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Rivulets of Revelation Flow from Tales of Two Farm and Food Conferences

| 5/18/2011 10:07:26 AM

White Shell Woman, sculpture by Oreland C. Joe, Sr.
 Eight years ago I was among a band of pilgrims privileged to set out on the annual Journey of the Waters, traveling the ancient route north from pool to pool along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. In this manner I learned something of the teachings of White Shell Woman and the sweet waters she is said to nurture.

As with the teachings of classical Greece and Rome, so in North America and in most traditions around the world, the elementals of water have predominantly been personified in feminine-yin form: Sirens, Jengus, Melusine, Yami, Morgens, Nereids and Naiads, the Lady of the Lake, Swan Maidens, and White Shell Woman, to name a few.

Whether dwelling in still pools, rushy streams, ornate fountains or plastic bottles for drinking, fresh water spirits around the world have most frequently been appreciated as feminine. Everywhere the Undines, water elementals possessing voices of lilting beauty, may be heard over the sound of water, sages have long maintained, if one takes care to listen.

Thus, early in May upon entering the global Water for Food conference hosted by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) -- a conference "generously supported" by Monsanto and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- I was immediately struck by the overwhelming male-yang dominance of the proceedings. By approximate measure, 75-80% of the conferees were men; likewise by my reckoning, the program listed 48 men presenters, just six women.

Conference talk flowed around themes of what people -- and the nations and corporations they organize themselves into -- either want or need to do with water, as if our relationship with this essential resource were one way. In traditional teachings of North America it's understood fundamentally that the elements and forces of the earth should be considered: listening to the call of the water, so to speak, as basic tenet of living in right relation.

Dance of the Undines. Beadwork by Margie Deeb and Frieda Bates
After three days at the Water for Food gathering, yin drops of consideration finally condensed and rose to the surface during the closing panel discussion. Robert Meany, Senior VP at Valmont Industries, a maker of irrigation equipment, remarked, "hydrology and the humanities need to come together."

Moments later, in response to a question from the audience, Dr. Simi Kamal, CEO of the Hisaar Foundation in Pakistan, one of the six women presenters, made am emphatic point. She said agricultural policies must not overlook the human dimension. She said policies -- and I took it she meant corporate policy as well as political policy -- "must empower and engage the dispossessed, the marginalized, the landless, including unpaid and underpaid women laborers in the developing world."

"The challenges for women in developing countries represents a huge issue," Kamal said. "We need to hear from them. Lets bring women out of the niche they have been placed in, and also begin to see agriculture as part of the larger ecosystem...Next year this Water for Food conference needs to dedicate a day to the issues of gender, water and food."

Dave Larson
5/25/2011 3:44:06 PM

Steven, This is an incredible post. I learned much from it as the various agendas came rolling out with their version on how to perpetuate the overuse of a non-renewable resource, i.e. water. I especially enjoyed the inclusion of Wendell Berry in the piece. He has been our "hero" since we began thinking of moving back to a rural life and simplifying. Have you had opportunity to read the proposed farm bill offered by Wes Jackson at the Land Institute in conjunction with a variety of other like-minded folk such as the Leopold Foundation over in Wisconsin. Jackson and Berry have collaborated in a variety of ways over the years and served together on the board of the E F Schumacher organization. Jackson's focus is on global food security, accomplished naturally and sustainably. I look forward to more posts of this nature. Thanks for sharing it.

Steven McFadden_1
5/24/2011 7:34:40 AM

Thank you for your comments, Shannon. As for the GMO stuff, I am in that regard a rock-ribbed conservative. I want clean food, not a science experiment that is unlabled to prevent me (or anyone else) from knowing what is going into my body. I am volunteering at a community garden this summer, and so enjoying working the soil again and meeting so many wonderful young people -- very encouraging to be in their presence. With appreciation, Steven

S.M.R. Saia
5/24/2011 6:22:58 AM

Steven, thanks so much for another incredibly interesting and informative post. I really enjoy reading your blog as a concise and comprehensive source of what's going on in the "future of food" world. I wish I'd known that conference was going on in D.C. That's not far from me and I would have looked into going. As always you inspire me to keep doing what I'm doing - my own little bit to feed myself and my family. You know, I was thinking lately that having a garden if nothing else gives one a much greater perspective on what it takes to successfully grow food than the average person has. It also puts into perspective what you buy at your local grocery store. I know that growing my own potatoes has RUINED store bought potatoes for me. They don't taste good and when I ocassionally buy a bag in the winter 9 times out of then they're green. Plus, I find it increasingly difficult to spend my dollars on items that I know I can grow easily myself, and these days often prefer to wait for them to be in season and right in my back yard. I know I never gave it a moment's consideration where food came from or what it meant for it to have arrived like magic in my grocery store for many years. But now I'm hooked. I think if more people grew just one or two things it might help make this whole controversy seem less abstract and more immeditate (which it is). Thanks again.

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