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Small family farmers are at the heart of ecological justice

Sebastian Gomes

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"I echo the desire of many in expressing my hope that the objectives outlined by the Paris Agreement do not remain simply as good words, but rather that they are transformed into courageous decisions!"
Pope Francis, Message for World Food Day, Oct. 14, 2016
Small family farmers are at the heart of ecological justice.  That's the message Development and Peace - Caritas Canada wants Canadians to hear during this fall's education and action campaign.  "Small family farmers," they write, "suffer the most serious consequences of climate change, while being confined to plots of land that are less than two hectares and lacking the financial resources to face such impacts. Yet, they are the ones who feed the world... This situation is largely attributable to national and international policies which have systematically favoured the development of the agro-industrial export sector."
Parishes, schools and other Catholic communities across Canada are participating in D&P's campaign by writing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking our government to support small family farmers and promote an agricultural model that allows them to live and work in dignity in ways that respect our common home.
Recently, Salt + Light welcomed D&P Central Ontario Animator Luke Stocking to our studios for a series of interviews about the fall campaign and D&P's 50th anniversary.  Below is an abridged version of the conversation between Luke and S+L's Sebastian Gomes...
Sebastian: D&P is entering its fiftieth anniversary year, so what’s the general mood and feeling in the organization and among the members?
Luke: There’s right now a desire to celebrate, a sense of celebration, that we have been on this journey for almost 50 years, and I think if there’s a sin that D+P can be guilty of, it’s the sin of pride, because we are extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished in 50 years.  This is a beautiful time of learning, because we are such a broad spectrum of ages in the organization, so you have people who have been here almost since the beginning, and it’s been really neat to see them sharing stories with people who are newer to the organization. Your fiftieth is your moment to learn the stories; it’s one of the thrusts of our workshop this year, the concept of story and learning the story and living the story and making a new story.  And so, this is a beautiful time of learning, developing this pride that exists and excitement about where we are going in the next 50 years.  The world has obviously changed in 50 years but the mission is still the same.
Sebastian: I'm going to ask you about the campaign specifically, but first I want to point out that the campaign focuses on agriculture which is connected to ecology, and it seems like a number of the campaigns in recent years have focused on this question of environment and ecology.  So, why this determined focus by D&P on environmental issues?
Luke: You know I think there’s a few reasons. The first is that farming is the profession of the poor. And in 50 years, if you looked at all the projects that Development and Peace has supported, and the movements and struggles it’s been a part of, you would find in the majority this encounter with the struggles of farmers around the world; the struggle to feed ourselves.  I think the other reason is that we’re always trying to get to the root causes of the problems that we find ourselves in today.  The ecological crisis is probably the greatest problem, and what does it mean, not just in an environmental sense, but in a truly ecological—Laudato Si’—sense?  So we keep returning to this theme because we know intuitively that that’s where the solutions have to begin for healing the world and healing the human family. That’s never been articulated, it’s not like the Brain Trust at D&P sat down and said, “here’s the blueprint for the revolution”, no, but we keep being drawn to it in our reading of the signs of the times and reflecting on our faith in light of that.  We keep being drawn to this vision, this alternative vision of how to live in the world. And it starts right there, on the land.
Sebastian: Let's look at the fall campaign itself. It’s focused on small family farmers but what’s the goal here, what are we trying to educate ourselves about?  Who are we working with and what are we trying to do?
Luke: I’m really happy that this year’s campaign is building on last year’s.  It’s building within a historical context, so remember last year, one of the demands we had of the federal government in advance of the Paris climate talks was for them to make resources available to support those most affected by climate change in the global South. On November 27th, they announced funding of $2.65 billion by the year 2020 for that purpose. Very good. But as we know with governments, they’re great at saying stuff, and we all say hooray!, and then we forget, and they count on us to forget. So this year we’re honing in on that. I’ve been saying that this campaign is about a sum of money, $2.65 billion and what we can do with it.  This is our wealth as Canadians to put towards the very real challenges that we face, so in this campaign we want to say, “here’s our vision for how to do that”.  We want to present a very cohesive vision rooted in our faith, rooted in Laudato Si’, of how to do that, and that’s the point of our action card. The message is, first of all, that agriculture needs to be at the heart of those solutions.  And then, to expand that to say we must ensure the voices of farmers are represented in discussions. Then, we want to promote “agro-ecology”, this is the educational buzzword of our campaign this year.  It's this vision of how we achieve food sovereignty in the world: through science, as a set of practices, and as a movement as well.
Sebastian: Is there any connection between the campaign and the 50th anniversary celebrations?
Luke: Absolutely.  In this campaign we have the action (writing to the PM), we have the educational goals, but we are also trying to invite as many people into the organization as possible. So we’ve changed, for example, the membership structure: it’s not 1 year, 3 years, 5 years anymore. It’s going to be lifetime memberships for $10, and in this our jubilee year we’re offering free memberships as well. I say this to people all the time: I truly believe that in every parish in this country, there’s at least one person who understands their faith in a way that will drive them to be involved with Development and Peace, if they’re just given the opportunity, if we just meet them, if we just say the right words at the right moment. And you know, as a Catholic, that’s my grand fantasy: imagine the potential of what we can achieve in the Church in Canada if we really found those people in every parish and were mobilizing our parishes to engage in this mission that was entrusted to us. Because it wasn’t entrusted just to the staff of D&P by the bishops; it was entrusted to the whole of the Church, and that implies that every parish should be involved, and not just by raising funds at Lent, but to be really involved in the heart of the mission, to be at the heart of the action. So that’s the other element that we‘re hoping for in the campaign: to get as many people involved as possible.
Sebastian: Looking forward, what do you hope will define D&P for the next 50 years?  What do you hope will be celebrated at the 100th anniversary of D&P?  What's the key for D&P moving forward?
Luke: The key, I think, is to embrace what's at the heart of this mission, which is the Gospel. I don't mean highlighting our Catholic identity; we have to make sure people know we’re Catholic, yes, but the mission of Development and Peace is the most dynamic, the most powerful, when the Gospel is the engine driving us. D&P is a gift the bishops gave to the church in Canada 50 years ago so that every Catholic in this country could embrace their baptismal call to be in true solidarity with all our brothers and sisters in the world; to understand the universality of our faith in a very practical, meaningful way. And we’re trying to do that. I feel hopeful we’ll do it.  It's interesting, some organizations have gone secular or lost their connection to the Church. And I had this insight that it was pure genius that D&P was set up as a democratic, lay-led organization, because by being member-based, it’s ensured that the heart of the organization is in the parishes, and in the dioceses.  So despite any kind of institutional friction that develops, the connection at that grass roots level will ensure that we never sever that tie; we never say we’re going our own way and we’re not part of the Church. We’ve set ourselves up as a church organization in the full sense of the word. So we thank God for that.  And that's why I say we have to find those people in the parishes, because it's them who will ensure the vitality of D&P.
Learn about D&P's fall campaign here:

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