Soil Not Oil In The Shadow of Chevron?

by on September 5, 2017

David Zuckerman

No fossil fuel critics have been more regular visitors to Richmond, CA. than the hundreds of people arriving for this week’s “Soil Not Oil” conference, held, annually, in the shadow of the city’s century old Chevron refinery.

Why pick a refinery town to challenge agricultural methods, in the U.S. and abroad, that reflect what one SNO supporter calls “the petrochemical industrial paradigm?”

Well, according to conference organizer Miguel Robles, a longtime advocate for GMO labeling and related biosafety causes, gritty Richmond is a fitting venue for strategizing about “regenerative agriculture” and “socio-ecological justice” because of its own local progress combatting climate change and resisting corporate influence in politics.

As Robles explains, the Soil Not Oil conference coalition—which includes organic farmers, agricultural experts, soil scientists, and environmental activists—draws its name and inspiration from a 2008 book by Vandana Shiva, a champion of sustainable, biologically diverse farming in India. She will be kicking off this year’s gathering with a talk in Richmond Memorial Convention Center on Wednesday night, Sept, 6 at 7 P.M. (For details and other agenda information, see:

Shiva has been a global campaigner against genetic engineering in agriculture, hailed by Time Magazine as an “environmental hero.” She and her Soil Not Oil allies argue that non-sustainable food production is “contributing to soil degradation, climate change, and health crises” worldwide. In their view, industrialized farming practices rely far too much on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), fertilizers derived from fossil fuel production, dangerous pesticides and herbicides, and a “vast hydrocarbon intensive transportation network” which move what we eat “from farm to plate.” They estimate that, “within industrialized nations, up to 1/3 of the total global warming effects” are attributable to current methods of growing and shipping fruit, vegetables, grain, and other foodstuffs.

To counter these trends, Soil Not Oil coalition members use their annual conference to promote organic farming and sustainable fishing, local food outlets to support soil carbon sequestration, re-forestation, water conservation, protection of bees and public land, and greater “seed integrity.”

Among the 100 other speakers or workshop leaders, scheduled to appear Sept. 6-9 in Richmond are the city’s current mayor, Tom Butt, a board member of Marin Clean Energy and past herder of sheep and goats in his own Richmond backyard. Joining him will be the city’s former Green mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, who is now running for Lt. Governor of California, and a visiting Vermont progressive, David Zuckerman, who was elected Lt. Governor of his state last fall, after leading the Bernie Sanders-inspired Vermont Progressive Party for many years.

In his successful third party candidacy against a conservative Republican, Zuckerman played up his own past connection to SNO causes and campaigns. Plus, he is a working organic farmer who can be found, on any Saturday morning in Burlington, VT., peddling his own vegetables in the state’s largest farmer’s market.

A graduate of the University of Vermont, and twenty-year member of the state legislature, Zuckerman helped lead the fight for the nation’s first GMO labeling law and more recent efforts to legalize local cannabis production and sale in Vermont.

In the Bernie Sanders tradition, he has also championed workers rights, paid sick days and minimum wage increases, single-payer health coverage, and reform of his state’s regressive tax structure.

Zuckerman is scheduled to address Soil Not Oil conference participants on Saturday, September 9, from 1:50 to 2:15 PM at the Richmond convention center. Hailed by Sanders as the “the most progressive Lieutenant Governor in the country,” Zuckerman will also be appearing later that day, on a conference panel with McLaughlin, about state and municipal strategies for dealing with climate change, in the wake of the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

On Sunday, Sept. 10, the visiting Vermonter will be endorsing McLaughlin’s own independent progressive campaign for Lt. Governor of California, launched several months ago. (

For details on that Richmond Progressive Alliance sponsored event, see

Steve Early is a Richmond resident, member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, and the author, most recently. of Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an American City.

Steve Early

Steve Early is a longtime labor journalist and author of Save Our Unions: Dispatches from a Movement in Distress (Monthly Review Press, 2013), The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor (Haymarket Books, 2011) and Embedded With Organized Labor (MRP, 2009)

More Posts

Filed under: Bay Area / California