Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Growing Food and Justice For All

By Nicole Sugerman

This past weekend, I was fortunate to be able to travel to Milwaukee to attend the second annual Food and Spirit Gathering of the Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI). A two-year-old coalition made up of food producers, consumers, workers, and advocacy groups from all over the U.S. and Canada, GFJI is a grassroots effort dedicated to dismantling personal and institutional racism to promote a just and equitable food system in which everyone can afford to eat fresh, healthy food. The conference was immensely inspiring, so I wanted to share some of the highlights.
The conference takes place in Milwaukee because it is hosted by Growing Power, one of the most successful and innovative urban farming projects of which I know. Growing Power was started and continues to be run by a man named Will Allen, a former pro-basketball player who grew up in our very own state of Pennsylvania. Growing Power operates on two acres on the outskirts of the city, and employs over 30 staff people. The farm produces amazing quantities of baby salad greens in twelve or so hoophouses. In these hoophouses, Growing Power also raises tilapia and yellow perch in aquaponic systems filtered by watercress, and raises multitudes of worms through its extensive vermicompost system. The compost created by the worms is used as a base of the growing medium of all of the plants grown at Growing Power; this nutrient-dense soil, called worm castings, is vital to the plants’ health and enables intensive plant spacing of the crops.

Growing Power also raises 37 alpine goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and bees. Visiting this facility gave me many exciting ideas and dreams for our own urban farms. We are already working on our own vermicompost system- I cannot wait until it is finished and in use.

In addition to touring Growing Power, I also attended thought provoking workshops throughout the weekend. I attended one workshop where we discussed the legacy of white people in positions of power, who (often unintentionally) speak for the communities of color they are trying to help. Often, the ‘experts’ get asked their opinions, or make decisions, although they are not directly affected by the issue that they are trying to address, while those who are impacted are not invited to the table. I notice this happening all the time in food justice work; often, in talks, events, or policy decisions about hunger or health, the people actually experiencing hunger or diet-related ill-health are not present. We brainstormed ways to make sure that people of color are ensured the space to speak for and about themselves and their own communities rather than being spoken for by mostly white experts.

Another workshop I attended focused on domestic fair trade. Already the subject of a past shareletter article, domestic fair trade is an idea about which I am very excited. Similar to the already existing international fair trade label, domestic fair trade is an auditing system that visits participating farms, ensures that they are treating their workers well, then gives them a label for their goods so that consumers know that they are supporting farms with fair labor practices. Two members of the Agricultural Justice Project, the coalition behind the domestic fair trade initative, discussed their individual efforts and interest in this project and the specifics of the program.

As a conference first and foremost about food, the gathering featured delicious, local meals from Growing Power and other local farmers. In addition to the formal learning I did, one of the weekend’s highlights was meeting and weekend’s highlights was meeting and talking with people engaged in really interesting projects from all over the country. GFJI draws members of all ages, races, cultures, and backgrounds; I enjoyed plugging into such a diverse, thoughtful, and hopeful movement of people working together toward equity and food justice.

Growing Food and Justice For All: https://www.growingfoodandjustice.org/Home_page.html

Growing Power:

A collection of resources on race and the food system:

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