We're just shy of the halfway point on our two-week journey to the US Social Forum, and access to land has been a recurring obstacle. Sitting in a hollow in the coalfields of West Virginia, we were told that between the coal companies and the timber companies, about 85 percent of the land is already owned. That means that only about 10 percent of the land - and it's the worst, most flood-prone land - is available to sustain the wonderful and optimistic people that live here. There is a wealth of knowledge about growing food - and power - in the collective knowledge of the people.
Historically, coal miners in company towns would keep a vegetable garden. They did it for the autonomy that provides. Today there are still many people posses the knowledge to farm, but not the land. An eight of an acre is a large garden here.
So breaking into farming for a low-income individual is nearly impossible. At Warren Wilson college, we learned that agriculture requires more start-up capital than oil. We also learned that when students graduate from WWC's sustainable agriculture department, a third go on to do research, a third go back to farm land their family already owns, and a third become farm workers or farm managers at small, sustainable farms. So zero thirds break into agriculture as a land owner.
Our agriculture system will change. It has to. It is unsustainable. The challenge is whether or not that change will affirm the status quo or actually create some positive social change. In other words, will today's landowners be tomorrow's landowners, or will the disenfranchised be able to secure a role in that change.
As we move on to Cleveland and Detroit, we will see more urban projects than we have before. We've been told by several people so far that Detroit, perhaps the most economically depressed city in the country, holds the greatest hope for the future of small-scale, sustainable and just agricultural systems.
We're optimistic because that's all we can be.