Photo Credit: Shannon DeCelle

From environmental justice in Ecuador, to Indigenous rights in Mexico, and revolution and change in Cuba, this summer Global Exchange is offering several Reality Tours that will highlight important issues around the world.

Join us as we meet with local leaders and movements to learn about the innovative ways communities and individuals are organizing for social change. Return with a new understanding of the issues and, perhaps most importantly, new ways to engage and support these inspiring movements from home.

Cuba: Revolution and Change

May 18-27, 2018

Be a witness to a rapidly changing Cuba, while engaging in dialogue with local economists, historians, doctors and teachers. Learn about the Cuban revolution while traveling across the country. We’ll start our historical adventure in Santiago where the Cuban Revolution began with the 26th of July Movement. While in Santiago, learn more about the events leading up to the Cuban Revolution as well as celebrate Santiago’s annual Carnival! Continue on to the Sierra Maestra mountains, beautiful Camaguey, Santa Clara and then to Havana.

Haiti: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

June 2-11, 2018

Join us as we examine the impact that foreign actors, like NGOs and volunteers, have had on disaster relief and development in Haiti. Led by Rea Dol, a Haitian educator and grassroots activist, we will engage local organizations and individuals working to sustainably build education, health, and financial services in their communities.

Ecuador: Social & Environmental Justice from the Andes to the Amazon

July 13-21, 2018

This delegation takes a hard-hitting dive into local and international efforts to bring environmental and social justice to the Andes and the Amazon. You will visit Chevron/Texaco’s toxic waste pits and see, firsthand, the impacts of extractive industries on the environment and Indigenous communities. You’ll visit the Yasuni national park, a UNESCO declared world-biosphere reserve that is under renewed attack for its crude oil. And you will meet with a range of actors resisting in creative and powerful ways, including community run ecotourism programs that are local economic alternatives to natural resource extraction.

The Guelaguetza Festival: Indigenous Resilience in Oaxaca, Mexico

July 19-28, 2018

Explore Indigenous resilience through food, culture, and social movements in Oaxaca — home to one of the largest Indigenous populations in Mexico. During this 10 day trip, you will meet with community leaders, activists, artisans, artists, archaeologists, and experience resistance in different ways. Taste the region’s renowned gastronomic traditions rooted in farm-to-table cuisine and mezcal production. See the preservation of pre-Columbian artifacts and practices, including a visit to the Monte Alban ruins. Attend the Guelaguetza festival, a yearly celebration of the customs of Oaxaca’s Indigenous communities.

Peru: Ancient Civilizations and Modern Day Peru

July 6-17, 2018

Travel from Lima to the Sacred Valley and learn along the way about Peru’s ancient civilizations and contemporary social challenges, all while tasting the country’s world-famous cuisine. From Lima’s informal settlements to Andean villages, you will meet with Indigenous cooperatives, artisans, and NGOs working to empower women, practice fair trade, and preserve their traditions.

Chiapas: Indigenous Rights & Environmental Justice

August 3 – 11, 2018

From a base in the colonial town of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, our delegation will travel to surrounding Indigenous and campesino communities to learn about Chiapas’s long history of mass mobilization and collective resistance to the Mexican government’s repressive imposition of neoliberal agendas. We will see, firsthand, how popular movements like the Zapatistas organize for economic, environmental, and Indigenous justice while getting a unique look into their time-honored traditions.

Bolivia: Spanish Study & Cultural Immersion

August 6-21, 2018

Looking to pair language school with cultural immersion and social justice? During this trip, we will spend mornings in class learning (or brushing up on) Spanish while exploring social justice issues through guest lectures, debates, and group discussions. During our afternoons, we will explore Cochabamba via visits with activists, scientists, journalists, artists, and government officials. On weekends, we’ll head to the Bolivian countryside and learn about climate change, food justice and the coca industry. All the while, you will live with a Bolivian family, providing an intimate opportunity to practice Spanish in everyday situations and get a better feel for the rhythm of Bolivian life.

Originally published:

WATSONVILLE — Standing in front of the Watsonville Public Library on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Lowell Hurst addressed a group of students, painting for them a picture of the agricultural industry in the Pajaro Valley.

The group, made up of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from Hillbrook Middle School in Los Gatos, are participating in a program put together by the San Francisco-based Global Exchange organization.

According to Andrea Hightower of Global Exchange, the learning program, entitled “Food, Community and Human Rights in Watsonville,” was chosen by the students themselves. They are spending their week of Spring Break in Watsonville and surrounding areas to learn about agricultural systems, food justice and the lives of the area’s farmworkers.

“It’s a pretty heavy topic, so I’m really proud of these kids for taking it on,” Hightower said.

Subjects covered in the program include everything from environmental issues to racism and social inequality. Each student received a special packet at the beginning of the week — giving them an extensive list of terminology and concepts to be aware of, as well as information about each of the organizations and individuals they are meeting during the program.

Susan Renison from the Watsonville Public Library had been working closely with Hightower to help Global Exchange find local organizations to work with.

Over the course of this week, the students are connecting with the Center for Farmworker Families, the Community Action Board, California Rural Legal Assistance, United Farm Workers, the Dignity of Labor art project and Mesa Verde Gardens.

On Wednesday morning the group traveled to Salinas to meet with representatives of United Farm Workers, where they participated in creating posters in celebration of Cesar Chavez Week.

“We want all of this to open their eyes,” Hightower said, “to challenge them to think long and hard about food systems they themselves rely on. It’s an important connection to make.”

The following guest post by Program Manager, Grassroots Alliances at IDEX Katherine Zavala originally appeared on IDEX (International Development Exchange.)

Food Justice – Where Local Meets Global

Growing up in a regular family in an urban environment in the Global South, the idea of where my food came from was not a question that came up often. I had always trusted that the supermarket was going to provide us with the best ingredients to eat delicious and nutritional home-cooked meals on a daily basis. It was not until I lived in rural Guatemala eight years ago, in a mostly indigenous community, that I started to build my own awareness of the relationship between humanity, the environment and food justice.

At the time, I was volunteering with IDEX’s Guatemalan Partner, AFEDES (Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez), an indigenous, women-led organization promoting economic empowerment and women’s rights. Almost all of the indigenous women AFEDES worked with were rural farmworkers, who were cultivating local vegetables on their own parcels of land. Over multiple visits with them, these women proudly shared their stories of successfully growing crops to both feed their families and earn extra income.

For the first time in my life I was living far from restaurants and fast food chains, so my only choice was to buy groceries at the local market and prepare my own meals with fresh produce. In the most basic way, I learned that I had surprisingly easy access to food and, in many cases, a personal relationship with people who produced it. My experience in Guatemala sowed the seed in my consciousness to care more about food; where it came from, who produced it and how.

After joining the IDEX team in 2006 I visited more rural organizations in other areas of Guatemala, as well as Mexico and South Africa. These community-led organizations extended my knowledge of seed-saving, agroecology and food sovereignty.

One of IDEX’s South African Partners, Biowatch—a grassroots organization working in the field of biodiversity, food sovereignty and social justice—gave me an analytical context of the global food system, as well as an appreciation of their courage and determination, in fighting for everyone’s right to food in a nine-year battle against the big seed company, Monsanto, and the South African State Department. A seemingly simple request by Biowatch for information from the National Department of Agriculture about the environmental releases of genetically modified (GM) crops in South Africa, led to a legal victory in which most of this information was granted. But there was an unexpected twist: a devastating order for Biowatch to pay all the legal costs, for both sides. This led, in 2009, to the case being heard – and the costs order overturned – by the highest court in South Africa, the Constitutional Court.

IDEX saw a powerful opportunity in 2010 to bring Biowatch to the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, to share how they mobilized their allies and strategized to win a case against Monsanto and the South African government. The inspiration of this victorious case was passed to residents of Detroit and Forum participants from across the U.S.

In cities like Detroit and Oakland, liquor stores, fast-food restaurants and gas stations are the nearest food-related establishments. Most city stores have a very limited variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, and most foods are canned, boxed, frozen and/or highly processed. These stores also lack food alternatives for persons with the chronic conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. These and other chronic health conditions exist and at alarming rates in the African-American community, and their prevalence is growing. As Biowatch shared their experience, Detroit residents started to express how valuable it was to them to learn that with perseverance and the support of peer allies, people like them could challenge these giant corporations to demand their right to non-GM foods and an alternative food system.

It was in this moment that I understood how interconnected we all were in this world. Essentially we all want the same thing: easily accessible, nutritional food, produced sustainably and without harming the environment, for this generation and future ones.

Katherine Zavala is the Program Manager, Grassroots Alliances at IDEX. She will be speaking at Food for Thought: In Conversation with Leaders of the Food Justice Movement on Friday, June 7th. Buy your tickets today to join Katherine, Ocean Robbins, Nikki Henderson and Armando Nieto for a rousing discussion on the intersection of food justice and agroecology.

I celebrated Earth Day along with hundreds of other earth-conscious individuals at San Francisco’s Civic Center/UN Plaza. Everyone came out that day under a common idea: we live in a wondrous community of life that is planet Earth and that community deserves our awe, respect, and attention. There was an array of speakers and musical performances as well as booths and vendors featuring local non-profit organizations, green businesses, and organic food.

I participated in a panel discussion at the celebration on Sunday around the question of “co-creating our sustainable future – what are the successful tools for coalition building and collaboration both within and beyond your organization’s work?” I was joined by leaders of the non-profit environmental movement including Rolf Skar from Greenpeace, Sarah Hodgdon of the Sierra Club, and Kevin Connelly from the Earth Island Institute.

It was insightful to hear about the different work that each of us is doing to make the future of the planet and us humans that inhabit it more sustainable and less destructive. There was one common thread throughout the discussion and that was: in order to ensure a positive future for people and the planet we must figure out how to live in balance – or in ‘harmony’ – with nature. And, in doing so, we must also learn how to work in harmony with one another towards the common goal of protecting and conserving Mother Earth and the resources that our human societies depend on for survival.

I spoke about how the emerging global movement for community and nature’s rights works to build coalitions and develop collaborations with a wide variety of groups. Our present-day global economic system and indeed our structures of law have been built upon a mindset that places humans not just apart from, but actually above nature. We codify our values in our laws and so in order to change the system, we must transform the laws that govern it.

Polar bears making a point about climate change at Earth Day

We are building a movement and there is a role to play for everyone.

The idea of organizing to actually challenge our current structures of law to recognize that nature itself has inherent rights to exist, thrive, and flourish is a big one.  We must ask ourselves the following question: If Rights of Nature is to succeed as an alternative framework to our current property-based system of law, how are we going to implement it?

The movement for nature’s rights is unique in its ability to be all-inclusive because the dire need to better protect the environment and the concept of ‘rights’ is something that everyone can understand and agree upon, despite different political beliefs or affiliations. . Most people know that allowing decision-making based on money, greed or narrow self-interest to sacrifice the well being of the planet is foolish, they just can’t see how to move to a better way of doing things.

This is because our current structures of law actually facilitate the on-going exploitation of nature. Climate change, water withdrawal, and deforestation are all symptoms of the same problem; that communities do not have the right to make decisions about how to protect the environment under the current system. Instead, this right is reserved for corporations and the state.

In addition to our coalition building with communities, policy makers, indigenous allies, and climate justice allies, I also spoke about the role of small farmers in creating viable alternative systems to corporate-dominated agriculture. If large, corporate factory farms are not what we want our food system to look like then what is the alternative? The answer lies in small, community-based farmers selling, growing, and sharing their own food.  Food sovereignty is a growing issue for communities across CA (and the rest of the world) and we have been getting an increasing number of calls from places like Nevada City, and Mendocino, CA, where citizens are looking to pass a law that asserts their right to local food sovereignty without interference from government regulations and raids on small farms.

Occupy the Farm

Meanwhile on Earth Day, across the Bay in Albany, California, the Occupy Movement was taking a stand for local food sovereignty by taking over a portion of property known as the ‘Gill Tract’. It is the last remaining 10 acres of Class I agricultural soil in the urbanized East Bay. The owner of the land, UC Berkeley, plans to sell the property to Whole Foods to open a new retail store. For decades the UC has thwarted attempts by community members to transform the site for urban sustainable agriculture and hands-on education. In solidarity with Via Campesina, “Occupy the Farm” is a coalition of local residents, farmers, students, researchers, and activists that have begun planting over 15,000 seedlings at the Gill Tract. Over 300 people turned out on Sunday to help plant seeds and till the land.

The goals of “Occupy the Farm” echo the calls of communities across California and the US that there is a dire need for people to have access to uncontaminated land for farming if we are to reclaim control over how food is grown and where it comes from. That sustainable, community-based farming is the best alternative to corporate control (and poisoning) of our food systems.

The time for a new system is now and the well being of the planet, our health, and that of future generations absolutely depends on it. We are up against an enormous task to remove the power of decision-making from profit-driven corporations (and the state) and put it back in the hands of people and communities, thereby enabling us to co-create our sustainable future.


•    Watch this video documenting the first day of Occupy the Farm.
•    Learn more about the movement for Community and Nature’s Rights.

Today is Blog Action Day, and Global Exchange is a proud Partner. Blog Action Day is an event that happens each year when bloggers from around the world blog about the same issue to raise awareness and hopefully generate a global discussion around that issue.

This Blog Action Day the issue is food, (today is also World Food Day) and to mark the occasion we share with you an interview about food justice with Anuradha Mittal, which is an excerpt from the book Rights of Nature: Making a Case for the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

Anuradha Mittal is an internationally renowned expert on trade, development, agriculture and human rights. Born in India, her work has always focused on elevating the voices of small farmers particularly in the global South. She lives in California, where she directs the Oakland Institute and with her partner, raises their daughter, Soleil. Interviewing Anuradha is Global Exchange Rights Based Campaigner Shannon Biggs.

Shannon Biggs and Anuradha Mittal

Shannon Biggs and Anuradha Mittal

Interview with Anuradha Mittal:
Food Justice: The Nature of Farming and Farming with Nature

GX: How do industrial agriculture practices such as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), pesticides, mono cropping trade regimes, etc. impact nature?

Anuradha: The idea of industrial agriculture is based on working against nature, rather than working with nature. Using poisons, uprooting ecosystems for mono cropping is a total violation of the natural order. Industrial agriculture also replaces the small farmer, a steward of land and biodiversity. The result is alienation from land, food sources, and disrespect for those who grow food while nurturing the earth. We forget how to treat nature, to be grateful for its abundance and to give back what we take.

It is a systemic violation of the rights of nature for the short-term profit of large corporations. Food is “cheaper” but we are externalizing the cost of polluting land, air, water our own bodies, and the bodies of those who work the fields. In a way, the worst assault is genetic engineering, the human manipulation of an organism’s genetic material in ways that do not occur naturally, something that is not possible in nature. The patenting of life forms is also a spiritual question – is life invented or created? We are not bigger than nature itself. But to what court can you take these violations?

GX: What is at stake for us if we don’t change our relationship to the earth and all species?

Anuradha: If we do not change our relationship with nature, including how we do agriculture, we are all over a cliff. Climate change is real, and the poorest people in the poorest countries are facing the fallout already. It is also a recipe for famine. It is a lose/lose when food becomes a commodity to be traded in international markets or converted to ethanol for our cars or when large corporations who can speculate on food prices replace farmers. Today, over 1 billion people—that is one sixth of humanity—are food insecure. We must learn the harsh lessons of a food system based on property and profits, or the outcome will be felt by earth.

GX: If everyone agreed that nature has inherent rights, would that be enough to stop
factory farming?

Anuradha: We have to understand that on one hand our personal actions are important: where we shop, supporting local farmers markets and CSAs. Our conscious behavior is the foundation, but that is not enough. No matter how much we change our thinking, the understanding that nature is not property to be exploited must come with mechanisms of real accountability for corporations. The larger political change where we can rip “personhood” from corporations, make corporations accountable to communities and ecosystems where they extract wealth— if this doesn’t happen, for every personal step forward we take it is still 10 steps back, because we haven’t changed the law which caters to big business.  Agribusiness will continue to use air, land water etc. in the same destructive ways.

GX: How would recognizing nature’s rights in law support sustainable, small-scale farming?

Anuradha: A rights-based approach places nature’s wellbeing at the center of agricultural systems, not short-term profits. Growing food sustainably cannot be done large-scale. You cannot grow thousands of acres of a single crop without killing biodiversity, using herbicides, or transforming proud farmers to sharecroppers. Inevitably, recognizing nature’s rights means supporting small-scale farming. It opens
the door for massive land reform, the ability for farmers to practice ancient methods of farming, such as seed saving instead of being forced to use Monsanto’s patented seeds. It means recognizing that agricultural innovation takes place by farmers in their fields, not scientists in lab coats. We’re talking about justice: food justice, environmental and climate justice.

Interested in reading other food-themed blog posts? Check out our Reality Tours blog post about food sovereignty today called “From Sacred Seeds and Abundant Reads to Food Sovereignty Movement Building.” For more food-themed blog posts go the Blog Action Day website for a list of blogs taking part in Blog Action Day today.

Oct. 16th 2011 is Blog Action Day, and Global Exchange is excited to be taking part.

Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. The aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion around an important issue that impacts us all.

This year the issue is…FOOD! Blog Action Day 2011 coincides with World Food Day, so my guess is the choice was obvious.

Taking part in Blog Action Day is simple; blog about the chosen topic on the specified day, list your blog on Blog Action Day, and go from there.

Shannon Biggs and Anuradha Mittal

Global Exchange’s Blog Network will feature 2 food-themed blog posts on Blog Action Day:

1) On this People to People blog we will feature an interview with Anuradha Mittal on the topic of food justice and the nature of farming with nature. The interviewer will be Global Exchange Rights Based Campaigner Shannon Biggs.

Anuradha Mittal is an internationally renowned expert on trade, development, agriculture and
human rights.

2) On our Reality Tours blog, Malia Everette will be blogging about a reality tour that is all about food sovereignty. The post is entitled “From Sacred Seeds and Abundant Reads to Food Sovereignty Movement Building.” Stay tuned!

If you would like to write a blog post about FOOD and take part in Blog Action Day, visit the official website for details. To get involved register your blog on the Blog Action Day website. And if you’re looking for suggested topics, they provide a handy dandy list here.

For those on Twitter, you can follow the hashtag #BAD11 for Blog Action Day updates.

Remember to check back here on our People to People blog and Reality Tours blog this Sunday, October 16th,  to read two compelling posts about food in honor of Blog Action Day.