2015 Oak Fellow: Jodi Koberinski

Jodi Koberinski

“I was blown away to learn about a number of sustainability initiatives, including having a deeply active— small but active—group of youth at the College.”

Theme: Food Sovereignty

The Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby College was pleased to announce the selection of Jodi Koberinski of Canada as our 2015 Oak Fellow. Koberinski’s pioneering work reimagining agriculture and advocating for more equitable food systems, not only in Canada but also around the world, puts her at the forefront in the field of food sovereignty, the 2015 theme for the Oak fellowship.

Koberinski is launching the Beyond Pesticides Network to transform Canada’s food systems. Professionally, this represents a bold move. Not so long ago Koberinski was an entrepreneur operating a café and a small-scale food processing project. Then she spent six years as the executive director of the Organic Council of Ontario, working to create change from within the corporate-industrial food complex. Now she is a frontline activist who supports farm families, rural communities, and those living in poverty in their fight for food sovereignty.

Although Koberinski hails from a country that has earned a global reputation as a champion of human rights, she says she feels increasingly vulnerable in Canada. For one thing, this outspoken critic of industrial food production says powerful agribusiness interests that benefit from the status quo are ever more vigilant in their efforts to discredit her. For another, she believes Ottawa has grown hostile to activists like herself.

In recent years Voices-Voix, a network of Canadian civil society organizations, has documented what it calls “the shrinking democratic space for dialogue on public policy and for dissent” in Canada. In a 2013 report it claimed that environmental groups, in particular, are being “systematically silenced” by the government. A researcher at Queen’s University in Ontario believes that Canada is gripped by a “green scare,” and that federal agencies routinely spy on such organizations—a claim denied by law enforcement.

Koberinski, who calls herself a “town crier,” comes to Colby College as the political environment grows increasingly fractious back home. She will arrive in late August and spend the fall semester here, leading a human rights seminar on food systems, consulting with members of the campus and Maine communities, and building the Beyond Pesticides Network.

At the time, Koberinski was working without pay, relying on crowdsourcing to finance her grassroots campaign. She is known as an unflagging source of innovation, an activist who tirelessly helps others and furthers the cause of food sovereignty. She is a global leader on this issue and is recognized for her vital work transforming—not just reforming—agriculture to provide sustainable, safe, and secure food systems around the world.

After returning to her home country, Koberinski successfully launched Beyond Pesticides Canada, inspired and informed by Washington, D.C.,-based NGO Beyond Pesticides, which pushes for an organic, pesticide-free world.
Recently in New Brunswick, she participated in the Praxis Project Permaculture Art Festival, which combined theory and practice in ecological education. “I saw my opportunity at Colby as an activist to provide the kind of ecological education that most of us don’t get even at university,” she explained. Colby also gave her other opportunities, like presenting at the Common Ground Fair, “one of the most famous fairs in the world for organics,” and exploring Maine’s food system. “Maine has farmers that are doing things nobody else in America is doing on the social scale,” she said.