71NAchzYQbLTo recognize National Poetry Month we’ve compiled a few poems that staff enjoy, including one written by Co-founder Bill Ayres, that convey powerful imagery, highlight issues within the food system and celebrate food!

Original Poem

By Bill Ayers

I remember the picture in my first grade book,
The red barn, the silo, the farmyard animals,
The cows in the field, the picturesque farmhouse,
All run by a hard working farm family
Heroic, patriotic, feeding the country, feeding the world
It was a picture of America the beautiful
The bread basket of the world

There were no factory farms, no massive lagoons of manure
That pollute America’s rivers and streams
There were no confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs)
Where thousands of cows or hogs or chickens live their whole lives
They never see the light of day, never run free
Have no relationship with parents or siblings
They eat and sleep, defecate and urinate and then they are slaughtered
Their food contains increasing amounts of antibiotics
To keep them healthy
Their urine and feces are collected out back
Then delivered, one way or the other, back into the earth
Much of it seeps down into shallow wells
Or washes away to the nearest brook or stream
That feeds it to the rivers and finally out into the bays
And gulfs and oceans

It is said that the best farming and the best care of the land
Is when the shadow of the farmer can be seen on the land
There are indeed countless shadows on factory farms
But not of a real farmer
There are shadows of endless rows of concrete bunker like buildings
That house thousands of screeching, bleating animals
There are shadows of skyscraper buildings in big cities
That house the corporations that own and run the factor farms
They cast an increasingly ominous shadow of power and
There is also the shadow of the hand of the government
Which pours out countless billions of dollars of our taxpayer money
To make sure the corporate farmers make a fat profit

But surely the traditional family farms
Must stay alive and well in America
They are what sell the congress and the President and the people
On the deal-the latest farm subsidy deal

The true family farms are still alive but few are well
Many are selling their land to developers or to corporations
Or they are becoming the
Planting crops, raising animals that they do not really own
Contracting them to their buyer-on his terms
Not receiving a competitive price for their products
With little or no help from the government
Out of sight from public scrutiny

It is a whole new picture
That has been developing for decades
Americans are just beginning to see it
It’s not in first grade textbooks

From Dear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agricultural Poems

By Bridget Magee

My hand sweats
in Mom’s grasp.
My tummy rumbles;
my head aches.
No breakfast this morning;
no dinner last night.
I shift and shuffle—
left foot,
left again.
“Stand still,” Mom whispers.

This line is taking
When will it be
our turn?
Cart after cart
filled with rice, beans,
bread, peanut butter,
canned fruit, cereal
rolls out of the darkened
Moms, kids, old people
shuffle forward
to claim
their bounty.

it is our turn.
I grab the next cart
and roll it straight
to the parking lot.
Mom has to steer
around the cars.
I’m so happy
we have food.
Maybe it will last
until Dad hears
back from the factory.

From The Country of Marriage, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1973. Also published by Counterpoint Press in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1999; The Mad Farmer Poems, 2008; New Collected Poems, 2012.

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Do you have a favorite or inspiring poem to share?


In honor of National Volunteer Week (April 12-18), we conducted an interview with Gary Bienstock, a volunteer with WhyHunger’s Nourish Network for the Right to Food. This is an edited conversation with Megan Campbell, a junior at Fordham University and the Communications Intern at WhyHunger.

Volunteer Gary Bienstock

Name: Gary Bienstock
Age: 69
Hometown: Born in the Bronx, raised in Queens
Volunteer Stats: Once a week for the last three years
Fun Fact: Has listened to WhyHunger’s annual Hungerthon for 30 years!

Megan: What is your professional background?

Gary: My career was in the garment center where I worked for women’s designer clothing companies for many years. I recently retired and wanted to give back. I felt that I always worked to support my family and due to the nature of the job, I didn’t have a lot of time to do volunteer work. My family grew up with radio legend Pete Fornatale, my children are still good friends with his children, and he was always very active with WhyHunger, so I knew of WhyHunger through him. After I retired, I contacted the folks at WhyHunger to see what I could do to help them and now I volunteer in the office and help with events.

Megan: What exactly do you do in the office?

Gary: I do outreach. I make a lot of phone calls to tell people about WhyHunger and get their information in order to send WhyHunger Hotline posters to them and to let them know that we are here for whatever they need. Every day I volunteer, Patricia Rojas, WhyHunger Hotline and Database Manager for Nourish Network for the Right to Food, gives me a list of calls to make. Today I’m calling different clinics.

Megan: What do you like about WhyHunger?

Gary: What I like about WhyHunger is that it helps people who need assistance but might not know where to go to get help. Our main focus is to direct them to places where they can get help and healthy food. I feel our work is very important because many people don’t know that there are other things available to them, including food banks, access to healthy food, education and other services. We also educate people on places to get healthy food and other things for a healthy life. There are many different aspects of WhyHunger that I find appealing and that make me want to volunteer here.

Megan: Could you speak a little bit about the power of volunteering and how much of a difference volunteers make?

Gary: Sure. One of the things that I find very gratifying about making calls is when people are thrilled and relieved to hear from us. They feel that we are so important to their neighbors that need help. We not only help individuals, but we also call food banks and things like that so when they don’t have enough food to give out, we can help them out by providing their patrons with additional places they can go to get food. It’s a very gratifying feeling when people thank you for calling and express their appreciation for what you’re doing. And for me, I find it very satisfying that I’m at least doing something that’s helping humanity other than making money.

Megan: Do you have any advice for people who want to start volunteering but maybe don’t know how or don’t want to work in a traditional soup kitchen?

Gary: Yes! My first thought is to contact an organization that you’re interested in. Most nonprofit organizations love volunteers and they will find something for you to do that fits your background and professional skill set. If it’s a nonprofit that you really have an interest in, you will enjoy being there and you will find it very gratifying. Many nonprofits let you work from home if you can’t work in the office; you don’t necessarily have to travel or be in an office or soup kitchen to volunteer. You can do it from anywhere nowadays and it really is a very satisfying experience that I think everybody should try. I enjoy doing it and I look forward to the days that I come in!

WhyHunger collects and distributes information about programs that address the immediate and long-term needs of struggling families and individuals. The national WhyHunger Hotline (1.800.5HUNGRY or 1.800.548.6479), refers people in need of emergency food assistance to food pantries, government programs, and model grassroots organizations that work to improve access to healthy, nutritious food, and build self-reliance. Please visit http://www.whyhunger.org/findfood for more information.


You are invited to join WhyHunger, The Point and the NYC Community Garden Coalition (NYC CGC) for our event on Friday, April 17th from 5:30-7:00pm to celebrate the International Day of Peasant Struggle and the launch of WhyHunger’s Agroecology: Putting Food Sovereignty Into Action publication. This event will be held at The Point in Bronx, NY and will feature noted panelists from around the globe including:

  1. Blain Snipstal, Maryland, La Via Campesina International
  2. Shalmali Guttal, Thailand, Focus on the Global South
  3. Graça Samo, Mozambique, World March of Women

We hope you join us to learn about agroecology and what it means for community gardeners and communities fighting for food and environmental justice. Register for this free event today! 

WhyHunger Agroecology Event April 17 Invite 4 10



agrofarmworkerspicThey work hard harvesting citrus, ferns and broccoli to put food on the table, in working conditions that are often inhumane –with limited access to water, no breaks and exposure to harmful pesticides. But without other options, they keep on working to feed their children, and us.

“To be good at harvesting broccoli, you should be able to make a good angle with your fingers,” Moises told me as he made a “V” with his fingers. “And you should be able to grab and throw three heads of broccoli into the truck that keeps going. If you can’t do that, you will not stay too long in the job. You have to be able to catch up with the truck that just keeps going.”

Even as they toil and sacrifice in the fields so others can have fresh food on their tables; the farmworkers are not able to afford a healthy meal for themselves and their families. The pay has not increased in years and the cost of groceries keeps growing. As a solution, families affiliated with the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), a 32-year old organization and one of the largest farmworker organizations in the state, have taken on producing healthy food for themselves by planting gardens in the backyard of their homes and vacant lots.

For many of the farmworkers, it is empowering to produce their own food, using traditional knowledge that they acquire from relatives here in the US and their countries of origin. But to produce food in the current conditions of the degraded and malnourished soils that the farmworkers have access to is hard. So, with the support of Rural Coalition and Via Campesina – North America, the members of FWAF decided to organize the first Campesino a Campesino Agroecology Encounter   help share knowledge and resources to improve production in the gardens and at the same time connect with other peasant organizations in the US and abroad.

But what is agroecology?

Agroecology is not a set of techniques of “sustainable agriculture”. For the peasants in the US and worldwide, agroecology is an agriculture based on the traditional knowledge of those who cultivate the land. This knowledge comes from the connection with the land and all other elements that generate life and is well represented in this poem written by Dina, a peasant woman and FWAF member:

For the moon, the air and the water
And as the song says
Every morning Mr. Sun comes through my window
And at night, sneaks on my balcony a small ray of the moon
When the clouds are dressed in gray
And with arrogance run towards the fields where farmers wait to plant
Blessed are the animals
That are sacrificed for our pleasure
Of all the good that the land gives us

That knowledge of food producers – peasants and fisherfolk – continues to grow when it interacts with other ways of knowing such as the technical knowledge that is generated through academic science. This process of generating knowledge, based on the experiences of food producers and nature, is Agroecology.

That’s why we insist that Agroecology is not about the technical aspects or methods of food production. Rather it is about how knowledge is produced. Agroecological knowledge should be accessible to everyone to continue existing and it cannot be in control of a minority or exchanged as a commodity. It should be based on social justice.

People’s Agroecology

In response to the impacts of industrial agriculture on water reserves and carbon emissions, the term agroecology is gaining prominence in policy and academic spaces. But it is too often misused. Some policy makers and corporations are working to “re-brand” agroecology as “climate smart agriculture” or a set of sustainable agricultural practices that would replace the destructive techniques spread by the Green Revolution. A new package of farming technologies branded as “climate smart agriculture” will not slow down the extractive practices of resources, improve labor conditions, or most importantly, make our food system more sustainable. Because to accomplish that, we need a more democratic distribution of resources, the protection of the rights of farmers, peasants and fisherfolk to land, water and seeds. We would need to make the rights of Mother Earth and feeding people with healthy foods a priority instead of the needs of the “global market”. As members of Via Campesina International, a global social movement led by peasants, pastoralists and indigenous people, have repeatedly said, there is nothing “smart” about this type of agriculture.

The most evil being is the man
That everything destroys

He wastes the seed and fruits
And as the mission of the man
He breaks the layer of the soil
As it will not break the leg of a dog
The rib of a cow
The ankle of a horse
The fins of a shark
Let’s be clear
We all contribute to the World’s destruction

It is within this context, that FWAF, Rural Coalition and Via Campesina – North America organized the Campesino a Campesino Agroecology Encounter – led by farmworkers and for farmworkers – to advance agroecology and build a just food system in the United States. The four-day event took place in two locations where FWAF has a base – Fellsmere and Homestead, Florida – in February 2015 and was entirely based on the local needs of peasant families. For instance, workshops and discussions were created in direct response to FWAF members’ desires to learn more about soil nutrition and management of insects, to hold conversations about feminism and agroecology for women only and to explore worker-led cooperatives.

The last panel of the event was on People’s Agroecology and brought together four peasant organizers from Florida, Puerto Rico and Brazil. The participants shared their perspectives on why we need a People’s Agroecology that is based on social justice for farmworkers, the alliance between food producers and consumers, and economic justice. This inspiring panel showed that agroecology cannot be restricted to food production, because for it to continue growing it requires strong global movements and the active participation of those who already have the connections with the land, ocean and forests.

Thanks to the Via Campesina
That is global
And carries the message
Cares for the seeds
The earth and the sun,
Water, air and the moon.

Read more about agroecology from FWAF members and other peasants and indigenous peoples from around the world in WhyHunger’s new publication, Agroecology:  Putting Food Sovereignty into Action.