The seeds for CAN’s birth were planted in 2000 when we visited agroecology graduate students who were doing participatory action research with farmers in coffee growing communities in El Salvador, Mexico, and Nicaragua. In each community we visited we heard the same story: “I can’t earn enough from growing coffee to feed my family.” This too often led to: “How hard is it to get a job in the USA?” “How much English do I need to know?” And we saw in all of the communities, men leaving their families to find work, children hungry and coffee plants being pulled out of the ground to be replaced by pasture. We were shocked. We were not aware of the devastating drop in coffee prices at a time when the “Starbucks boom” was going on in the US and coffee drinkers were paying $4 for a latte. An unjust food system had captured the communities in a cycle of poverty and hunger.
In 2002, we met with graduate student researchers and shared experiences. We realized that by working together in partnership with the farmers and their farm organizations, we could build community self-reliance using agroecology as the basis for healthy, local food systems. By diversifying farms and livelihood activities, food security was enhanced by no longer being dependent on coffee alone. The seeds of justice were being nurtured.
These partnerships are the roots of the Community Agroecology Network (CAN), an alliance of farm families, farmer organizations, researchers, and universities sharing knowledge and creating healthy food systems in Nicaragua, Mexico, and California. Twenty years later, CAN and our partners have developed skills and shared knowledge of ways to diversify food systems, protect local environments, and make sure every farm family has food for their own table. Women and youth have become leaders of the changes in communities in Mexico, Central America, and California, working and learning from each other to create thriving local food systems.
We ask you to join us in making sure these seeds of justice can thrive so that the future generations in these communities can be proud of the food and farming culture they can call their own.
Robbie Jaffe and Steve Gliessman