For 10 years a small group of farmers and other organizers here in Maine have worked with a groups of farmers from El Salvador in an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) to NGO relationship. Tonight we celebrated that anniversary with a special Empty Bowl dinner in Belfast.
To get the whole picture we need to go back 25 years to the Salvadoran civil war. At that time many small farmers there were displaced by the government in cahoots with their wealthy friends so that they could bundle all of these small farms (parcellas) into big estates (fincas). (Any of this sounding familiar??) At that time organizing was going on across this country to “sister” with small rural communities in El Salvador and walk in solidarity with these people who had been displaced by the war. This was done to protect these people in El Salvador from the government death squads by bringing the world’s attention to the actions of the government goons.
After the war was over the small farmers who had often been rebel soldiers in the mountains came back to their parcellas and started trying to rebuild their lives. 10 years ago one of these community-to-community sistering projects brought a group of Salvadoran farmers to the Maine on a delegation. During that trip over meals, in cars, through casual discussions and in formal meetings it became clear that the problems faced by farmers both here and in El Salvador were very similar and that both had ideas, help and solidarity to offer the other. Thus was born this different kind of sistering. Solidarity between small farmers here and there.
Since then the MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) –El Salvador Sistering Committee has worked back and forth between the two countries promoting organic small-scale farming in both places. Delegations travel to and from El Salvador at least annually. We have over the course of the years marketed various products including coffee for our partners in El Salvador. They in turn host us and teach us the community organizing methods they have perfected through years of political and sometime violent struggles.
The annual Empty Bowl Supper is a major fundraiser for this committee and tonight was a huge success. Good food, good music, good company, all for a group of farmers who think globally and act both locally and not so locally.