The Just Food Conference 2017: A Call to Collaboration

The Just Food Conference 2017: A Call to Collaboration

On March 12th and 13th I attended the Just Food Conference in NYC. It was exciting to reconnect with the Just Food community, as I spent much of 2012 as an intern with their Farm School NYC program. Just Food has always inspired me with their commitment to lifting up the leadership and capacity of diverse communities in the food movement to build a more just, equitable and sustainable food system, and this year’s conference entitled “A Call to Collaboration” was no different. The conference included workshop tracks ranging from Community-Led Food Projects to Policy and Advocacy to Youth Leadership in the Food Justice Movement and more, keynote speakers, local strategy sessions, and opportunities to plug into local campaigns for food justice and sovereignty.

The core question of the conference was “through collaboration, what can we do together across our many disciplines to increase the amount of fresh, locally grown food available in our most marginalized, food insecure communities in ways that support self-determination and ensures economic justice for all?” One of the workshops I went to that best represented the theme of collaboration was a panel called “Farm to Bed Stuy: The Worker Cooperative Approach to Building a Local Supply Chain”. Worker/owners from Rock Steady Farm and Flowers, the Brooklyn Packers and Bed Stuy Fresh and Local shared their model of moving food along the supply chain from being grown in Millerton NY, getting packed in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, and then delivered to a Bed Stuy cooperative storefront to be sold to the local community.

All of the worker/owners of these three cooperatives spoke about their desire to merge profitability and food justice, and the possibilities and challenges inherent in this goal. Building a network of support along the supply chain and working in economic partnership with other businesses with shared values was a huge boost for this work. Priorities for all three businesses included finding creative ways to fund projects in an effort to keep prices affordable for consumers, and supporting not only food access but business ownership for residents of color in Bed Stuy. The panel was moderated by a staff member at The Working World, a non-extractive lender who funds and offers training to cooperative businesses. It was really inspiring to learn about a financer who is not interested in taking people’s money to turn a profit but instead in genuinely supporting small co-ops to be successful.

A large part of the conference on the second day focused on action planning and next steps. I went to a strategy session on Food Chain Issues and why it’s so challenging for good food to be both affordable for communities and profitable for small farmers. We identified many of the barriers to food access, including lack of a shared baseline understanding of what affordability means, a food chain that is ambiguous to many, lack of a shared analysis of historical inequities in the food system, federal policies, and more. We also began a group brainstorm of ways individuals and communities can work to reduce the cost of food without harming farmers.

Both keynote speakers, Director of FoodLab Detroit Devita Davison and Dr. Ricardo Salvdor, the Food and Environment Program Director at the Union of Concerned Scientists spoke about the historical roots of racism and classism in the food system that continue to play out today. Dr. Salvador shared that “the future of food justice is the future of the country”, and that food and the struggles around it are so core to who this country is and has been that there is no way to make forward progress without addressing it. He spoke to the reality that the ways Black, Latinx and Indigenous people and low income people have been deprived of their food base throughout history through land theft, enslavement and disenfranchisement have been core to the creation of the economic poverty many people experience today.

Devita Davison shared about the importance of Black ownership and entrepreneurship in food and farming, as opposed to charity models. It was powerful to hear her talk about the human revolutionary capacity to exercise creativity in the face of destruction, and the importance of visioning, faith and relationships in bringing forth the food justice work and labor of love we want to see. It has been a large focus of Groundswell in recent months to ground ourselves in the history of both oppression and creativity/regeneration in U.S. agriculture, and it was beneficial and inspiring to hear the perspectives and framing of these two leaders.

In all, I was glad for the opportunity to attend the Just Food Conference, connect with old friends from NYC (and Ithaca farmers too!), brainstorm with people from around the state about justice and equity in the food supply chain, and learn about the work and organizations of many powerful farmers and activists. It also made me even more excited for the Farm to Plate Conference, coming to Ithaca May 11th-13th!

Groundswell goes to Soul Fire Farm

Groundswell goes to Soul Fire Farm

maxresdefaultThis fall the staff of Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming along with Ithaca community members took a day trip to Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, NY, a “family farm committed to dismantling the oppressive structures that misguide our food system”. Soul Fire is farmed by a mixed race family who grow vegetables and small fruits on 1.5 acres and also have a one acre mixed orchard and 3 acres of pasture for egg and meat chickens. A sliding-scale farm share CSA feeds 70-100 families in the nearby cities of Troy and Albany, and educational programs run during much of the year on topics ranging from food justice training for youth to sustainable development support for grassroots activists.

img_3056 img_3054Soul Fire Farm’s focus is on ending racism in the food system, and their programs are run by and for people of color, low-income people, women, religious minorities, and those targeted by the criminal punishment system. Their commitment to centering those most historically marginalized in the food system is evident in programs like the Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion, a regenerative farming training for people of color.

Groundswell staff had heard many wonderful things about Soul Fire Farm over the years, and we were excited to finally see it in action. When we arrived on Saturday morning Soul Fire’s “Community Workday” was already in full swing. Around 40 people were busy at work around the farm, some helping to terrace a hillside for a new orchard, some cleaning the abundant garlic harvest, some chopping and stacking wood, and some kneading cabbage and filling mason jars with delicious kraut. After being warmly greeted by Leah and Jonah, the head farmers, we jumped in and spent the morning talking, laughing and learning with the other attendees who had come from around the region.

One thing that stood out to me from our morning working together was how openly our multiracial group of participants talked about race, racism and the food system. As we filled the kraut jars, talk flowed from was learned at a recent Undoing Racism training for white farmers to issues of gentrification in downtown Troy to the marginalization many folks of color experience when trying to broach the subject of race in the workplace. There was a refreshing sense of shared understanding of how these topics are all intimately connected, and how issues of land, food, and health are so often also issues of racial and economic injustice. It was clear that Soul Fire provides a unique space where clarity and honesty about systemic oppression is the norm, and the health, healing and well-being of people of color is centered.

Before lunch, we stood in a circle and each person named something they were grateful for, which was then echoed back by the entire group. Community, health, bodies, liberation, sunshine, garlic, connection, hard work and more were lifted up before we gathered on the grass for a delicious potluck lunch. Afterward Leah led a circle to share more about Soul Fire’s food justice mission, sharing pictures of the farm through the years and opening up the space for questions. We talked about the difficulties inherent in trying to have a profitable farm business and providing accessible food for communities, flawed agricultural policy, ways to support the leadership of people of color in the food system, and more. Leah was clear that she does not have all the answers, but that these questions, conversations and resulting actions are what lead to transformation.

It was very inspiring for all of us to be at Soul Fire Farm and to witness the spirit of positivity, justice and love that Leah, Jonah and all of the farm apprentices and residents bring to their work. They are creating a space where farmers of color can speak to the injustice they experience in the food system, get support, and build the skills to address it. We returned to Ithaca feeling nourished by the beautiful vegetables they grow and the sense of community and warmth they are cultivating.

Our Thoughts on Recent Tragedies and our Role in Social Injustice, Systemic Racism

At Groundswell today our hearts are heavy with the ongoing murder of Black people by police officers. Tyre King, a 13 year old child in Columbus, Ohio, Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlottesville, North Carolina were murdered within days of each other by law enforcement officers over the past two weeks. Their deaths have left people around the country reeling, heartbroken, terrified, enraged, and wondering what it will take to end the violence against Black and Brown people that has plagued the United States since its inception.

In my new position at Groundswell I have been asking the same questions, and what our role is as a farming organization in contributing to an end to this violence. What are the connections we must draw between injustice in the food system and murders of Black people by police? What is the connection between the small percentage of farmers of color in Tompkins County and the land theft/labor exploitation that built the foundation of this country? Farmers and food justice activists of color have been drawing the connections for years, urging the food movement to genuinely grapple with systemic racism and how it undergirds all of our work when left unacknowledged.

 

I have also recently been inspired by the National Young Farmers Coalition statement “Ending Violence Against People of Color in Food and Farming”. It is a document created by a predominantly white organization recognizing the need to affirm and center that Black Lives Matter in their advocacy work for young farmers. More predominantly white organizations must address racism as a central barrier to creating a vibrant and sustainable food and farming movement, and commit to action steps to dismantle it. All of our lives depend on it. The NYFC statement makes me hopeful that this will continue to happen.

 

To further our own learning on these topics, tomorrow the Groundswell Staff head to Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, NY. Soul Fire is a family farm committed to ending racism, injustice and food apartheid in the food system. With a focus on training and empowering Black, Latino and Indigenous farmers, they are doing the crucial work of ensuring food is being grown by and for, farmland owned and operated by people of color. I am excited to learn about how we can support this work in the Finger Lakes Region, and how we can better recognize the interconnectedness of all of our issues in a food system that serves the interests of so few people.

 

We will share more in the upcoming weeks on our reflections from Soul Fire Farm and about the work we are doing concretely as an organization to address injustice. For now, we say the names of Tyre King, Terence Crutcher, and Keith Lamont Scott. We send our love and solidarity to their families and to those who organize around the U.S. for a country free of racist violence, from the cities to the fields, from Columbus to Tulsa to Charlotte to Ithaca.

 

– Kate Cardona 9/23/16

 

ADDENDUM: If others would like to join us on our trip to Soul Fire tomorrow, 9/24, we have available space. Current traveling cars are full, but if somebody can drive their own car, is willing to take others, Groundswell will cover the mileage.  Please email us if you would like to come along.

From the Director May 2016: Seeking the Balance of Equity in Local Farming

From the Director May 2016: Seeking the Balance of Equity in Local Farming

Perhaps you saw the article last week After a Century in Decline, Black Farmers Are Back and on the Rise.” The article received great attention, as it should. It was published originally by Yes! Magazine, and republished by more than a half-dozen other online news sources. The article was forwarded to me by 5 individuals and came through my inbox via 5 different list serves.  To be honest, I momentarily found it refreshing to know that I’m in the loop on current events involving farming and people of color. Rather, I should say, at least my inbox is in the loop.

I ask myself almost constantly; what are we, Groundswell, doing to change a ‘business as usual’ paradigm in farming?

If you read our newsletter regularly, you know that Groundswell’s mission includes the word “diverse”. In the context of our mission, diverse means multiple cultures, nationalities, races, genders, classes, and ages; however, we have a priority to engage diversity in race, culture and class. Diversity is key to establishing a just and sustainable food system that enhances the lives of farmers, food producers, eaters and our planet.

In my four months as director, I have spent much of my time listening to people and reflecting on past actions of the organization with regards to equity and inclusion. I have heard praises, disappointments and all things in between. What is clear is that we have done amazing work training people to be new farmers and to support the continuing education of existing farmers; and we continue to do so. We have provided land access to New Americans through our Incubator Farm Program, who have in turn been able to start successful farm businesses.  Through our farm business class and one-on-one support, we have helped and supported Cha Cha and the development of the non-profit he has created in Ghana called Ndor Eco Village.  We have involved people of diverse races in planning meetings and hiring processes. We have reached out to communities of color in hopes to bring more diversity to our programs. We have paid consultants to educate our staff and board on equity and inclusion and specifically, to help us understand how to diversify our work.

Yet, most of our program participants are not people of color.  

We are still a predominantly white organization.  

This story is not new. Just last fall, Groundswell founder and former Director Joanna reflected on our inclusion and diversity efforts when she wrote this blog post in response to a staff member of color resigning. It’s important for us to revisit these lessons repeatedly.

Consequently, many questions arise for me at this point in the job. Are the relationships that exist between Groundswell and communities of color synergistic and built on trust? Are we having an impact on “creating equitable food systems” and how do we know? What systems have we developed to hold us accountable to ensuring that priority is placed on inclusion and equity in our work?  What are we teaching in our curricula that recognizes the racist and brutalist history of agriculture in our country or the land-theft in this State? How are we committing to diversity and inclusion in all our work, and not just as a “project” of our work? Does being a mostly white organization mean we are not successful? What does “success” look like in this work?  

I’ve just begun to ask these questions and to establish the foundation to be able to answer them. It feels important to me to keep you well-informed to the work we are doing in this regard.  With time, my hope is that transparency helps elicit trust and provides an opportunity for feedback and support.  Food justice work is complex. It is challenging. It is personal. And it takes a committed community working together.

Here are just some of our current efforts:

  • Learning about, engaging with and participating in food justice efforts in the immediate and regional community that support and celebrate all races and cultures.
  • Continuing to educate ourselves through conversations with others and enrolling staff and board members in workshops and trainings on diversity and race including but not limited to NLI – From Scarcity to Abundance.
  • Developing a set of evaluation tools and preparing to conduct assessments of Groundswell program effectiveness.
  • Including in the job description of all Groundswell staff the responsibility of attending and assisting local or regional groups in ways they say they need support.
  • Drafting a hiring protocol that holds us accountable to create accessible position descriptions that value lived experiences as well as ‘traditional’ experiences, publicizes these positions near and far both online and in person, offers alternative forms of interviewing methods, and requires a team of diverse reviewers who make the final hiring choice. We will be sharing this draft protocol soon, through our e-lists and with our partners, in hopes to receive feedback and improve it before it’s implemented.   
  • Hiring staff members who were chosen in large part because of their commitment to a just food system and the promotion of anti-racist communities. We will share more about these new positions once they officially start this summer.  
  • Beginning the developing of curricula to be included in all of our programs that will include but not be limited to historical information about how the legacy of racial discrimination affects black Americans to learn farming, develop food businesses and secure land and what land-grab efforts were like in New York State and the impact on Native Americans.
  • Planning a series of stakeholder meetings in part with the intention of designing programs with input from the groups for which these programs are supposed to serve.

Though the work of Soul Fire Farm deserves recognition and to be shared far and wide, we hope that stories like this becomes less and less rare. Like you, we envision a society where there is an increase in farmers and food producers of all races, classes, genders and cultures; a society without food insecurity and injustice. We are committed to doing our part to train and support these producers. And furthermore, we are committed to expanding and improving our efforts and behaviors to be more inclusive, respectful and celebratory of diversity.  We look forward to working together to achieve these goals. We will make mistakes.  We will make people happy. And we welcome your feedback and support to hold us accountable to this imperative work along the way.

Farmer Interview : Evangeline Sarat talks Living Wages

56bb8d40a0c1d.imageSweetland Farm, in Trumansburg, NY has been in operation for 10 years. In 2015 owner/farmer Evangeline Sarat decided to start paying  her employees a living wage. Groundswell Director Elizabeth Gabriel sat down with Evangeline to talk about how she came to the decision to offer living wages, and how she is making it work on her farm.

 

EG: How did your decision to pay a living wage come about?

ES: In 2014 I began running the farm as a sole proprietor. In that year we offered normal pay. Being an only manager, I was able to make a decent salary (around a living wage), pay my loans and build equity. Plus, being a single mom, I prioritized my relationship with my kids over the farm. So I would stop farming when the kids got off the bus, the workers would still be working. That was all possible because of the farm workers.
I’ve been going to meditation retreats and developing spirituality practice. As a result, I started being very aware of this fact, that I was living this way, and my employees were not. One day the idea came to me (to pay living wages) and I couldn’t see anyway not to do it, even though I knew it was very risky.

EG: I’m sure many farmers in our area have thought about how to pay their employees living wages. How did you make it work, financially? 

ES: First, I raised the price of our CSA (2 person share) by $60-100 (sliding scale). Then, I decreased the season by 3 weeks. That was healthier for everyone. For me, my employees, the farmland. I felt like this was a reasonable request of the CSA members – asking them to support a fair community food system. I didn’t run the exact numbers, but with the new wage in place, I figured I would need 300 CSA members paying about $675 per share to make the farm run as it was. I also wrote a letter to CSA members explaining the goal of providing a living wage for my employees. I first offered it to the employees who worked here for a year (2 workers) and then by November everyone got a living wage (4 workers). It was terrifying. I didn’t know if we would run out of money or not.

EG: So what was the response? How did everyone take it?

ES: We lost some of our CSA Membership, though nobody said it was because of the price increase. (Many stated it was our location.) Members seemed to understand the concept, but some also thought that because the cost of the share increased so would the value of what was included. 

For my employees, I can see a significant change in their lifestyle and ability to live comfortably from month to month. It is definitely impacting their quality of life. And I think this opens the farm work to being an option for people with less privilege.

EG: Since you have done it, what would you say to other farmers contemplating increasing wages for their employees? 

ES: It’s a risk. So is farming. I don’t feel like it’s something that if you don’t do, you’re not being moral. I get why people can’t do it. But I was willing to take the consequences of leaving the farm if I couldn’t make it work.  I do think it would be really cool to see other CSA’s jump to Living Wage and all CSA’s increase their prices.  Everybody might lose a few members, but it could be an overall success for the CSA model.

October From the Director

October From the Director

Natasha Bowens 9-20-2015WEBNatasha Bowens’ keynote address at the 2015 Food Justice Fair gave us all a lot to think about. The author of The Color of Food, Bowens talked about the legacy of discrimination and land loss among black farmers, but also about the continuing legacy of innovation, cooperation, and earth stewardship among today’s farmers of color.

Bowens asked us to “dig deeper” into the reasons why so many White-led organizations struggle to “engage” people of color in their agendas. And her answer, in part, is that we too often fail to recognize and honor the existing leadership of farmers and activists of color.

At the post-Fair Community Dinner & Conversation that night, Natasha and a panel of local food justice activists challenged those of us who have access to resources — like leadership positions, fulfilling jobs, land, business ownership, government grants — toCommunity Conversation 9-20-2015WEB“dig deeper” into the reasons why we have access to these resources and others do not.

And in digging deeper, we have to confront the historical and systemic disadvantages that entire groups of people have endured, and that still place them at a significant disadvantage. We need to acknowledge the many advantages that other groups have enjoyed, and that continue to smooth their pathway to leadership and “success.”

This little graphic has helped us to think about equity vs equality:

Equity vs Equality

“Equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives. Equality, in contrast, aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. (From Embracing Equity: 7 Steps to Advance and Embed Race Equity and Inclusion within Your Organization, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation)

At Groundswell we are beginning to teach ourselves to think about equity in our programs and in our organization in terms of questions like: What resources and supports do various groups in our community need in order to have the opportunity to farm, and how can we assist them in getting access to those resources? What do they need in order to develop leadership within our own organization, and how can we assist them in that process?

This will be an ongoing learning process, and we invite you to share your own insights and experiences with us as we go forward.

Joanna Green

Director

2015 Binghamton Food Justice Tour

2015 Binghamton Food Justice Tour

Over 20 people from the central NY region participated in a September “Food Justice Study Tour” organized by Groundswell and hosted by VINES – Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments – in Binghamton. VINES is doing amazing work on multiple fronts – check out our photo album below.

 

Social Justice, Inclusion and Accountability

At Groundswell we talk a lot about social justice, food sovereignty, inclusion and equity. We participate in all sorts of community initiatives that share the vision of a more equitable food system. But are we really making any kind of difference, in the world or even within our own organization?

I have often claimed that, at Groundswell, “We are creating an integrated, multicultural social and economic support network for beginning farmers and market gardeners, one that brings together people from different economic backgrounds and cultures to learn from one another and to strengthen our local food system.”

But is this really happening? And who is holding us accountable to our vision?

Groundswell recently received a kind but firm kick-in-the-behind in the accountability department, causing us to take a hard look at ourselves and our commitment to social justice. Sadly, long-time Groundswell member Rafael Aponte resigned his staff position recently, expressing frustration that we are “unable to collectively put equity at the forefront of (our) work.” (For Rafa’s complete resignation letter, please scroll to the bottom of this blog post.)

Sad as I am to lose Rafa as a staff member, I choose to view the situation as an important opportunity for Groundswell. By being transparent about the issues he has raised, and how we respond over time, I hope that others can learn from our experience, and that collectively we can get past talking the talk, to walking the walk towards real equity and inclusion.

As an organization, we have struggled to achieve a shared understanding of what social justice, equity and inclusion really mean, and what they require of us. At various times in our 5-year history we’ve invested more or less energy in educating ourselves about food sovereignty, racism in the food system, and white privilege. We’ve had hard conversations, and we’ve had long stretches without those hard conversations.

Rafael now challenges us to figure out how to “not just engage but empower” the communities we try to serve. His specific recommendations are to:

  • Collect data and establish metrics to determine whether Groundswell’s programs and services achieve equity and deliver results to the audiences it has committed to serve.

  • Create internal policies, tools, and structures to train and ensure all staff are able to incorporate equity strategies into their work on the ground level.

  • Design and implement programs and services with input or participation of the groups for which those same programs and services are supposed to serve.

  • Solicit consultation from an outside organization that would provide guidance in establishing healthy communication across class, race, and gender between Groundswell, its members, and intended audiences.

  • Create a decision matrix for staff and board that allows for evaluation of current internal and external equity strategies.

I would add to these a recommendation that we establish an Accountability Team of community members and others who can really hold us accountable to our social justice goals, call us out when needed, and help guide us towards our vision of an equitable and resilient food system.

We look forward to sharing our progress – and our missteps – with you as we walk this path. We also invite you to share your thoughts, your experiences, and your suggestions with us. Thank you for contributing in this, and so many other ways.

Joanna Green, Director

Rafael will be spending the next couple of months closing out this season at his farm in Freeville, NY with the continued goal of achieving equity and food sovereignty through his work. He remains in communication with Groundswell and can be reached directly at aponte.rafa@gmail.com.

Rafael Aponte’s Letter of Resignation:

 

Dear Joanna and Friends,

Groundswell is an organization with tremendous potential; however, I have recently lost confidence in the ability of the organization to address the growing need for equity in our community. Please accept this letter as formal notification that I am resigning from my position as outreach coordinator with Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming, effective immediately. This has been an incredibly difficult decision because I admire and respect so much of the work Groundswell has been able to accomplish, but it falls short in this critical area.

Throughout my time with Groundswell, first as a member of the board and later as staff, I have been part of the ongoing efforts to create a vibrant, sustainable, local food community. While I am grateful for the many opportunities to work alongside extremely dedicated, talented, and hard-working individuals, I cannot continue to work within an organization that is unable to collectively put equity at the forefront of its work.

If Groundswell desires to remain true to the values and mission to which it ascribes itself, it will take the combined collaborative efforts of its leadership, staff, and all its constituents and not the work of a single individual. It is my hope that Groundswell can rise to the challenge with sustained effort to institutionalize a truly equitable framework that empowers its community and not merely engages it .

I count Groundswell as an important ally in the larger fabric of creating a just and sustainable food system and I hope to make this transition as straightforward as possible. Much gratitude to everyone I have had the opportunity to work with and I look forward to working with you to create an equitable food future.

 

Sincerely,

Rafael Aponte

 

Just Harvest: Growing abundance in food deserts

Just Harvest: Growing abundance in food deserts


by Zach Murray

Research has widely confirmed that millions of Americans live in communities that lack sufficient access to nutritious affordable foods. In many of these communities known as “food deserts” residents often travel well over a mile to access healthy foods most commonly available at grocery stores and supermarkets. Vulnerable low-income and minority households who have access to fewer supermarkets and vehicles than wealthier, predominantly white communities often populate food deserts. The USDA estimates that there are as many as 23.5 million residents of food deserts and 82.5% of this population resides in urban areas.

Physical distance to healthy foods adds pressure to vulnerable populations and is frequently linked to the preponderance of poor diet and in time to diabetes, obesity, and a number of diet related illnesses. The prevalence of small corner stores, convenience stores, and fast food, as well as the absence of supermarkets and other sources of fresh food, constitute a poor “food environment”. A poor food environment intensifies risk factors for obesity such as low-incomes, absence of reliable transportation, and lack of cooking knowledge. A number of medical professionals and scientists agree, a community’s food environment affects people’s eating habits, which are an essential contributor to obesity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General, 2001). When low-income households and people of color lack access to stores that feature nutritious, affordable, high quality foods, it is more difficult to make healthier diet decisions that could lead to improved health outcomes.

Therefore, distance to supermarkets and the availability of public transportation are important determinants of a community’s access to healthy food. It is no coincidence that many residents living within food desert communities are also SNAP (Food Stamps) recipients. While research reveals that SNAP recipients face barriers in accessing vital social services, SNAP recipients also experience difficulties redeeming their benefits in their own communities. SNAP recipients live on average, 1.8 miles from a nearby supermarket and redeem their benefits 4.9 miles away from their home. When healthy food is out of reach, families whose budgets are already stretched thin must find extra money to pay for higher local prices or to cover extra transportation costs. Commonly, SNAP users attempt to stretch their dollars by shopping at distant large grocery stores, supermarkets, and supercenters where they experience cost savings.

A vibrant movement is afoot in cities across the country − farmers, activists, and community organizations are improving the health, the economic outlook, and vitality of their communities through urban farming. Advocates are clearing pathways making healthy food more available for low-income communities, shifting economic revitalization efforts, and battling the challenges of blight and abandonment. One such effort emanating from Pittsburgh is the project that I am currently undertaking as an Emerson Hunger Fellow with Just Harvest, an advocacy organization that supports low-income Pittsburgh area residents with the SNAP application process.

Building on Just Harvest’s commitment to support low-income families and individuals, I am assessing the food desert status of a number of communities throughout the Pittsburgh metro. Utilizing tools such as GIS and the Food Abundance Index (FAI) developed by scholars at the University of Pittsburgh, I am laying a framework for local policymakers to help remedy Pittsburgh area food deserts.

Learn more about Just Harvest’s mission, and the connection between food deserts and poverty.

Hailing from Baltimore, MD, Zach is a graduate of Cornell University with degrees in city and regional planning and Africana studies. Zach helped conduct a Community Food Assessment to measure food insecurity in Tompkins County, NY with the Cornell Cooperative Extension- Whole Community Project. His work developed greater local knowledge of the local food system and strategies for improving access to healthy, affordable food for all community members. Zach also conducted research on regional food access issues with the Urban Institute and completed an honors thesis on food culture in the African American community in Tompkins County.

The Quintessential Black Farmer: Juju Harris

The Quintessential Black Farmer: Juju Harris
Juju Harris

By Kirtrina Baxter

Since my interest in this food justice movement began, I have met so many wonderful agriculturalists and foodies. The faces of a lot of these people are black and brown, and that is a telling statement of how the movement is bringing out and together those communities who are most affected by poor and non-foods. It is a fact that the poor health of those individuals in Black and Latino communities are more exaggerated due to the lack of healthy foods, and pioneers from these communities are making strides towards changing this. JuJu Harris from Maryland is just one of those pioneers.

Juju, as she prefers to be called, has years of experience in nutrition education and gardening. She is a passionate advocate of healthy living and works at the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, in the DC area. The Arcadia Center has many services and programs, including an educational farm, a mobile market, a farm-to-school network and is looking into providing a food hub. Juju works most closely with the mobile market. She says one of the things she enjoys most about this is seeing the same people week to week and talking to them about food.

Juju commonly sets up shop in several markets, and they all have an interest in serving people of limited means. One of the markets has a token program that allows SNAP, WIC and elderly residents with farmers market vouchers to trade in for tokens that are matched dollar for dollar by the produce vendors. This program only dispenses a certain amount of tokens to the recipients weekly so that their vouchers may last them the entire month. Although this program is not in any of the markets where Juju works, she sees that this program is most effective in helping folks to sustain their federal dollars towards healthy eating throughout the month. One of the pitfalls of receiving federal food dollars is the probability of running out of benefits before the middle of the month, making it difficult to feed families in the later days of the month.

Another market she frequents is between two very different neighborhoods though all come out to share in the spoils. Harris explains that the needs are somewhat different…she can speak to one person who is inquiring about free-range beef and another about the cost of collard greens and how to use the EBT machine. This market serves as a bridge to build relationships between the two communities.

Juju is a passionate nutrition guru who enjoys educating those around her on how to prepare and cook foods that may be new to them or how to prepare traditional foods in healthier ways. She acknowledges that relationships are the key to making her work possible and thinks nothing of striking up conversations around some delectable samples that she has prepared in order to get folks interested. She uses non-traditional means to engage community members and the results are rewarding, especially since Harris works in food deserts in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of DC. At times she is approached in the grocery store by people she has served asking her to check out their new way of shopping, or telling her a story of a meal prepared perfectly… These are the stories that feed her passion.

Get ready for the Food Justice Summit!

Get ready for the Food Justice Summit!

Walkathon and Block Party to be held Saturday, Sep. 22

Groundswell is proud to be collaborating with GreenStar Community Projects to present Ithaca’s Second Annual Food Justice Summit on Saturday, September 22nd from 10am-7pm in downtown Ithaca. The purpose of this uplifting multicultural family-friendly event is to promote social justice and community well-being and to raise funds to grow a sustainable local food system that promotes health, equity, and community control of essential resources. GreenStar Community Projects is a not-for-profit educational organization affiliated with GreenStar Cooperative Market.

Click HERE to make a donation.

A highlight of this year’s summit will be a keynote address and workshop by Charity Hicks, Co-Creator of the Detroit Food Justice Task Force and founding member of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Hicks has worked for over ten years in research, public policy, and community activism in Detroit on health disparities, environment, food and nutrition. She is currently serving as a prestigious fellow for EAT4Health a national leadership development initiative that aims to fill gaps in the existing food policy advocacy ecosystem in order to make it more inclusive of low-income and people of color communities, more responsive to grassroots needs and ideas, and more effective in terms of protecting the environment, promoting good health, and rebuilding strong local economies.

The Food Justice Summit begins at 10am with a walk-a-thon starting at Neighborhood Pride (former Northside P&C) at 210 Hancock Street, downtown Ithaca. People of all ages are invited to register and walk up to 5 miles visiting gardens, food art mosaics and more with the chance to win exciting prizes. From noon till 7pm all are welcome to join the celebration outside Neighborhood Pride where the streets will be closed to enjoy live music including Thousands of One, Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde and Ernest Verb as well as dance performances, youth activities, cooking demonstrations, Gardens 4 Humanity’s Iron Chef Jr. competition and more!

An organic ribs and chicken BBQ & vegetarian fare featuring food from local farms will be available for a suggested donation so everyone can enjoy and be nourished by the delicious bounty of our region. Event goers can find culturally significant and socially conscious wares for sale from locally-owned businesses, and peruse dozens of informational displays from local organizations working towards social justice, sustainability and community health.

Part of the proceeds will benefit Congo Square Market, a vibrant seasonal market in the heart of Ithaca’s African American community with live music, crafts and fresh produce grown by neighborhood youth. The rest of the proceeds will support a series of planning meetings which will bring together community members, organizations, businesses, and other stakeholders in the local food system, to plan the infrastructure, distributions systems, financing, and other pieces of the just food system we need.

For additional information visit www.FoodJusticeSummit.org or contact info@GreenStarCommunityProjects.org or 607-379-9725.

Staff spotlight: Chango Reese, Summer Practicum TA

Staff spotlight: Chango Reese, Summer Practicum TA
Chango Reese will be serving as Teaching Assistant
 for the Groundswell Summer Practicum.
Groundswell volunteer Audrey Gyr caught up with Chango Reese, Groundswell’s Summer Practicum TA, to share a bit about his story in this Staff spotlight.

by Audrey Gyr

When Chango Reese first moved to Ithaca from the Bronx three years ago, he immediately noticed the disparity between who had good food and who didn’t. In order to combat this inequity, Chango began a program with his friend Anthony Gallucci they called “Healthy Food for the Hood.” Their mission was to “combat unhealthy food pantry traditions with organic and locally grown food for our people, who felt excluded from places like GreenStar and the Farmers Market and who felt stigma about going to local pantries.”

The duo contacted local CSAs, who supplied them with surplus produce that they then boxed and distributed to families. Chango credits Ecovillage, West Haven Farm, Joanna Green, and Elan Shapiro for helping him and Gallucci make the program a success. Ithaca Community Harvest, an organization that strives to provide all of Ithaca’s residents with locally grown, organic produce, heard about Anthony’s and Chango’s program and suggested turning it into a market box program similar to a CSA, but without the up-front investment that many families find prohibitive. Chango saw it as an opportunity to expand the program’s reach, so Ithaca Community Harvest hired him and devoted resources to support the program.


After turning over the program to Ithaca Community Harvest, Chango got involved with other groups in Ithaca’s food movement, volunteering for urban agriculture group Gardens 4 Humanity and participating in Groundswell’s 2011 Summer Practicum. Chango found the Practicum to be valuable because it covered an immense amount of information in a short period of time. He says, “I was really interested in the farm tours and seeing all of the different livestock operations, from organic meat farms to commercial dairies. I realized that the lack of butchers and processing plants are very limiting to small farmers in the area.  Mondays were also great because we were able to get in the dirt and work outside.  The two biggest things I got out of the Practicum was learning more about the regulations that surround food production, and the meaning of labels such as certified organic and all-natural.”


Chango also saw a need for emphasizing the connection between food access and farming with food and social justice in future Summer Practicum classes. He will be the TA for the 2012 Practicum and is excited to do his part to increase the coverage of food justice issues surrounding class and ethnicity in the curriculum. Because of his NYC origins, Chango is interested in the potential of city farming and rooftop gardening. The food movement in the city is much more connected to food justice issues, says Chango, and he would like to incorporate that into the Ithaca region. He also would like to more carefully examine the kind of spaces we are creating so that all people will feel welcome.


Although Chango misses the hustle and bustle of New York City, he says that he stays in Ithaca “because there is a lot of work to be done with discrimination and social inequities, especially as they relate to national and ethnic differences.” He is a big believer in community involvement and grassroots efforts to solve these problems. “Agriculture endeavors have profound political meaning,” he says. “I am a huge advocate for self-reliance and self-determination. If a people, a citizenry cannot control what goes in their mouths, they have less power than those who do. I see food as a vehicle for community and people empowerment. You can’t think about combating the ills of society without thinking about something as basic as food.”

In the future, Chango is interested in getting involved with Groundswell’s Farm Enterprise Incubator. After realizing how much difficulty livestock farmers have in procuring organic feed, he has begun to wonder what it would take to start growing feed for farmers in this area. However, despite his passion for securing good, healthy food for all people, Chango’s long term professional goals lie outside the realm of agriculture. He is studying Information Systems at Tompkins County Community College and hopes to use this degree to begin his own cell phone repair business.  When he is not studying or working at Ithaca College, Chango enjoys listening to poetry and performing as a spoken word artist. He is also hoping to teach an Ithaca Freeskool class this spring tentatively entitled “Decolonize Your Mind.”  We are very fortunate to have him as the TA for the 2012 Practicum!

Leading scientist says agroecology is the only way to feed the world

There is much discussion today about the need to “feed the world” because of the growing global population. What do you think needs to be done in order to ensure there is adequate food for everyone in the world?

HH: The issue is less on how to feed the world than how to nourish the poor and hungry. Today we produce 4600 calories per person per day, so there is enough food to feed twice the present population. The problem is that we produce mostly cheap commodities rather than quality food. These cheap products, in addition to being of low nutritional value, are based on a few crops that carry a large ecological, social, and economic footprint. What is needed is to support farmers in developing countries to grow their own healthy food by providing information, know-how, financial support for inputs, and support for them to access markets, among others.

Read the full article

Video: Malik Yakini: Undoing Racism in the Food System

Malik Kenyatta Yakini was invited to Ithaca, NY to share his experiences in Detroit’s urban agriculture development with our growing food justice movement. This community conversation took place in Cornell University’s Anabel Taylor Hall café after a weekend of food justice events in Ithaca. Yakini is a founder and the Interim Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, which operates a four acre farm in Detroit and spearheaded efforts to establish the Detroit Food Policy Council, which he chairs. He is an activist and educator dedicated to working to identify and alleviate the impact of racism and white privilege in the food system. He views the “good food revolution” as part of the larger movement for freedom, justice and equality. He currently serves as a Food and Community Fellow of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Event cosponsored by: Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming, New World Agriculture and Ecology Group at Cornell, Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell Department of Development Sociology, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Gardens 4 Humanity, Whole Community Project, Cornell Garden-Based Learning Program, Moosewood Restaurant

Ithaca’s Growing Food Justice Movement

Ithaca’s Growing Food Justice Movement

By Kirtrina Baxter

The food justice movement in Ithaca and surrounding areas is spreading fast. What exactly is a food justice movement, you ask? Well, according to Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi, authors of the book Food Justice,

Food advocates may work on several different issue areas, but share the common goal of challenging the injustices that exist throughout the dominant industrial and increasingly globalized food system. By striving to alleviate these injustices in the entire food system, the Food Justice movement is linked to and supports allied movements such as those related to the environment, land use, health, immigration, worker rights, economic and community development, cultural integrity, and social justice.”

For decades, there has been a robust local foods movement in our area, promoting healthier ways to eat while educating people on sustaining our community. However, because the planning of this was not inclusive, ultimately the benefits of this movement have not been shared by all. The food justice movement strives to correct this fact by engaging communities of color and those of limited means so that they too have access to affordable, healthy food choices. Not only that, but the food justice movement serves to include diverse voices in the planning of a local food system that benefits all populations of our community and address issues of disparities and inequities. But as the definition above alludes to, the food justice movement seeks to provide a holistic approach to addressing the inadequacies of our current food system.

The fight against our current food system is also about community health. The rates of diabetes and high blood pressure disproportionately affect people in communities of color and next, people in lower income ranges. Information about the connections between our health and our eating habits are being addressed somewhat by health agencies, however, giving community members the resources to access culturally relevant food solutions is still a large problem. 

I believe that if we educate our communities to be conscious consumers, then they would chose what is best for their families and community. I also believe that until such time as we all have the information and knowledge necessary to be conscious about our food choices, our goal as a community should be to help pass knowledge and information along by any means at our disposal. Someone could share with a neighbor about their garden and how much it feeds their family, one could start a community garden in their neighborhood, or one could choose to research and find ways to eat healthier, modeling those practices that will help to sustain our community more. Then there are those of us who volunteer or work to get information out to our communities via schools, agencies, programs and more.

As part of a growing food justice movement, Greenstar Community Projects (GSCP) and its collaborative partners have been serving our community on various levels.

In our schools: 
Ithaca Community Harvest’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program serve elementary students a cup of fruits and vegetables every day at BJM.  Also, The Youth Farm Project engages a diverse body of teenagers from our local schools. While teaching them to grow organic produce on a farm for their community and families, they also educate them around issues of social justice related to the food industry.  

In our community: 
The Congo Square Market provides an outlet for this locally grown produce of the Youth Farm Project while Gardens4Humanity, which is also educating our children in after-school programs about gardening and agriculture, helps citizens and organizations to establish community gardens in their area. GSCP’s market box pilot provided locally grown organic produce to BJM, Southside and GIAC families twice a month during fall at a reduced cost, while also providing them with nutrition information and culturally appropriate recipe ideas.
Also in the community, our partners are providing access to agricultural skills building. Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming offers a Summer Practicum in sustainable farming and local food through TC-3 and a beginning farmer trainer course. Gardens4Humanity also provides training in urban gardening and food justice. And all of our partners are committed to connecting local citizens with the local farmers who grow their food, through crop mobs, gleaning, farm field trips and community volunteer days.

Food justice is not just about food, it’s about our right as humans to access that which is necessary for us to live. Food is a basic human right and as such, we should be aware of the discrimination and injustice in our current food system and work together as a community to correct this. The Institute for Food and Development Policy had this to say about food justice advocates: “We are also committed to dismantling racism in the food system and believe in people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.Read more…

In order for us to effectively move forward on the issue of sustaining ourselves as a community, we must ensure that voices from our diverse community of citizens are represented as we move forward. In that vein, this Food Justice Summit strives to engage the “whole” community in a family day of fun to help raise funds towards the efforts mentioned above, while also providing community members with access to information and resources around agriculture, health, worker’s rights, farm and food related industries, and many other opportunities previously unavailable to them.

There are many layers and levels to how we can contribute to this food justice movement. Together these practices will form the necessary knowledge base within this community that is needed for us to become informed citizens in charge of our own destiny with regard to our quality of life. Together we will walk on October 22nd to help with the fight to inform and empower all community members to know and act in the best interest of the whole, with regard for our food system!

Kirtrina Baxter is the Program Director of GreenStar Community Projects. To learn more, visit the Food Justice Summit’s website.

Food Justice Certification Gains Momentum: Certifiers and Farm Worker Representatives Complete Training and Qualifying Exam

Food Justice Certification Gains Momentum: Certifiers and Farm Worker Representatives Complete Training and Qualifying Exam

The Agricultural Justice Project proudly announces the awarding of certificates to representatives of four organic certification agencies and five farm worker organizations who successfully completed a 3-day training on the requirements for the Food Justice Certified label.  Twenty one people took part in the training May 3 – 5, 2011, in Eugene, Oregon, which included formal presentations on AJP standards and policies, and three practice inspections on area farms and a business. Management Committee member Sally Lee explained, “A Memo of Understanding with AJP will allow the certification agencies to offer our domestic fair trade certification to farms and food businesses across North America. A unique feature of the AJP system requires the trained certification inspectors to cooperate with representatives of farm worker organizations in performing the third party verification.”

The long-term goal of the AJP is to transform the existing unjust food system. AJP envisions a food system that is based on thriving, ecological family-scale farms that provide well-being for farmers, dignified work for wage laborers, and that distributes its benefits fairly throughout the food chain from seed to table. As a first small step towards this ambitious goal, AJP is launching domestic fair trade in the United States with a social justice label, Food Justice Certified. This new label allows family-scale farms to distinguish their products from industrialized organic products. The standards for this label are based on the complementary principles of fair pricing for the farmer and just working conditions for farm and food business workers resulting in a win/win/win/win scenario in which workers, farmers, buyers, and ultimately consumers all benefit.
For more information, contact Sally Lee at agjusticeproject@gmail.com or visit the website – www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org.