Gee whiz, it’s great to be back!

6 July 2016

ED Letter

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

As most of you know, for the past year I have been on medical leave for congestive heart failure. Happily, because of advances in health care this diagnosis is something many of us can now live with, assuming better eating and exercise habits in addition to the new “miracle” medications.

But it feels really great to return to work now, especially given how the food and agriculture, political, and policy making world has moved forward in my absence. Wow.

I understand that even though I mailed my ballot in a week before the June 7th California primary, it is unclear if my vote has been counted, yet. Mine was one of 2.3 million ballots that did not figure into the June 7th announcement of who won the primary. How is that even possible?

And while I was away the Republican Party did what?

While the Democrats in Congress held a sit-in. Good lord, what is the world coming to?

But seriously, I am so proud of those members. The issue—gun control—is actually less important than the action, to me. To those who dismiss the action because the House legislation on gun control is weak, or who bemoan the action because it wasn’t done for Planned Parenthood funding cuts or increased funding for farmers or any other issue please stop and think. This is a time to thank your member of Congress for their action, and remind them that many of their constituencies have been laying their lives on the line for other important issues. We need to build allies and alliances, and Congress can be most effective in a broad based coalition. Let’s help them see that.

It’s also great to see that the idea of a “soda tax,” successfully pioneered by the City of Berkeley is catching on elsewhere.

I did manage to write a book as part of my recovery process on a subject unrelated to food and agriculture. But I also started a second book that very much relates to our work. So much so, that American University has requested an abstract which I submitted, thanks to our partner professor Garrett Graddy-Lovelace at the university.

More recently, Christopher Cook, who many of you may know from his articles on the food movement in the Atlantic and other magazines requested information on our thoughts as to why the presidential campaign seems to be avoiding issues of food and agriculture. I was more than happy to respond at length, and look forward to reading his published article when it comes out.

Yes, it is great to be back, especially when it is so very important for each of us to stand up for the values and public policy we want to see promoted in a volatile political climate. If we don’t, it is more than likely the media will select a few high profile issues on which to focus. That’s my analysis and observation for what each of us has to do, on a personal level. Stand and be counted. Speak out.

Now about CFJC. First and foremost, I want to publicly express my deepest appreciation to Courtney Gonzales, who single-handedly kept CFJC and the work of CFJC going in my absence. In return she got one of the best educations a young activist could hope for in the business of nonprofit management—whether she wanted it or not. We are blessed that she stuck it out, and I look forward to the next phase of CFJC activities, in which she most definitely will play a major role.

Concerning that phase, thanks to the generosity of the Thomas J. Long Foundation CFJC will spend the next six months in a visioning and planning process. Because of the work that CFJC partners and members have accomplished over the past six years that I have been with the Coalition, and building on the work that others did before I came on board, we have a strong foundation on which to build.

But the world has changed, and continues to change, especially in our country and in our local communities. It’s not just the crazy presidential politics. Everywhere I go, and where I have been in my healing process over the past year I have seen people increasingly concerned, afraid, demoralized, or angry and desperate.

Regardless of their station in life, people seem to be unsure of the future and of their place in that future. As I observed regarding individuals, it is important that as CFJC we speak out and do our best to create a work plan for the next ten years that is responsive to those changes and concerns, and that is forward thinking and actionable for the health and well-being of our communities. We have an opportunity to set an example for many who don’t know what else to do beyond casting a vote for president. And, after all, seeing as how so many ballots are not even counted before the results are announced—remember the 2.3 million uncounted California primary ballots—our communities deserve and need our nonprofit organizations to do more than just survive the rough times and hand out paychecks to employees. We have a role to provide leadership as well as assistance.

CFJC will do its part.

Courtney and CFJC interns, aided by members like Jessy Gill (former CFCJ staff and current Program Director with World Farmers in MASS) have already conducted a survey of Coalition members. A follow-up email will be sent out this week. I am working on a schedule and timeframe for the visioning and planning process. Please, feel free to contact me at yanieto@cafoodjustice.org for more information or to volunteer for the process. Or, rest assured, I will be contacting people directly.

I know, I realize it is not as if anyone has time to volunteer for one more project or effort. On the other hand, how can we not take the time to plan for a changing world? How can we not learn how better to be part of a leadership effort that we cannot afford to leave to politicians and philanthropy?

Perhaps we at CFJC are fortunate in that my health issues have essentially forced us to pause and reflect on how best we can be part of the healing process for a troubled world. We had to. But truly, we all need to reflect on what we and our organizations can do for a troubled country. For communities that need healing, that need to stop wasting time and energy worrying about the state of the world and fighting amongst themselves, and demand more of their leaders, their politicians, and of themselves.

Maybe it is not a question of how can we afford the time and expense of visioning and planning for a changing world. Maybe the question is how can we not?

The Bay Area, the state of California, and our country has no lack of “do-good” plans to end poverty, child abuse, hunger, and other social ills. What we have to demand and produce is more than blue ribbon commission reports, dog-and-pony shows, and selected pet projects promoted by politicians and the world of philanthropy. That “feel good” mentality just isn’t enough anymore—not that it ever was. But for decades governmental agencies and philanthropic entities have celebrated success, when at most the effects of that “success” have been rare and fleeting, or more accurately, mostly gone when the funding, media and cameras have left.

A harsh assessment, but I submit that the times call for brutal honesty.

Certainly, if the career politicians in Congress can hold a sit-in and say, “enough is enough,” how can we not do the same? In each of our own ways, of course. And maybe together, when the issue and times demand it.

Because of social media and our communication networks, we actually can work better together, and have a tremendous impact. But beyond any single impact, we have to create and model solutions and be ready to help implement those solutions as old solutions crumble.

Please look to CFJC over the coming weeks and months and hold us accountable for the statements I am making. Be part of the effort, if possible. But if you can’t please be sure to see if what we are doing can help you and your organizations in navigating the brave new world.

Yes, it is great to be back indeed.

Once again, on behalf of the CFJC Steering Committee, staff, interns, partners and everyone who is part of the effort, thank you for your awareness and continued support and participation. And never doubt that sometimes just keeping yourself informed is a revolutionary act.

Wishing you blessings and all the best now and going forward together.

Armando Nieto, Executive Director

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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.

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