Two victories in fight against toxic pesticides; EPA must enforce ban

a jury ruled that Monsanto’s weed killer round up caused cancer and order the company to pay the victim $289 in damages.

Chlorpyrfios, an insecticide which damages children’s brains, must again be banned by the EPA, which had stopped the ban under Secretary Scott Pruitt, by order of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals



Posted in In the News Tagged with: , , ,

Climate Crisis: The Disturbing Facts; The Cause Debate Informs Policy Debates



The climate crisis brought on by our use of fossil fuels which is threatening the human habitat was the topic of the entire August 6th 2018 New York Times magazine. The article  presents previously unknown information on how early scientists and government officials and politicians understood the threat to the human habitat and how opportunities to avoid the threat were missed.  Startling aerial images record how much damage has already occurred. Educational resources accompany the article.

There has already been considerable debate about the assignment of cause by the author Nathaniel Rich in the article because it focuses on human nature in general, although, the article itself describes the scientists, activists and others who were trying to promote policies to prevent and diminish the crises.  Also, the article does not discuss how political economic structures contributed to an ignoring of the facts and promotion of policies that in fact exacerbated the crisis.

Posted below are links to the article and its educational resources, to two critical discussions of the focus of the article on human nature in general as the underlying cause and to one 3 minute video discussing how the discuss the crisis realistically.  We must find ways to move forward effectively. It will require investigation, discussion, cooperation, collaboration and patient and insistent persistence.

New York time article:

educational resources for the article:

critiques of the human nature in general as the cause of absence of realistic policies: 

From the Atlantic by Robinson Meyer

From the Intercept by  Naomi Kline:

From The Guardian by Dana Nuccitelli

Video (3 min) on how to discuss the crisis effectively by Bill McKibben


Posted in In the News, Opinion Tagged with: , , , , ,

Trade Unions & Energy Democracy (TUED) : Progress Report

Bulletin 76 — 30 July 2018

This report is intended to update TUED’s participating unions, allies and supporters regarding the project’s considerable progress so far this year.

The first part of the report covers organizational developments. The second part addresses our research and analysis, highlighting how major reports from both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and BP have corroborated the main conclusions of recent TUED working papers. We believe this is a very significant development that confirms both the legitimacy and the importance of TUED’s approach.

If your union is interested in being part of TUED, you can find more information here.

Main Developments

  • TUED continues to grow. Unions representing 560,000 members have joined so far this year, with others actively deliberating. Today the project consists of 64 union bodies from 24 countries.
  • Regional and national expressions of TUED are taking shape in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, South Africa and Latin America.
  • TUED’s research and analysis continues to have an impact on trade union debates and policy. Earlier this year, TUED’s Working Paper #11, Trade Unions and Just Transition: The Search for a Transformative Politics, became available in English and will soon be available in Spanish.
  • Partnerships and collaborations with policy allies and movement-based NGOs are moving forward. TUED is playing an increasingly significant role in building a global energy democracy movement.

A Growing Network: 64 Union Bodies Representing Workers in 24 Countries

The TUED network has grown to 64 trade union bodies from both the global North and South, including four Global Union Federations, three regional bodies, and eight national centers representing workers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, Italy, Nepal and the Philippines. TUED also has movement allies in the progressive policy community, worker education and advocacy. A complete list of participating unions and allies is here.

The first half of 2018 saw three important additions to the TUED network, with the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU; US and Canada) and the Nordic Transport Workers Federation (NTF; headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden). Together these unions represent 560,000 workers.

TUED International Conference on “Just Transition”

On May 29, more than fifty trade union representatives and close allies from more than a dozen countries came together in New York City for TUED’s international conference, Towards a Just Transition: International Labor Perspectives on Energy, Climate and Economy.

Participants came from both North and South, representing 31 unions as well as 15 environmental, community-based, research and policy allies from Australia, Canada, Brazil, India, Italy, Nepal, Philippines, South Korea, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States (including Puerto Rico) and Vietnam. The conference was addressed by Zwelinzima Vavi, Secretary General of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), Angel Jaramillo, President of Puerto Rico’s main power union, UTIER, Dr. Anastasia Romanou of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and many others. The full conference program is available here, and a report is available here.

The conference was hosted at 1199SEIU’s Cherkasky/Davis Conference Center. Many of the international participants also joined TUED’s two-day strategic retreat, which took place immediately following the conference.

Key Regional and National Developments

Asia-Pacific: Laying the Groundwork

The struggle for energy democracy in the Asia-Pacific region is critically important, given that fossil fuel use and pollution levels in the region are rising at an alarming pace.

Led by Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, the TUED group in the Asia-Pacific region is now well established. Web-based calls take place every three months, and unions in Australia, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines and South Korea regularly participate.

Workshops on energy democracy, organized by APHEDA, have been held in the Philippines and Vietnam. TUED has generated country-specific reports for these workshops.

In late 2017, representatives of TUED and APHEDA visited unions in India and Nepal, and the effort to engage these unions continues.

In South Korea, the KPTU is taking advantage of the current political opening to urge the new government to chart a new energy course for the country. Currently South Korea is dependent on imported coal and gas, as well as domestic nuclear power.

UK: The Labour Party and TUC Commitments to Reclaim Energy

The prospects for a decisive shift in energy policy in the UK have improved dramatically with the Labour Party’s 2017 Manifesto commitment to reclaim the country’s energy system back to public, democratic control.

TUED has convened two major discussions of unions and allies on the Labour Party’s current energy vision, providing space to hear and further develop trade union perspectives in the light of the pro-public shift in both Labour Party and TUC policy.

In mid-February, all of the UK’s major unions attended a TUED meeting hosted by UNISON in London. Unions from several European countries as well as left parties (Germany’s Die Linke and Podemos in Spain) sent representatives.

In late June, TUED convened a two-day meeting titled Reclaiming the UK Power Sector to Public Ownership: Developing a Program of Action. The meeting took place June 28-29 at historic Wortley Hall near Sheffield, England, and brought together representatives from key UK unions—GMB, UNISON, Unite the Union, PCS, TSSA, BFAWU, NEU, and the TUC—as well as policy and movement allies. Unions from Norway and Greece also attended, as did energy democracy advocates from Barcelona, Brussels, and Berlin.

The meeting was also addressed by Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour Party Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and by Costas Lapavitsas, Professor of Economics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and former member of the Greek Parliament for Syriza.

Discussions addressed questions around the future fuel mix for power generation, special challenges facing the decarbonization of domestic heating and the transport sector, and jobs implications. A number of questions were identified that warrant further investigation and discussion. A report on the meeting is available here.

For additional background on TUED’s work in the UK and Europe, please see here.

South Africa: Towards a Democratic And Socially Owned Energy System

Struggles around energy have grown in intensity in South Africa. The coal-dependent public power utility, Eskom, is engaged in a public battle with private renewable energy interests or “Independent Power Producers” (IPPs). Eskom has threatened to close coal-fired power stations leaving tens of thousands of union members without employment.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA; Africa’s largest union) and the recently launched South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) have crafted a clear response, calling for the radical restructuring of Eskom and social ownership of the renewables sector. Referencing TUED, NUMSA’s Deputy General Secretary Karl Cloete authored an OpEd published by South Africa’s Daily Maverick, laying out the case for the union’s firm opposition to “capitalist capture of renewable energy,” and its support for a “socially owned and democratic alternative.” The March 2018 piece takes forward a position NUMSA has been advocating since at least 2011, and which was also described in TUED Bulletin #66: Should Unions Strike for a Just Transition?

In the coming months TUED, working together with the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Alternative Information and Development Center (AIDC), will be actively engaged in developing a clear energy vision for South Africa that is consistent with NUMSA’s and SAFTU’s programmatic commitments.

TUED Latin America: Making Steady Progress

In Latin America, the struggle for energy democracy is a priority for the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA). This commitment was expressed in TUCA’s “Development Platform for the Americas” (PLADA) which was revised and re-adopted at its Third Hemispheric Congress in 2016 held in Sao Paulo.

TUED has maintained close ties with the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), the main trade union body in Brazil, during the attacks on former presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff. Working with TUED, the Federal University of ABC is also offering a course on energy democracy in Brazil and intends to create a space for trade unions, social movements and universities to advance a pro-public and democratic energy vision.

In partnership with TUCA, CUT and others, TUED seeks to build the project’s capacity across the region. TUED is currently in discussions with unions in Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

TUCA is also organizing a major gathering of unions and allies in Costa Rica in October 2018 to further develop the program on energy democracy and just transition in the region.

United States: Resisting “Energy Dominance”

For the first half of 2018, TUED’s work in the US has focused on two issues, namely the complete destruction of the power grid in Puerto Rico, and the White House’s promotion of its “energy dominance” agenda and the need for the US to continue to extract and export coal, oil and gas.

In terms of Puerto Rico, TUED has organized several meetings involving UTIER, the Puerto Rican power-sector union, and has helped build international support for UTIER’s fight against the plan to privatize the island’s public utility, PREPA. TUED continues to monitor the situation, and to look for opportunities to support UTIER’s efforts to connect with allies in New York and beyond.

Regarding building resistance and alternatives to the U.S. government’s “Energy Dominance” agenda, in late January TUED convened a meeting of New York area unions, advocacy and policy organizations, pension fund trustees and public officials for a one-day strategy discussion, Divest from Fossil Fuels, Yes. Reinvest in Renewable Energy, How? Hosted by 32BJ SEIU, the meeting was organized in the wake of New York State’s decision to divest pension funds from fossil fuels, and focused on how to move from divestment to getting the reinvestment in renewable energy sources that is needed. Governor Cuomo’s administration has announced relatively ambitious renewable energy targets (50% by 2030, but with existing hydropower currently meeting almost half of that 50% requirement). The discussion was also shaped by TUED’s most recent work on energy and emissions trends and investment patterns (see below).

On Target: TUED’s Energy Research and Political Analysis

Energy and Emissions Trends: The Danger of False Optimism

TUED’s ongoing research and analysis of energy trends and their political implications can be found in the project’s Working Papers. Since the launch of the project in 2012, TUED has argued that, far from being “inevitable” and “already underway”—as is too frequently claimed or implied by mainstream voices—the transition to a sustainable energy system based on renewable sources is not happening, and will not happen without a radical change of course. This need should be a central message of international trade union policy. As a movement, we need a programmatic shift—one that asserts a pro-public and needs-based approach to meeting the climate crisis and achieving a “just transition,” and that can challenge “business as usual.”

Key aspects of TUED’s analysis have recently been corroborated by at least two major news stories. For instance, when BP released its latest annual report of energy trends in June 2018, the company acknowledged that coal’s share in the global power sector for 2017 was the same as it had been 20 years earlier, in 1998—38%—and that the share of non-fossil fuel in the mix is actually down over that same period. In the words of the company’s Group Chief Economist, Spencer Dale, “I hadn’t realised that so little progress had been made until I looked at these data.” Just one year earlier Dale had declared, “The fortunes of coal appear to have taken a decisive break from the past,” which he attributed to “structural, long-term factors.” In fact, TUED had drawn attention to such deeply misplaced optimism about coal, and about fossil fuels more generally, in its Working Paper #9, Energy Transition: Are We Winning?, published in January 2017—six months prior to Dale’s now-debunked positive assessment, and fully eighteen months before his recent epiphany.

Similarly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) acknowledged in its own latest report on world energy investment (July 2018) that combined investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency—both crucial factors to achieve the Paris climate targets—fell by 3% in 2017, and is “failing to keep up with energy security and sustainability goals.” Especially telling is the report’s acknowledgment that investment in the power sector overwhelmingly relies on government guarantees and incentives, rather than on revenues  from market-driven prices. TUED’s previous Working Paper #10, Preparing a Public Pathway: Confronting the Investment Crisis in Renewable Energy, raised these same concerns nearly a year before the IEA’s report.

Just Transition: Beyond “Social Dialogue”

TUED’s political analysis continues to be framed by its founding “Resist, Reclaim, Restructure” (RRR) approach, which emerged from growing dissatisfaction with the neoliberal “green growth” narrative promoted by the major policy institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, and many large corporations.

Released in early 2018, TUED’s latest Working Paper #11, Trade Unions and Just Transition: The Search for a Trans-formative Politics explains how and why “Just Transition” has increasingly been taken up by a wide range of voices, from frontline, indigenous and grassroots communities to major international institutions like the ILO, and has been acknowledged by the UN in its Sustainable Development Goals.

The paper argues that momentum around “Just Transition” provides an opportunity for unions to broaden the perspective beyond “social dialogue.” It shows how a growing number of unions recognize that the struggle for energy democracy has a crucial role to play in the struggle for civilizational survival, and argues that a truly sustainable energy system could provide a platform for more systemic change, and a transition based on meeting human needs and respecting natural limits—informed by a vision that integrates worker-focused concerns into a broad program for broad social and economic transformation.

Other Research, Analysis and Policy Work

TUED is also producing a series of country “mapping” analyses for Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA for key countries in the Asia-Pacific region, looking at factors relevant to a transition to renewable energy in each national context: current energy system (technical, administrative), renewable energy potential, political and economic factors, etc. To date, reports have been produced on Philippines and Vietnam, and another on Indonesia is now in process. Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA are using these reports to inform a series of strategy workshops with trade unions and allies in each country, as part of a wider effort to move the energy transition forward strategy in the region.

Also during the first half of 2018, the TUED research team has produced a major policy document for the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), to inform deliberations at the ITF’s upcoming World Congress in October 2018, where the federation’s policy priorities for the next four years will be set.

The next TUED Working Paper will take the analysis of the transport sector further, in order to place the struggle for sustainable public transport firmly within the energy democracy frame, and clarify key interdependencies between the transport and power sectors.

The Climate Leadership Immersion: Building Capacity, Linking Allies

On March 7-8, TUED held its fifth installment of the “Climate Leadership Immersion for Union Officers and Staff,” part of the International Program for Labor, Climate and Environment (IPLCE), which is based at the new CUNY School for Labor and Urban Studies (CUNY SLU). SLU is the successor institution to the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies; the change became official July 1, 2018. For more information about the Climate Leadership Immersion, contact Irene Irene Shen at

Acknowledging Stefanie Ehmsen and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office

TUED is sustained and supported by unions from around the world, and by the newly formed CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studiesat the City University of New York.

However, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office(RLS) and its dedicated team has provided invaluable support since TUED began in late 2012. Special thanks go to now-former co-director, Stefanie Ehmsen, who, along with co-director Albert Scharenberg, has now relocated to Berlin. We would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate and welcome the office’s new director, Andreas Günther, and look forward to continuing the productive partnership in the coming years.

About getting involved
For unions considering being formally involved in TUED, most of the information you need is here.

There’s also more information on why it’s important for unions to support TUED here.

Need more information about energy democracy?  Take a look at our working papers series (y también en español)

Videos: Including This is What Energy Democracy Looks Like! in English, French and Spanish


Posted in In the News Tagged with: , , ,

Sept 6 NYC Climate March: plan now to join others!

Rise for Climate, Jobs & Justice– next big climate march:  Thursday, Sept. 6, 5:30 pm, Battery Park, rally till 6:30 and then march up Broadway to Federal Plaza. 

This is part of a global set of actions in response to the San Francisco-based Global Climate Action Summit on Sept. 12-13.  Dozens of actions across the globe, but particularly in the US, are demanding that local leaders–in our case, DeBlasio and Cuomo, step up their climate policy as our federal government will not.

This is a march for our grandchildren’s future and will feature lots of young people who are core to the organizing.  Note:  the rest of the world is demonstrating on Sept. 8 but in NYC we cannot do that–long story of labor, religion and elections–so we are going to be the clarion call for the rest of the world.  Now it is our responsibility to be big, beautiful and effective


Posted in Events

Surprising History of Climate Change Information

Image result for ostrich head in sand denying climate change

The July 20, 2018 edition of WNYC’s “On the Media” program( ) which discussed the history, psychology, and sociology of climate change was summarized by Alfred Friedland of the  CUNYPSC Environmental Justice Working Group. He covers the highlights, especially the information about how far back recognition of the problem goes:

It starts with a report to the Senate in the summer of 1988, saying 1988 so far is so much warmer than 1987 that barring a remarkable and improbable cooling, 1988 will be the warmest year on record . . . the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now. The New York Times had a first-page headline about that report to the Senate in the summer of 1988 saying “global warming has begun, expert tells Senate.” Just below that, another story is entitled “drought raising food prices.” That’s because the country was under a month-long drought and heat wave that summer and officials estimate that between 5,000 and 10,000 people in the country died from the high temperatures. A news report of the time said “the summer of 1988 was a scorcher, but not a fluke–the 1980s have brought us the four hottest years in the last one hundred.”

A New York Times environmental reporter wrote a cover story for “Discover” magazine in October 1988 entitled “Endless Summer: Living with the Greenhouse Effect.” That writer has another article in this month’s “National Geographic” magazine.

Unlike certain kinds of pollution that have been mitigated, carbon dioxide just builds up cumulatively in the atmosphere. It may be sequestered in a tree for a hundred years, but it is eventually returned to the environment. In 1988 the concentration of carbon dioxide was 350 parts per million–350 molecules of carbon dioxide per million molecules of air. Now it’s up to 410 parts per million.

A CBS news report from 1980, when the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was only 339 parts per million, explained the heat-trapping characteristics of carbon dioxide. It said burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide in the air. It said coal is the worst culprit; oil and natural gas are somewhat less dangerous. The report also talked about how the melting of polar ice would lead to sea-level rise, and mentioned a number of cities that would be under water from heightened ocean levels. (This was back in 1980.)

I thought the most startling thing they said was that a “Popular Science” article in 1912 warned that we’re burning billions of tons of coal; it’s going to warm the climate; it’s going to cause changes that will endure for centuries [italics are mine]. 1912!

Later they talked about the psychology of imperviousness to change despite facts, and they also discussed some sociological implications. They also had a recording of NBC news anchor John Chancellor saying, in the hot summer of 1988, that energy is expensive, but look at this week’s cost of having a hotter planet. In the long run, he said, clean energy is cheaper. He said if we don’t do anything, this heat will only get worse. And they also mentioned that in 2011, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 391 parts per million.

There was more, but this is a précis of the parts I thought were most interesting and/or most surprising.

Posted in In the News

Exciting NYC greenroof bill to support

By Andrea Leonhardt  July 18, 2018, 5:21 pm

The legislation requires new buildings cover available rooftop space with a green roof, solar panels or wind turbines to reduce the city’s carbon footprint

Councilmember Rafael Espinal

Councilmember Rafael Espinal (front) joined by Aziz Dehkan of People’s Climate March; Anastasia Plakias of Brooklyn Grange, Steven Peck of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (l-r). Photo credit: BK Reader

Today, City Councilmembers Rafael Espinal, Donovan Richards and Steve Levin introduced a package of legislation aimed at reducing the city’s carbon footprint and environmental pollution by expanding the number of green roofs across the city.

Espinal, who represents Brooklyn’s 37th District covering parts of Bushwick, Brownsville, Crown Heights, Cypress Hills, and East New York, gathered representatives from Brooklyn Grange, the People’s Climate March– New York, Stormwater Infrastructure MattersGreen Roofs for Healthy Cities and other environmental advocates on Vice Media’s rooftop in Williamsburg, where the building had already employed solar panels, ample green space and a lush garden.

Vice's Rooftop in Brooklyn

Vice’s rooftop garden, a first look at what NYC’s green future could look like. Photo credit: BK Reader

The legislation requires new buildings cover all available rooftop spaces with a green roof, solar panels, small wind turbines, or a combination of all three, pushing New York City to join the global effort to cool down cities and reduce their carbon footprint.

“I am introducing a bill today to create more rooftop spaces like the one where we are [at] here today,” said Espinal. “TBy greening every single rooftop in New York City, we will make a strong commitment to doing our part to protect the planet.”

Vice rooftop garden in Williamsburg

Vice’s rooftop garden also provides produce that is used for the company’s cafeteria. Photo credit: BK Reader

A roof is considered “green” when it is partially or completely covered with plants on top of a waterproof membrane. Aside from the social-emotional benefits for New Yorkers having added green recreational space, science proves that the environmental benefits are plenty: reduced urban heat island effect by cooling down the surrounding atmosphere; decreased stormwater runoff and water pollution; and reduced air pollutants that cause or aggravate conditions like allergies and asthma.

Green roofs can also be used for urban farming to provide more healthy, locally grown foods and jobs. Additionally, the added insulation can lower cooling and heating bills; and the installation of solar panels or wind turbines generates alternative, sustainable energy, reducing the country’s dependency on fossil fuels.

Anastasia Plakias, founder of Brooklyn Grange

Anastasia Plakias. Photo credit: BK Reader

“When we install a green roof, we see immediate social, economic and environmental benefits that can truly transform a building,” said Anastasia Plakias, founder of Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm in Greenpoint. “From the nourishing food our farm grows for its local community, to the native plants providing habitat for pollinators and people alike… We want to witness the transformation of New York City to a more equitable, livable and resilient city.”

Several cities, including Toronto, San Francisco and Denver, have passed laws in recent years requiring buildings install green roofs. New York City may be next, if the bill passes the City Council. 

Posted in In the News

Call for env justice/racism legislation

Call for environmental justice legislation: Recent threats to environmental protection will have an
especially severe impact on people of color and low-income communities, who are disproportionately exposed to environmental health burdens – many of which have roots in intentionally discriminatory land use and housing policies, including residential segregation. PRRAC’s Law and Policy interns, Jennifer Bisgaier and Jennifer Pollan, have compiled a Research & Advocacy Guide that argues for an affirmative new vision of environmental justice protections, supported by an annotated bibliography of sources that  describe the scope of environmental racism, its link to housing segregation, and theinadequacy of current protections to keep all of us healthy and safe, regardless of race or income. Read “The Call for Environmental Justice Legislation” here.
Posted in Announcements Tagged with: ,

Saturday Jul 21 11 am youth-led Climate March

youth-led Climate March, “Zero Hour”, on Saturday, July 21 starting at 11-2 starting at Columbus Circle.  They are inviting adult allies like us to join and support them. The organizers are NYC public high school students.  Bring your students, kids, your grandkids and your whole family for this march for the future.

Here’s the facebook event

Posted in Uncategorized

wed july 18 11am support phase out coal

Join us at the hearing in Long Island City to support phasing out coal and replacing it with clean energy, not dirty fracked gas  or biomass — RSVP today!

Here are the hearing details:

WHAT: Power Plant Pollution Protection – Public Hearing, Long Island City
WHEN: Wednesday July 18, 11: 00 a.m. (Press Conference at 10:30 a.m – Meet at 10:15 at the Murray Playground – 45th Rd. & 21st St, Long Island City, NY 11101)
WHERE: DOT, 1 Hunters Point Plaza, 47-40 21st St, Rm 834,  Long Island City, NY (MAP)

Questions? Shay O’Reilly at

RSVP for the hearing in Long Island City today to let us know you can attend!

Posted in Uncategorized

Reparations, Healthy Farming and Environmental Justice

Emeline Posner
May 11, 2018
In These Times
How a Chicago collective approaches a worker-owned farm through an intersectional and holistic lens that understands that our community’s issues can be addressed in part by sustainable farming and food justice educational programs.

The Soul Fire team harvests greens from one of the beds at their farm in Grafton, N.Y., where they operate a CSA and several young farmer immersion programs for people of color., Capers Rumph / courtesy of Soul Fire Farm
On a small plot of land on the outskirts of Chicago, a farm collectively owned by gender-non-conforming immigrants will cultivate produce and a younger generation of food justice activists. That’s the vision that Viviana Moreno, Nadia Sol Ireri Unzueta Carrasco and Jazmín Martinez, organizers and farmers based in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, are working to turn into reality.
Catatumbo Collective, as the three call themselves, told Rural America In These Times in an email: “We’re approaching a worker-owned farm through an intersectional and holistic lens that understands that our community’s issues can be addressed in part by sustainable farming and food justice educational programs.”
Viviana, Ireri and Jazmín have known each other from years of organizing against deportations in Chicago and working in Little Village’s Semillas de Justicia community garden.
Of Venezuelan and Mexican heritage, the three incorporate their families’ experiences—with land stewardship and NAFTA-driven migration—and the history of campesinos’ and Indigenous peoples’ land struggles into their approach.
As they got more involved with Chicago’s urban agriculture movement, Ireri found few resources that provided the needed historical or cultural context. “History of the land, history of the exploitation and abuse of people working the land, and the history of resistance and resilience by Indigenous people and people of color,” Ireri says, was lacking.
They found a resource in Soul Fire Farm, a people-of-color-led farm and educational center based in Grafton, N.Y. Last summer, they all attended Soul Fire’s Black and Latinx Farmer Immersion, a program designed to impart ecologically-restorative farming techniques to people of color and to foster conversation about racism, and racial justice, in the food system.
At Soul Fire, co-founders Leah Penniman and Jonah Vitale-Wolff “gave us the space to come together, look at each other and realize [that] we are who we have been waiting for,” Viviana says. “Our individual stories and histories had already brought us together and Soul Fire solidified our commitment to land justice and reparations.”
Catatumbo is part of an international, decades-old movement for food sovereignty. Coined by international farmer coalition Via Campesina in 1996, “food sovereignty” is the idea that food production and distribution should be controlled by workers, not by powerful, profit-driven corporations. Now, organizations like Soul Fire, Catatumbo and other groups of farmers of color are building a racial justice aspect into that framework, and are looking to uplift Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant farmers—those who have borne the brunt of labor exploitation, land theft and discriminatory agricultural policy—all the while advocating for ecological farming practices and racial healing.
At Soul Fire Farm, one of the food sovereignty movement’s several hubs, immersion programs have been supporting Black and Brown farmers across the United States and highlighting their history. Now, a younger generation of Soul Fire alums—like Catatumbo Collective—are putting themselves on the map.
The Catatumbo Collective and other program participants during the 2017 Black-Latinx Farmer Immersion Program at Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, N.Y.  (Image: Capers Rumph / courtesy of Soul Fire Farm)
Building Black and Brown farms through reparations 
After attending the Black and Latinx Farmer Immersion Program, Viviana, Ireri and Jazmín left with the confidence to commit to forming Catatumbo Collective. But while they were there, they started a conversation that would lead to the online reparations map that Soul Fire launched earlier this year.
“[Work toward reparations] has been happening for a couple of years, but as far as the official map that was just launched, that came out of Viviana’s work,” Penniman tells Rural America In These Times. “We were talking about … reparations gifts, and she just said, ‘We need to spread this and have more people-to-people solidarity.’ And so we made it happen!”
The map, which has attracted nearly 45,000 views to date, lists 44 farmers of color and their specific needs, which range from equipment and seeds to funding, land access and legal advice.
Soul Fire Farm’s interactive people-to-people reparations map. (Source: Google Maps)
At Perspektive Farms in rural Pennsylvania, a Black family of tree farmers are looking for funding to build a greenhouse. In New Jersey and in Alabama, organizers are looking for the funds to start an Indigenous farming collective and an Indigenous-led ecovillage, respectively. Outside a wildlife refuge on the island of Honolulu, the Four Women Radicals farm is looking for 5 acres of land to start a community farm dedicated to educating Black and Brown women on sustaining themselves.
As a tool for a grassroots movement, the map is specifically designed to facilitate people-to-people donations. The location of each farm and project is denoted by a pin. When viewers click on a pin, a sidebar pops up with information about that specific farmer’s vision and needs. It also provides the farmer’s contact information, so that the viewer can get in touch if they are interested in making a contribution.
Already, some of the tens of thousands of clicks have led to funding for several farmers’ projects. From one donor, Dallas Robinson received $7,000, which she’ll use toward the purchase of a tractor and the construction of a cool room for produce storage. With that gift, she’ll be on track to open her herb and mushroom farm, the Harriet Tubman Freedom Farm, in Red Oak, N.C. in early 2019.
Another reparations map victory came recently to Jahshana Olivierre, a community builder in Canarsie, N.Y., who received $2,800 through the reparations map—enough to fund an apothecary apprenticeship, which will help her build knowledge to start her own youth-led herbal apothecary and cooperative.
These reparations victories follow earlier gifts that originated from a different Soul Fire program, Uprooting Racism in the Food System Immersion. The program offers training for people who have positional privilege in the food system and want to learn how to avoid being complicit with white supremacy in their day-to-day work.
Two Black- and Brown-led farms in central New York, Harmony Farm, in Goshen, N.Y., and Wild Seed Community Farm, in Millerton, N.Y., were created through gifts of land and funding by alums of the Uprooting Racism program.
“There’s an awakening consciousness that reparations are necessary and aren’t seen as some fringe unreasonable demand, but really an essential part of racial healing,” says Penniman.
Institutional reparations—such as the 1999 Pigford v. Glickmanclass action discrimination suit that won $1.25 billion for Black farmers denied loans and assistance by the USDA—are necessary, Penniman says. But she points out that the average payout was $50,000 per farmer, “which is not enough to get a good tractor, let alone get your land back.”
According to a paper in the Southern Rural Sociology journal, as of 2002 Black-owned or -operated farms numbered less than 20,000 and tending a total of 2 million acres—a decrease from the 1920 peak of 926,000 farms on 16 million acres.
“We absolutely do need to continue to litigate, and to do that policy work, but we don’t have to wait for that to enact reparations,” Penniman says. “We can actually start right away with these people-to-people transfers, of wealth that was stolen, to the people from whom it was stolen.”
Getting farmers of color on the map 
Catatumbo Collective’s primary goal for the map was to help facilitate these transfers of wealth. But, incidentally, the map may also help towards building up an online database of farmers of color, who have long been underrepresented by demographic surveys.
While government-led surveys are likely to underrepresent small-scale and Black and Brown-operated farms, independent surveys are no more likely to have accurate counts, as Nathan Rosenberg and Clay H. East recently argued in the New Food Economy.
For example, the Washington Post and other outlets share uplifting stories of how the youngest cohort of farmers is defined by its dedication to sustainable techniques and its diversity—but they draw on a National Young Farmer Coalition survey that skews toward “highly educated, ex-urban, first-time farmers,” a group that is unrepresentative of the full spread of farmers under 35.
The Soul Fire Farm team show visitors around a hoophouse at the start of the growing season. (Image: Capers Rumph / courtesy of Soul Fire Farm)
USDA census data, on the other hand, tells a different story: namely, that the youngest generation (35 and under) of farmers is slightly more white (94 percent) and male (90 percent) than older generations, and more likely to practice conventional, industrialized agriculture.
In reality, the number of young farmers of color is likely higher than the current USDA estimate, though by how much is unclear.
One reason for this discrepancy in narrative is that the USDA has long failed to account for small-scale farms in its census. (As of 2002, Black farmers were likely to operate less than 50 acres of farmland, far below the national average of 440.) Although the USDA has been working to improve its methodology since 1997, its counts are likely still too low, given how small farms are decreasing in number at the same time as “very small farms and gardens are increasing. By their very nature, very small farms and gardens, whether in rural or urban areas, are difficult to track from year to year.
Independent and grassroots maps like Soul Fire’s reparations map will not serve as a replacement for more comprehensive surveys, but farmers like Penniman and the Catatumbo members see it as a step in the right direction. In the meantime, it serves the more important function of helping people of color and allies locate, and support Black and Brown farms.
 “We do need a directory of POC-run farms and health centers. This map may or may not be the thing, but it has been a long time call-out that we have needed in our movement,” Penniman says, adding a shout-out to Tasha Bowens, who published a book called the Color of Food, which maps out farm projects run by people of color. “But I do think that we need a curated space, a vetted space, that says these are the farms that are legit run by people of color that legit exist, and this is what they offer.”
In the meantime, the map’s creators are hoping to expand the breadth of the map, which currently skews heavily toward the Northeast, where they’ve built their network. “That is not where most of the Black farmers are,” says Penniman, “They’re in the South, and in the West. But I am really excited for it to grow. This project is just one humble and small piece of that overall movement for Black land sovereignty.”
Catatumbo’s beacon for food justice
The Catatumbo River, from which the agricultural collective pulls its name, flows from Colombia down into Venezuela. For around two-thirds of the year, and for as many as 10 hours a night, lightning storms linger over the mouth of the Catatumbo River, where it empties into Lake Maracaibo. The sharp bursts of lightning that the storms generate are so bright that they have functioned as a “natural lighthouse” for generations of sailors.
It’s a striking name for the farm collective that the three Chicagoans envision building, both in the interest of cultivating ecologically and teaching younger members of their communities to do the same. But it won’t be built overnight: Catatumbo hasn’t yet received reparations. To start, they need assistance finding a plot of land, a truck and guidance on how to form a business as residents of mixed documentation status. Through the map that they helped to create, they’ve received numerous messages and offers of assistance, but most of those offers have not materialized. None of them denies that it’s a long road forward to their peri-urban farm, but it’s one they’re committed to following.
In the meantime, the voices behind Catatumbo are helping to shape the conversation around urban agriculture and food justice in Chicago. At a February 2018 Chicago food policy summit, a breakout session on Black and Latinx agricultural history, which Viviana helped to lead, pulled half the summit’s attendees. And until they fund their farm, you can find Viviana, Jazmín and Ireri in Chicago, organizing, teaching, and using the gardens they do have to grow and to impart their knowledge about stewardship to others.
 A Soul Fire Farm team poses for a picture in the field. (Image: Capers Rumph / courtesy of Soul Fire Farm)
Emeline Posner is a summer 2017 Rural America In These Times editorial intern.
Posted in In the News


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