“A revolutionary leadership must accordingly practice co-intentional education. Teachers and students (leaders and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators.. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement.”
- Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Bottom line: To transform the food system in the face of a multinational industrial food regime, we need multinational grassroots organizing that values the well-being of people and the planet over deep pocket profits. The Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA) connects small farmers, activists, educators and community leaders worldwide for experiential exchanges to restore relationships in our food system and better collaborate as global citizens.
More people are waking up to sobering statistics, such as: the average age of US farmers is nearing 60, agriculture is the greatest user and polluter of water, 6 companies own 80% of the global seed supply which is losing diversity every day, and even though farms around the world produce over 4 lbs of food/person/day, there are still over 1 billion hungry and over 1 billion obese. Industrial agriculture dominates our farms and perpetuates these statistics and all the isms that plague what many have grown accustomed to as normal- including racism, sexism, colonialism, xenophobism, and extractive capitalism.
We need to simultaneously dismantle structural social inequities and build regenerative food system solutions. This requires organizing with critical mass and critical connections to nourish people and the planet, to grow more farmers, AND to level the political and economic playing field to support these farmers. This includes drastically improved access to land, resources, and training in ways of producing, processing, distributing and composting that are regenerate our environment, build equitable economies, and care for the wellbeing of all beings. We are thrilled to see organic consumption and government support of farmer training programs on the rise, but much more is needed. While new farmer education programs are growing on popularity, many have yet to prioritize social justice as an integral part of their curriculum. And while many farm apprenticeships provide valuable learning experiences, they could be greatly improved with the addition of more structured learning and opportunities to connect the day-to-day planting, weeding, harvesting and marketing to the bigger picture. How are we connected by our food system? What is the overlap in social and ecological violence and how can we effectively share solutions so that everyone has access to and is in control of an affordable, healthy food supply?
Farmers are often overwhelmed with the daily realities of running a production farm, unable to provide a training/mentoring experience for their apprentices beyond a simple "learn by doing" approach. Beginning farmers want to learn how to test soil, build compost and trellis tomatoes, but should also learn how to build a business plan, what is the impact of the US Farm Bill and Free Trade Agreements locally and globally, who decides the organic standards, and how are land-based social movements connected in Brazil, Thailand, Senegal and the US. This integration sheds light on our global interconnectedness, and helps us feel like we are part of something bigger than just ourselves.
A Proposed Solution
Achieving global food sovereignty will take global cooperation to transform inequalities in the food system and ensure small-scale farming is a viable livelihood. MESA’s model uses participatory exchange and experiential learning to link ancestral knowledge with innovation, building ecosystem stewardship, equitable economies and cross-cultural alliances worldwide.
For busy farmers who want to become better mentors and educators, and for beginning farmers who want to gain practical as well as theoretical knowledge in agroecology and food systems, MESA has an answer: collaborative learning networks and online modules where a global community can teach the fundamentals of agroecology, designed specifically for different types of farms and organizations.
Unique and Collective Contributions
MESA, along with contributions from numerous collaborators, has developed a growing compendium of research, reflections and evaluations in agroecology and sustainable food systems that can be customized to different types of farms and organizations. Our online teaching platform is interactive and strengthens the global network between farmers, activists, educators, students and innovators.
Our learning model prioritizes multimedia learning tools, project-based education and requires critical reflection among stewards (apprentices) in combination with regular assignments, readings, and online mediated face-to-face interactions with experts in the field. Host farmers benefit from having an apprentice inspired to learn about agroecology and sustainable food systems through hands-on projects, in addition to the necessary daily work of running a busy farm or organization.
Our Desired Impact
We aim for this learning platform to be a repository of ongoing findings, perspectives and experiences. Contributors and participants can add content for a dynamic evolution of co-intentional education that can be accessed by anyone, regardless of income or academic involvement.
Through active participation in this learning community, farmers and students will gain an improved understanding of how to make agroecological assessments and manage projects in their own communities. Connected to a global, multi-generational network of beginning farmers and mentors, they become agents of social and agrarian change. With improved understanding of the realities facing small farms, the importance of civic engagement, value-based supply chains and the interconnected of the global food system, the next generation can build the food movement to serve people and the planet.
"The Applied Agroecology course is FANTASTIC. THANK YOU!!! I look forward to integrating and sharing this material widely. I knew a lot of this material passively, but the questions make me articulate my understanding or lack thereof, so they are crucial in making me develop my understanding. If you can explain it, you get it, and vice versa...I will miss it when it's over!"- Pamela Sherman, 2017 Online Agroecology learner
"Since MESA we’ve made five community restorative justice gardens in Aguascalientes and Michoacan. The education MESA promotes is critical thinking and learning through life experiences. I was able to more appreciate my own culture while I learned others. This way the technical learning gets together with human development. I can say that myself and the other Stewards were better persons after. I want to thank MESA for all the support and recognition of our work; this will be a motivation for me to continue." - Isabel Quiroz, Mexico
"MESA has been extremely beneficial for all involved. We hosted Fernanda Ramos from Ecuador who shared her practices in food sovereignty in a communal teaching situation. I think it has invested all of us in each other's futures." - Ellen Bartholomew, U.S.
"My experience was eye-opening, a model of how community and agriculture can thrive together and how connecting across cultures can further the food movement worldwide. I am now starting my own small-scale farm in CA and I hope to instill the values of land stewardship and local food systems exemplified in my MESA experience within my own community." - Tanya Kvicala, U.S.
"This experience has been a turning point of my life. I never had an experience like this with so much knowledge about sustainable and bio-intensive farming. I can get much experience exchanging with people from around the world. Now Diego from Mexico is my best friend. My country is a financially poor country, but we have many resources. We have lost a lot of our knowledge, but now I can regain this." - Sanjana Naikaluge, Sri Lanka
"Thanks to the MESA network I am working with fellow MESA alumni, Isabel Quiroz, on a community project to reduce violence and promote food sovereignty in Michoacan, thank you MESA for helping create this community!"
- Xochitl Juarez, Mexico