Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director
Email Eric Holt-Gimenez: eholtgim at foodfirst.org
Telephone: 510-654-4400 ext 227
Eric Holt-Giménez is the executive director of FoodFirst/Institute for Food and Development Policy. Eric is the editor of the 2011 Food First book, Food Movements Unite! Strategies to transform our food systems, the author of the 2009 Food First Book Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice. Eric is available for public speaking events. You can view some of his presentations by going to the tab on the left labeled Vimeo.
His earlier book, Campesino a Campesino: Voices from Latin America’s Farmer to Farmer Movement for Sustainable Agriculture chronicles the development of this movement in Mexico and Central America over two and a half decades. Eric worked with farmers, participated in their farmer-to-farmer trainings, and recorded their triumphs with his camera and pen. This engaging book is the product of that longitudinal participatory research.
"People often ask me how I came to be at Food First and what I hope to accomplish here. I grew up milking cows and pitching hay—I learned that putting food on the table can be hard work!
After studying rural education and biology at the University of Oregon and Evergreen State College, I traveled through Mexico and Central America, where I was drawn to the simple life of small-scale farmers. So when I saw a volunteer opportunity to work with farmers in the community of Vicente Guerrero in the impoverished state of Tlaxcala, Mexico, I jumped at the chance.
When I arrived in 1977, the place looked and felt hopeless with no water, surrounded by eroded and deforested hills so farmers were not able to grow enough food to feed their families.
But the village did have a small elementary school and an energetic young mayor and I enthusiastically joined his efforts. First we started a school garden… then a water project, a health clinic, and a sewing coop. Fortunately, several Mayan farmers from Guatemala visited at just the right time to lead a field course on soil and water conservation that helped restore the degraded environment and boost farmer’s yields. From that experience, the Campesino a Campesino (farmer to farmer) movement was born. In the 32 years since, this peasant-led sustainable agriculture movement has spread steadily across Latin America… creating innovative farming methods, raising yields, and improving livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of small farmers and their families.
Over the years, the farmers of Vicente Guerrero terraced the steep hills and planted hedge rows and fruit trees. This kept precious soil and water from washing away during the sudden flash floods and built in resiliency to drought, floods and pest outbreaks. They went back to planting the traditional corn, beans, and squash together, and established a seed bank with native seed varieties.
When I returned to Vicente Guerrero in 2007 as part of a Food First tour from El Paso to Oaxaca to explore the realities of migration, I was immediately struck by the dramatic changes in the village. The hills were reforested and the terraces were filled with abundant crops. I am happy to report to you that my friends there are no longer hungry. They now produce enough food for their families—and even sell some at the regional farmers market. Their latest projects include a farmer-owned cooperative to sell sustainably-produced products from the Campesino a Campesino movement and plans for a cooperative tortilla factory using traditional.local corn—projects that Food First has raised start up money to develop.
After working with these resourceful farmers of Central America and Mexico for so many years, I appreciate the value and power of building local food systems.
But over the years I have also become painfully aware that just working locally is never going to be enough to bring about the larger changes that are needed so that all people can eat. Small farmers and underserved urban communities need changes in national and international trade rules to have a fighting chance of feeding themselves and building healthy, prosperous livelihoods. "
Prior to working at Food First, Eric worked at the Bank Information Center in Washington D.C. where he has served as the Latin America Program Manager. After spending more than two decades in Central America, Eric returned to the University of California at Santa Cruz to complete a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies in 2002.
In 1996 Food First released a Development Report by Eric titled The Campesino a Campesino Movement: Farmer-Led, Sustainable Agriculture in Central America and Mexico. Eric continued his work with these farmers as part of his Ph.D. A measure of Eric’s dedication to sharing the lessons of this movement has been his eagerness to translate his Ph.D. study into this book that can now be shared with students, environmentalists, activists, and scientists who seek to understand how local work is affected by global decisions and what lessons can be learned from these farmer- trainers. In Eric’s words “successful social movements are formed by integrating activism with livelihoods. These integrated movements create the deep sustained social pressure that produces political will—the key to changing the financial, governmental, and market structures that presently work against sustainability.”