By Alexa Ahern
DES MOINES, Iowa — A different kind of food prize was awarded Wednesday evening at a small Methodist church two miles north of the bustle of the World Food Prize at the Marriott Downtown Hotel.
The sounds of a flute and the smell of incense greeted local parishioners of the Trinity United Methodist Church for the ceremony. Among the roughly 70 attendees were guests from far-away places.
They all had one thing in common. They, too, are fighting to end hunger and improve the global food system.
This year, the Food Sovereignty Prize, which has been around since 2009, was awarded to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras.
“We give the Food Sovereignty Prize to honor those doing work in the field here in the U.S. and worldwide,” said Adam Mason, state policy organizing director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “We have to build this movement globally by educating and engaging people in their community.”
The federation advocates for black farmers in the South, where they have trouble holding on to farmland because they don’t have heirs’ property, meaning they legally don’t inherit the land relatives hand down. Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the federation, accepted the prize.
“A prize like this is relevant at any time but extremely important right now because it adds to the conversation and gives people a platform,” Blanding said of the relevance to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Food Sovereignty Alliance, which awards the prizes, acknowledged the significance of the movement in improving the state of food sovereignty.
“We wanted to take a page from the Black Lives Matter movement to recognize these two groups,” Mason said.
Support for minority empowerment was signaled in choosing the other prize winner as well.
The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras is a grassroots group that protects the economic, social and cultural rights of the afro-descended, indigenous Garifuna communities in Honduras. The organization focuses on youth and women empowerment to help the Garifuna, a matriarchal society, fight for land security against agro-fuel companies, resort development and narco-trafficking.
Miriam Miranda, general coordinator of the organization, accepted the prize.
“I am here to honor the campesinos and campesinas — peasants — to have a right to produce their own food,” she said through a translator. “They are feeding the world, but they are facing criminalization and assassination to defend their land.”
The ceremony was informal. The goal was to highlight the role of the local community, which for the church includes a Latino population. Attendees cheered and cried out in both languages to the passionate speeches of the keynote speakers.
A poem, called a mistica, was read during the ceremony in Spanish and English. The closing performance was an anti-GMO rendition of “Home on the Range” by an all-women choir called the Raging Grannies.
The following night on the other side of town in the opulent Iowa State Capitol, the World Food Prize Laureate ceremony took place with pomp, circumstance and a famous Bangladeshi musician. More than 500 people attended.
The ceremony had similarities to the Food Sovereignty Prize the previous night — a wind quintet to start the program, a recited poem called “In any other language” and an all-women’s choir to end the ceremony — but set to a backdrop of chandeliers, frescoes and marble columns.
On the steps below the Capitol, Brad Wilson and a small group from the Food Sovereignty Alliance protested the corporate food and agriculture businesses associated with the World Food Prize.
Food sovereignty is about giving more control to local farmers and food workers to create a new system or reorganize the dominant system when it doesn’t work for them, Wilson said.
Wilson is a farmer in Eastern Iowa. He grows oats and grains, clover and alfalfa, and corn and soybeans on a crop rotation — every year or two he plants a new set of crops and doesn’t use any pesticides.
Because Wilson can label his products as organic, he gets more money for them. He wants to give more farmers the chance to grow food organically.
The heartland of America is marked by the amber waves of Iowa. For some, the wheat and corn fields of this state are also considered the breadbasket of the world. This week it was home to people from all over the globe — Honduras, South Africa, Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan.
“Our struggles are similar,” said Barb Kalbach, keynote speaker for the Food Sovereignty Prize and member of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
“Your fight is our fight,” she said. “Our fight is your fight.”