DURHAM, NEW HAMPSHIRE --- Twenty families with rooftop gardens may not sound like a lot, but when they are part of a rising social movement they can shake Mexico and the global corporate food system.  That was the message from Kiado Cruz, a community organizer from Oaxaca, Mexico, who finished his 3-week New England tour in Durham, New Hampshire on October 29.  

Speaking to a mixed group of students, faculty, and community members at the UNH United Campus Ministry’s Waysmeet Center, Cruz explained the development of the Autonomous Network for Food Sovereignty (or “RASA,” its Spanish acronym) as a response to the 2008 “food crisis,” which sent prices skyward.  

“We have to recover the ability to produce what we are going to eat,” he said, rather than leaving food production to multi-national companies like Monsanto. 

Small farms producing corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, and chili peppers are at the heart of Mexico’s traditional economy, and its culture as well.  Those traditions were dealt a terrible blow when the government ended price support systems to make way for “free market” measures built into NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 1994.  But while Mexico’s corn growers, mostly small farmers, saw their incomes drop, the country’s markets were flooded with corn produced north of the border, where large industrial farms had managed to hang onto government subsidies despite the supposed advance of “free trade.”  Millions of farm families were forced off their land into Mexico’s cities, onto corporate export-oriented farms in northern Mexico, into the “maquiladora” labor market near the U.S. border, and across the border into the United States where they found low-wage jobs in agriculture, construction, and service industries.  

Corn imports also brought the contamination of genetically modified seeds into rural Mexico.  Oaxaca’s social movements see agro-chemical companies like Monsanto, Canadian mining companies, and Spanish electric companies as a threat to indigenous traditions developed over thousands of years.  Since NAFTA went into effect, Cruz said, “people find themselves ruled by external forces such as the market.”

Garden by garden, rooftop by rooftop, RASA is helping local families recover control over what they eat.  “We need to liberate ourselves from the forces we cannot control,” Cruz says. 

Cruz’s tour of New England was sponsored by Witness for Peace, a U.S.-based organization whose Oaxaca-based staff maintains connections with organizations working for human rights and developing sustainable alternatives to corporate domination.  The organization also campaigns for changes in U.S. trade and immigration policies. 

The Waysmeet program was also sponsored by the AFSC, United Campus Ministry, Seacoast Peace Response, Greater Seacoast Permaculture, Food and Water Watch, NOFA-NH, UNH Slow Food, UNH Organic Gardening Club, UNH Sustainability Academy, UNH Women’s Studies, UNH SEAC, UNH Dept. of Residential Life, Dover Friends Meeting Peace & Social Concerns Committee, and the UNH Race Culture and Power Minor.

Cruz also spoke at a house party and visited the North Family Farm in Canterbury. 

Wendy Perron, a long-time activist who has attended many talks about “free trade” and the flaws of U.S. foreign policy over the years, says Kiado Cruz’s talk gave her “a morsel of hope.”   Can we put the morsels together -- community gardens, organic agriculture, small-scale renewable energy projects, fair trade, and more -- to cook up a diet to strengthen our autonomy from the bottom up?  Keep an eye on Oaxaca for some of the answers.