Wisconsin to the Berkeley City Council–connecting the dots

4 May 2011


What’s Berkeley got to do with Wisconsin labor issues?

From the larger perspective, CFJC seems to be in the middle of everything that is going on in the country, because the nexus of food brings it all down to the basics.

Our Farm Bill 2012 work with allies across the country, regional meetups/listening sessions and discussions with funders reveals deep concern about funding and support for programs critical to the health and economic well-being of our farms, families and communities.

But the lessons of Wisconsin should teach that it is foolish to believe we can fix the country’s economic and other problems on the backs of our fellow workers alone.

To make sense of what we have to do to begin to fix our food system which must include the economy we have to look at the big picture.

If we continue to sit by and allow financial institutions and the largest corporations to continue to make unheard of profits, without paying for the economic, environmental and health damages they have caused, and then continue to give them the benefit of tax breaks and incentives, is it really any wonder why there doesn’t seem to be enough money to go around?

At CFJC we see it as our job to connect the dots. To help make sense of the chaotic times in which we live so that we can promote the solutions our members are creating in the context local, state, regional and national policy.

Connecting the dots – what does Wisconsin have to do with the Berkeley City Council?

Two nights ago, I had a chance to address the Berkeley City Council, where the original nonprofit recycling center is fighting for its life. The Ecology Center, an iconic local institution that pioneered curbside recycling for all of us is one of the few remaining nonprofit organizations still in the business of recycling. Most other nonprofit outfits have long since been taken over by governmental or for-profit companies, and whether or not you think that is a good thing, it is the reality of our times.

Today, the City of Berkeley, like many municipalities feeling the crunch of shrinking dollars, is considering a takeover of the Ecology Center’s contract—just one year into signing a new ten year contract with the nonprofit organization.

It is a situation that pits union workers for the City against union workers at the Ecology Center.

Because of the success of the Ecology Center’s operations, a takeover would not only consolidate operations for the city, but also bring into the city the revenues now earned by the nonprofit organization, although the “fuzzy math” upon which the City consultants based their analysis is suspect as pointed out by several speakers at the public hearing last night, including Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque.

Who is to blame? Perhaps we first need to address the question, what do we value?

It is a multitude of situations like the City of Berkeley/Ecology Center’s dilemma that challenge us to examine our very values.

Do we really believe bigger is better in all cases? Do we value our local businesses and nonprofit organizations, not just for the economic benefit, but their contributions to the fabric and health of our communities? Is, “the bottom line” really the end-all and be-all of our way of life? What about equity? What about quality of life?

Because of their business model, the Ecology Center is able to staff and lead the Berkeley Food Policy Council; numerous farmers’ markets, the Farm Fresh Choice Berkeley Youth Program, and so much more. While providing decent union jobs for the staff of the recycling center.

At CFJC we don’t see a “bad guy” on the local scene in Berkeley. What we see is a variation of Wisconsin–people and a community trying to make do with less, because a class of Americans have placed themselves above the concerns of those working to preserve our way of life, and fix all of the elements of our food system. I won’t present to really understand all of the reasons our Congress continues to give away so much of our wealth to the wealthiest 1-2% of our country. But I will point out that we cannot afford to allow this practice and economic model to continue.

It is a hard place to be, to be a grown up today, to be faced with the hard choices, and I am not speaking only about the choices that must be made in Berkeley.

No, the hardest choices are the ones over which there is not as yet much public debate.

Do we want the kind of country, the kind of state, where our cities, our businesses, our farms and our communities must do with less while a class of Americans—less than 2 percent of our population, and represented by multi national corporations—live, literally, high off the hog?

Again, at CFJC we consider it our responsibility not only to celebrate the wonderful work of our members and help with solutions to the problems in our food system, but also to connect the dots: why and how does what is happening in Berkeley relate to Wisconsin? To the Farm Bill 2012 reauthorization process?

Closer to home, what is happening at the state under the leadership of a new Governor Brown, and a new class of legislators?

It is a lot to digest, but it is what staff at CFJC is working on, day by day.

I would appreciate your thoughts and certainly, your support as we continue to do our best to help fix a broken food system.

Please consider a donation if you are able, but at the least, please continue to keep yourself informed as we journey together on this road to a new kind of food system that works for us all.


Y. Armando Nieto
Executive Director

(Excerpt from CFJC March 2011 Newsletter)

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CFJC promotes the basic human right to healthy food while advancing social, agricultural, environmental and economic justice. Through advocacy, organizing and education, we collaborate with community-based efforts to create a sustainable food supply. We envision a food system in which all activities, from farm to table, are equitable, healthful, regenerative and community-driven.

If you believe in these principles JOIN CFJC NOW.

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