“Vote with your fork” has been the unofficial slogan of the local food and sustainable agriculture movement. Over the last decade as the public has learned more and more about the hidden costs of cheap food, millions of concerned individuals have sought out ways to positively transform the unsustainable industrial system of agriculture. Consumers have helped to create an alternative food system, that is taking root everywhere. Millions of consumers have seized the opportunity to vote for a better food system, literally with their fork, buying, local, sustainable and humane food products.
Voting with your fork is incredibly important, but this can take us only so far if we truly want to transform the food and farm system we have to “Move Beyond the Fork!” Farmers, foodies, chefs and activists need to broaden their focus beyond lifestyle choices and realize we are part of a social movement. Social movements don’t happen overnight and are never confined to one approach, they depend on a multitude of tactics and actors working towards a common goal. Whether you are talking about the civil rights movements, the environmental movement or any other social movement in American history a fundamental part of any successful social movement is civic engagement.
Civic engagement is often defined as individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern. Civic engagement can take many forms: it can mean engaging in public discussions around local government support for a farmers market, it can mean educating your friends and family via social media about the importance of shopping local, it can mean engaging in a collective action to change laws by personally lobbying your elected representatives to support certain legislation, it can mean holding a public meeting, rally or event to draw attention to a nascent issue… the list could go on.
A core component of civic engagement is getting involved with public policy discussions, the democratic process and advocacy campaigns. When it comes to the structure of agriculture, the markets available to farmers, the flexibility farmers have and their independence (or lack thereof)— public policy matters. Policies can be designed to either choose winners and losers or create a level and transparent marketplace for everyone; whether through subsidies for commodities, procurement policies at government institutions, state and federal grant programs, or food safety regulations: policy matters.
“Ok I get it,” you might be saying “but where do I start, how do I get engaged?”
Illinois Stewardship Alliance has the perfect opportunity for you. On November 9th join Illinois Stewardship Alliance from 1pm- 3pm at Common Ground Food Co-op for a special “Moving Beyond the Fork” civic engagement workshop.