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.