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Take a look at this photo. You see a zebra, right? But on the African savanna, the zebra is perfectly camouflaged, with its black and white stripes blending into the plants and tall grasses.

How is that possible? How could a black and white animal blend into a green and brown landscape? We must look through the eyes of the animals living on the savanna, especially the eyes of predators. The lion is color blind, so striped prey blend perfectly into the background.

{{ image(4279, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”: “200”, “height”: “150”}) }}I think of the zebra often, as a reminder that we must not look through our own lens when considering problems and possible solutions; we must look from the viewpoint of others. This has been a valuable exercise for me over the last five years, as I’ve worked to launch and build an organization that connects agrarians around the world with each other and with the resources they need to create an ecologically sound food system and a more prosperous planet. Slow Food’s Indigenous Terra Madre gathering in November drove this message home as indigenous farmers, peasants, and communities discussed an agricultural future that is inclusive to the beliefs and views of more than 170 indigenous communities from 62 countries.

Westerners have demanded proof in ways that aren’t congruent with indigenous and local systems. Those of us who work with indigenous peoples must allow them to represent, share, and document their knowledge in a way that is respectful of their cultures. If we want to support these farmers as they work to feed the world, we have to remember to look through their lens, not force them to use ours.

The Importance of Indigenous Agriculture

{{ image(4280, {“class”: “flol round”, “width”: “200”, “height”: “150”}) }}Agrarians have been working the land for thousands of years, finding natural solutions to deal with adverse conditions. They saved seeds, ensuring a broad variety of crops would be available; they used plants to repel pests; they used ecological methods to enhance soil quality.

In the 20th century, agriculture started relying heavily on the “miracles” of modern industry, incorporating chemicals, monocropping, and other damaging methods. But indigenous communities all over the world continue to use ancient and traditional methods, passing them down from generation to generation and adapting to meet evolving community needs and climate conditions.

In my travels around the world, I’ve been inspired and humbled by the innovations I’ve encountered. A couple in India bought an abandoned pebble mine, then figured out how to create soil rich enough to grow vegetables in just one season. A Buddhist monk created natural pesticides by finding plants that repel insects, then soaking them in water to make a concoction that he sprays on his crops. An Indian conservationist preserved more than 1,400 varieties of rice, including one that sprouts 20 feet into the air and is resistant to floods.

Indigenous agriculture hasn’t gone away. It’s just been silenced by corporate greed and toxic chemicals. My organization, A Growing Culture, exists to change that.

It is essential to preserve what is left and to gather and share local and indigenous knowledge before it too disappears.

A Growing Culture and the Library for Food Sovereignty

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We exist to preserve the special knowledge of farmers — the techniques and innovations that have allowed the world to feed itself for centuries. Just as Slow Food collects local and heirloom foods for Ark of Taste, we are collecting knowledge in the Library for Food Sovereignty. Ark of Taste highlights how local varieties are connected to local cultures. The Library for Food Sovereignty connects local foods with the indigenous knowledge used to grow, harvest, prepare, and preserve these foods. Our goal is the same: To support an ecological agriculture that promotes local community, traditions, and biodiversity.

Of all the effects of industrial agriculture—poisoning soil and water, putting farmers out of work, upending communities—one of the most maddening is the decimation of biodiversity. Our modern food system relies on 12 key species of crops and five species of livestock; thousands of other varieties have simply disappeared from the planet. But all is not lost. Across the world, farmers using ecological methods are growing more than 2.1 million varieties and 7,000 species of crops, and are breeding 40 species and more than 7,000 local breeds of livestock.

Like Slow Food, we believe it is essential to preserve what is left and to gather and share local and indigenous knowledge before it too disappears.

The Library is a living repository of farmer innovations from around the globe. The open-source, participatory database will bring the riches of agricultural innovation, as well as the local and indigenous practices still used around the world, into one collaborative platform, making them freely available and accessible. The collection is a growing, democratic portal that strives to contain the full breadth of agricultural expression, focusing on innovations from small and medium-sized agrarians while representing the diversity of challenges faced by farmers.

As the participants at Indigenous Terra Madre made clear, and as I’ve discussed with many of the farmers I’ve visited over the years, no one knows the challenges and possible solutions to those challenges better than the farmers themselves. A Growing Culture exists to support indigenous and local communities by letting them share their own stories, techniques, and methods for the betterment of global agriculture.

We are committed to helping the world’s farmers reclaim agriculture from the grip of corporations and research laboratories. Our food system is broken. Let’s fix it.


Loren Cardeli, President and Founder of A Growing Culture, is a passionate advocate of the sustainable food movement. He has over six years of field experience, visiting over 3,000 farms in more than 40 countries.

To learn more, check out www.agrowingculture.org or email communications@agrowingculture.org.