I authored back in 2007 to tell the tale. As time passes the story becomes increasingly relevant.

Odyssey of the 8th Fire


Our Responsibilities to the Animals We Eat

February 8, 2015

animalsweeatlEach year more than nine billion animals go to slaughterhouses in the USA to be killed, processed, and packaged into the beef, pork, lamb and chicken that eventually find their way onto our dinner plates. It is an industrial process on a staggeringly vast scale, and it has some fundamental problems.

While the number of animals fated to pass through industrial processes has continued to grow in recent decades, the number of independent family farmers who care for them has continued to decline due to high-efficiency corporate mechanical processes and confinement strategies that optimize profit. The animals have been relegated to “units of production.” The population of human beings in our rural regions in the heartland of America has, meanwhile, been decimated as family farmers have steadily fallen victim to vertical integration and the relentless economic demands of corporate bottom lines.

On Friday of last week I journeyed to Omaha – Gateway to the West – to be part of the annual conference of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS). The primary emphasis of the gathering was on local, sustainable community food systems. But the conference also featured a keynote address from Wayne Pacelle, the director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Mr. Pacelle is regarded with fear and loathing among industrial livestock titans who, with their mammoth Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have made Nebraska into a dominant force providing meat for our tables.

In this context over the last few years, HSUS and NSAS, partnering with the Nebraska Farmers Union, have established an innovative Ag Council to promote humane husbandry of farm animals. While Nebraska was the pioneer in this progressive action, eight other states have now formed similar Ag Councils, and more are coming.

So perturbed are corporate livestock barons about the specter of humane animal husbandry, that they’ve established phony “public interest” front groups to wage a proxy campaign against HSUS. According to many observers, that animus has also been reflected in the actions of Nebraska’s Land Grant University. UNL has by and large cast its lot with industrial chemical agriculture and corporate livestock monoliths* while severing ties with NSAS because of its partnership with HSUS. As critics have noted, land grant universities in general have since the 1980s become less oriented to serving the human beings who are citizens of their states, and progressively more dedicated to serving the corporations that do business in their states. That’s where the money is.

Wayne Pacelle at the NSAS conference. "Farmers should be leading the way in the humane treatment of the animals we eat. (Author photo)

Wayne Pacelle at the NSAS conference. “Farmers should be leading the way in the humane treatment of animals.” (Author photo)

“Animal welfare should not be a controversial subject,” Pacelle told the conference. “It’s a natural thing. We have been in relation with animals for millennia.”

“It’s not about animal rights, but rather it’s about our human responsibility to our animal relatives. We have duties,” Pacelle said. “Animal life does not exist solely for our exploitation. How do we handle that responsibility? Ultimately there is no escaping the moral issue. Farmers should be leaders in fulfilling our basic human responsibility to the animals who give up their lives that we may eat.”

Billions of animals suffer needlessly in confinement because they are bound up in corporate economic activity. The economics of industrial efficiency have spawned what might be termed a race to the bottom, not just for the animals, but also for the underpaid human beings – the farm workers and packing-house employees – who are charged with managing them.

As NSAS Board member Kevin Fulton noted during the conference, “There’s a direct correlation between moving the animals off the land and into the vertical integration of industrial confinement operations, and the socially destructive process of moving people off the land. We need fewer animals, and more farmers.”

If industrial food-production corporations continue to regard animals as just dull, dumb commodities – units of production to be fattened with genetically modified grains grown in oceans of glyphosate and pumped up beyond natural reason with hormones and antibiotics – then we are failing at our basic responsibility to be in right relationship with them.

* The University of Missouri has calculated the share of production held by just four firms in different sectors. In total beef production, for example, the share of the top four firms (Cargill, Tyson, JGF, and National Beef) increased from 69 percent in 1990 to 82 percent in 2012. The story is the same in poultry, pork, flour milling, and other sectors. Fewer firms control bigger and bigger shares of total production, making it progressively harder for other farmers to get fair prices or earn a living from their production.


CSA Farms: Actual Farm-Community Alliance or Alternative Marketing Strategy?

January 27, 2015

vegetablesAgrarians often remark in one context or another that they feel farming went off course when people started trying to run farms as a business instead of as a way of life. At that point they say farming was no longer a culture of the land, but rather a business of the land — a business that has metastasized over decades to become the modern, chemically-fueled behemoth of industrial agribusiness.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has been planted and cultivated in the context of the increasing dominance of industrial agriculture and the ongoing decline of the traditional family farm. Over the last 28 years many thousands of people have recognized in CSA a vehicle for approaching food, land, environment and community in a different way. But there is a creeping risk that CSA could be diverted down a course more devotedly focused on monetary profit and business efficiency in service to profit. In so doing the movement risks losing its bearings on the matters of  agricultural, social and environmental renewal that were intrinsic to the original concept.

Increasingly over the last decade, as more and more businesses have seen a marketing opportunity and begun to describe themselves as CSAs, extension services and educators have also advanced the idea of CSA as a “marketing approach” or “marketing tool.” Yet an emphasis on marketing is in many respects the antithesis of what CSA started out to become, and what it still has the potential to become. CSA was not initiated as a way to sell food. It was about communities of people directly supporting specific farms, and in reciprocity farms directly supporting specific people in specific communities.

Many agricultural initiatives claiming the status of CSA do in fact approach it as simply a marketing strategy — just another way for a farm to sell vegetables and to earn money. Such initiatives fill a true need, no doubt. But they veer from the core ideas of CSA, ideas which are eminently worthy of recollection. In my view, the agricultural, environmental, social and health ideals are still very much worth striving for.

When a “CSA” puts its central focus on profit, by that very act it modifies or mutates the spirit of the movement and fundamentally becomes something else – ‘Genetically Modified CSA,’ you might say. That something else may be a fabulous business idea that is doing an effective job of fulfilling a real need for consumers. That’s admirable. But the business is not a CSA, and the use of CSA as a descriptor for such businesses undermines the efforts of true community supported farms.

Profit-centered enterprises have over time eroded the integrity of the term “natural” so that it has little relevant meaning in the marketplace. No one trusts the label “natural” anymore because it can mean anything the labeler wants it to mean. Likewise, the meaning of words like “green” and “sustainable” has mutated over the decades. Those terms have been deliberately compromised to cover an ever-widening range of  ideas and tools, and in some cases the terms have been distorted to describe extreme industrial technological “solutions” for environmental problems, such as adding chemicals to the ocean to control pollution, or salting the atmosphere with microscopic metal particles in an attempt to prevent global climate change

Similarly, the term ‘CSA” may have its definition eroded. As Angelic Organics CSA farmer John Peterson told me last year, “A farm is not just an economic unit to produce food. It’s also a living social, environmental and educational organism…

THE-CALL-OF-THE-LAND-The“A CSA cannot be thought of as just a unit of economic production. That just commodifies the farms and farmers, as food is commodified also…You can’t have farmers beat into the ground working for prices set by wholesalers, trying to make mortgage and equipment payments and all the rest. You cannot have the stewards of the land struggling under that much pressure.”

As I hear it, the call of the land in regard to CSA farms has far more to do with communities of people coming together in creative, positive response to the agricultural, environmental, climatological, social and health challenges of our era than it does with retailing.

– by Steven McFadden


Our Ancient & Worthy Responsibility

December 18, 2014

THE-CALL-OF-THE-LAND-The


A Primer for Pilgrims: Responding With Devotional Intelligence to Urgent Geospiritual Imperatives

July 26, 2014

By all scientific accounts we are in profound crisis on the physical plane. The Sixth Great Extinction is no longer a possibility, but has become a brutal unfolding reality as plants and animals become extinct at a mind-numbing rate 1,000 times faster than they did before humans walked the land; meanwhile the climate crisis steadily intensifies to the level of planetary emergency. On the land the most obvious causes and responses are physical, but as important are metaphysical causes and responses.

*PilgrimsfinalCoverIn recognition of this foundational truth, I am pleased to announce that I have authored and published a new Soul*Spark eBook: A Primer for Pilgrims. Pilgrimage can serve as yet another healthy response to the call of the land, in this case with devotional intelligence and action.

In a wealth of ways across a wide span of traditions and hundreds of generations, pilgrims have sought out holy places: forest groves, healing wells or springs, pyramids, mountains, churches, temples, stone circles or labyrinths. Millions of people have traveled for a host of reasons.

In the end, whether we go willingly or unwillingly, whether we regard ourselves as tourists, business agents, or sacred travelers, we are all, pilgrims. A pilgrimage is a journey, not only outward to a faraway place, but also, inevitably, inward toward spiritual understanding and growth. In our era pilgrimage can be as well a critical geospiritual deed to help maintain the balance of our land, our planet, our lives.

This eBook is an invaluable guide to personal spiritual growth, as well as to earth healing. It’s also a collection of riveting and beautifully told true stories about critical geospiritual actions in North America

This nonfiction eBook by veteran journalist Steven McFadden also acknowledges, honors, draws from and strives to integrate the many cultures and traditions which have streamed onto Turtle Island (North America) over the last 500 years or so.

Author Steven McFadden walks the labyrinth, circla 1998.

Author Steven McFadden walks the labyrinth.

We have long needed, and finally have begun to find ways to graft the far-flung traditions from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, Asia, and beyond — onto the rootstock that is so deeply embedded here: Native ways. So many teachings make beautiful sense, in both the short and the long term, in ways both common and rare. We need all the wisdom we can summon to meet the challenges of our times, and native pilgrimage teachings offer a deep foundation.

The book offers a wealth of insight about the challenges that arise in pilgrimage and the profound good that such a spiritual exercise may bring – not just for the individual pilgrims, but also for the world at large.

Pilgrims may set out to do penance for past evils, to find answers to questions, to invoke blessings, to pursue spiritual ecstasy, or to seek a miracle for a friend or family member. Increasingly in our era, pilgrims also set out to help heal the earth.

In most mystical traditions it is said that the human soul itself, every human soul, is on a pilgrimage, consciously or unconsciously. He or she is bound for a holy place and therefore life is not just for enjoyment, but the soul also has dharma, a purpose or objective that must ever be kept in focus.

Now as you set out on the literary pilgrimage of reading this book, my hope as the author is that it will offer up useful compass points to help you maintain your bearings.

Journeys to luminous locations are often undertaken by people with scant understanding of what pilgrimage is and the principles that have been found to enhance it. Thus, they may see only what they have come to see, whereas intentional pilgrims may more readily open doors of perception, encounter revelation, and gain constructive power.

To the extent any or all of us are alienated by modern life from the natural world, a pilgrimage to a sacred place can help heal and restore this. The energetic atmosphere of sacred places can awaken a slumbering soul, providing not only renewal, but also a clearer sense of purpose. The energy can invigorate and promote balance — assisting human beings to realign through physical, mental, and emotional planes.

Pilgrim Marie McFadden

Pilgrim Marie McFadden

Just as I finished writing and prepared to publish this new eBook, my mother died. Marie Dolores Fitzsimmons McFadden was herself an inveterate pilgrim. Over the 92 1/2 years of her life she traveled to just about every region of the planet, and to an impressive number of sacred sites including Jerusalem, Rome, Fatima, Lourdes, El Santuario de Chimayo, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and many other places. To honor her memory, this new book is dedicated to her, as well as to all of us who are “on the road” in an era when extreme circumstances call out for our presence and our intelligent healing participation.

 

A Primer for Pilgrims delivers nonfiction insight, excitement, inspiration, adventure, and more. It’s available in 10 different eBook and Smartphone formats through Smashwords, and also available for Kindle through Amazon.com and for all Apple devices such as iPad and iPhone in the Apple bookstore.

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#Amazon-buynow

 

 

 


The Call of the Land now on all Apple devices

June 7, 2014

No matter what kind of digital device you have, you can now access and read in all digital formats the 2nd edition of The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century.

The book has long been available in print and in a range of ebook formats through Amazon.com and other major retailers.

ibookNow The Call of the Land is also available in the whole range of digital devices from Apple: iPads, iPhones, and Mac computers.

Impending matters of finance, transport, oil supply, climate stability, water availability, and diet, necessitate—right now—a clear, visionary look at our relationship with our land and an immediate wholehearted response. The Call of the Land addresses these critical issues head on, and offers a broad range of creative, positive responses.

Worldwide, agricultural and financial systems are mutating at breakneck speed. More change is coming. That is certain in response to fundamental shifts in the global economy and environment. These changes impact not just food cost, but also food quality and food availability. This book has proven iteslf to be an valuable resource for those seeking wise pathways to respond.

Many of my other books are also now available from the iTunes and iBook online stores. To check out the possibilities, just follow this link.

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BackCover


Historic Pivot Point for Food Democracy

April 24, 2014
Dr. Vandana Shiva. Photo by Dominik Hundhammer, from Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Vandana Shiva. Photo by Dominik Hundhammer, Wikimedia Commons.

“Something is happening at this point in history,” Katherine Kelly said as she brought to conclusion an April 17 lecture by international farm activist Dr. Vandana Shiva. “We are at a point in time where we can make an important change. Dr. Shiva is helping to lead the way. The rest is up to us.”

Kelly, the Executive Director of Cultivate Kansas City, articulated an overarching context for Shiva’s acute critique of the food system as well as her inspirational entreaties.

The context of Shiva’s presentation was further framed by three signal events. National Geographic had just published a cover story focused on the increasingly pertinent “New Food Revolution.” Meanwhile, more significantly, US merchandizing behemoth Walmart announced a program to create an industrialized organic food production system that they intend to use to “drive down the price of organic food.” The same week merchandizing rival Target Corp. also announced it was increasing its offerings of “natural, organic and sustainable” food.

Love Window CROPPED and STRAIGHTENEDIn counterpoint to these industrial-scale, profit-focused initiatives, when Dr. Shiva took the stage at Unity Temple in Kansas City, she swept her arm back, gesturing to a stained-glass window with a star burst and the word love spelled out. “That’s it,” she said. “Love. Love is the altar. It’s all about love, about bestowing attention, fostering, cherishing, honoring, tending, guarding, and loving the Earth which provides our food. The only way we can cultivate that essential ingredient of love is with community and diversity.”

The 61-year-old physicist, ecologist and author from Delhi, India then served up a penetrating deconstruction of the mechanistic mindset and the industrial food system it has spawned. This is the same mindset Walmart and Target now intend to apply to organic food.

“For a short time,” Shiva said, “the mechanistic mind has projected onto the world the false idea that food production is and must be of necessity an industrial activity. That’s a world view that is in profound error.”

“When food becomes a commodity it loses its quality, its taste, and its capacity to provide true nutrition,” she said. Industrial agriculture turns the earth into units of production, farmers into high-tech sharecroppers, and is the single biggest contributor to our declining environment. She said industrial agriculture distorts the proper relationship between humans and the natural world.

* * * * * * * *

A physicist by training, Dr. Shiva became an activist for small-scale, decentralized sustainable agriculture in 1987. That’s when she acquired insight into the motivation behind industrial farming and genetic engineering. She attended a conference on biotechnology and heard representatives of chemical corporations say that they must do genetic engineering on crops because it is a way to start claiming ownership over life.

“If we can claim ownership,” the corporate representatives reasoned according to Shiva, “then we can then collect rent or royalties on the seeds’ capacity to reproduce themselves.”

Shiva argued that it is absurd that corporations are allowed to codify life as a patentable and profitable form. “GMO,” she said, “has come to mean ‘God Move Over.’ It violates the rights of the Earth, the rights of the farmers, and the rights of the people who need to eat food to live. The patenting of life violates every principle of law and ethics and morality.”

278187This kind of one-dimensional, profit-based thinking is the core of what Shiva wrote about in her seminal 1993 book, Monocultures of the Mind. Coming at the subject from her mastery of particle physics and her understanding of the fundamental inseparability of all facets of life, she concluded that “issues about environment, economics and politics are inter-related through the way humans interact with their surroundings and with each other.”

Shiva argues in her book and in her lectures that a mechanical monocultural mindset has led to vicious circle of injurious impacts in the realms of farms, food and the environment.

“A monoculture of the mind in the economic system is what has led to corporate globalization,” she said in her Kansas City talk. “A monoculture of the mind makes it appear as if the only market that there is, is the globalized market controlled by the global giants, whereas the real market, and the real economy, are the economies of nature. That is where local food movements and systems are becoming the solution to the multiple crises created by the monoculture monopoly system.”

Our mainstream food system is designed by corporate entities having a responsibility to shareholders, investors, and private owners, she said. The bottom line is the almighty dollar. But in maximizing certain kinds of production, we are systematically ‘weeding out’ other kinds of life.

Through the monoculture of the mind we have been establishing what Shiva termed an “Empire of Man” over the earth and lesser creatures (which for people immersed in the monoculture of the mind also includes women and indigenous peoples). It constitutes an attempt at a mechanistic takeover of the universe.

“Diversity has everything to do with food,” Shiva said. “In fact, any system that is not a diversified agriculture system is something else. It’s an industrial system that is producing non-food, food that is unworthy of being eaten and that is creating huge problems in health. Real food provides the diversity of nutrients that our body needs – the trace elements, the micronutrients…Diversity creates decentralization, and decentralization creates democracy.”

Having greater diversity of seeds and of local, smaller-scale farms and food processing operations creates a wealth of options, Shiva said. “We need to intensify diversity and biology, and we can do that only through love.”

Diversity loves diversity, because it is freedom. This, she has said, is a political act, a kind of revolution. To further that revolution, and to save seeds in her home nation of India, Shiva founded Navdanya, a nonprofit organization named for the nine crops that provide food security in India.

* * * * * * * *

With Dr. Shiva’s analysis in mind, one cannot help but question the impact and outcome of Walmart’s and Target’s announced intentions to aggressively exploit what Wall Street financial analysts have branded as “the hot organic market.”

Doubtless some good will arise from increasing the number of farms using chemical-free growing practices, and the wider availability of food with decreased chemical contaminants. But the entry of such large-scale corporate players into a traditionally modest-scale and decentralized endeavor is a game changer. It’s also representative of the industrial mindset that Vandana Shiva – and advocates of food democracy – regard as profoundly troubling.

The burgeoning interest of people in clean, local food, and the accelerated entry of Walmart and Target into the realm of organic food and sustainable agriculture, establishes a critical pivot point for the food democracy movement.

As farmer John Peterson of Angelic Organics recently explained to me, farmers get beat in to the ground when they work for prices set by wholesalers, and must struggle to make their mortgage, equipment and labor payments and all the rest.

When retailers and wholesalers are in command – as they are in industrial-scale operations – efficiency and profitability become the dominant values. Farmers are contracted under these values and thereby relegated to the role of corporate vassals, laboring in servitude to fulfill the terms of contract on quantity, quality, timing, and pricing – all factors that have little to do with nature or with the rising spirit of the food democracy movement.

“You cannot have the stewards of the land struggling under that much pressure,” farmer Peterson told me. “A farm is not just an economic unit to produce food. It’s also a living social, environmental and educational organism. It cannot be thought of as just a unit of economic production. That just commodifies the farms and farmers, as food is commodified also.”

Cultivate KC Director Katherine Kelly and Dr. Shiva.

Cultivate KC Director Katherine Kelly and Dr. Shiva.

This is one of the key points Vandana Shiva strove to get across in her Kansas City visit. We have arrived at a pivot point for the food democracy movement. We need a fundamental transformation in the way we regard and relate to farms and food. An industrial-scale monoculture of the mind, and a monoculture of putative organic farms and food, are unlikely to fulfill this ideal. Instead they present a complex range of potentially corrupting possibilities.

“We need to cultivate freedom, to cultivate hope, to cultivate diversity,” Shiva told the Kansas City audience. “We need to build the direct relationship between those who grow the food and those who eat it. Care for people has to be the guiding force for how we produce, process, and distribute our food.”

“We need to shift the paradigm of economics to measure the well being of people,” she said, “not the profits of the oligarchs.”

Shiva spoke about the drastic climate changes underway, and also the corporate hegemony at work around the world. “Our responses must be quick, but not desperate, and also simple,” she said. “Simplicity is the highest order – the simplicity of good food, safe food, and food produced and consumed in love. This can only come out of community. Cultivate compassion, love and food democracy. Food democracy is about action, changing the way we eat every time we take a bite. It’s about people learning, engaging and acting in our food systems.”

“Every movement for human freedom throughout history has needed people to lead, people who stand for love and for higher law. That’s the challenge we face now,” Shiva said. “That is what we need.”

The Kansas City audience of about 1,200 people gave Dr. Shiva a standing ovation.

The Kansas City audience of about 1,200 people gave Dr. Shiva a standing ovation.


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