Posted on Fri, April 24, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
4 Comments | Categories: Food Justice,
We sat down with Terra Madre 2008 delegate Jim Embry to discus his perspective on sustainability, movement building and networks, based on his work as a community organizer in Lexington, Kentucky.
Q: You have a long and strong history as an organizer, dating all the way back to the Civil Rights movement. Can you talk about any connections you see between that social movement and the emerging sustainable food movement?
I have been involved in probably every movement weve had in this country since my birth and what I feel now is that the movement around sustainability encompasses all those other movements, because you cant be sustainable if youre abusing women, if youre locking kids up in jail, if you are relying on fossil fuels for your energy. That gives me a much broader sense of what we call this effort to transform the country; everything has to be reinvented. So thats what I have grown into, and I was helped along the way by a whole variety of individuals. Back in 2000 when I spent five years in Detroit, when I traveled around both nationally and internationally, my own understanding was enhanced around the need for a sacred earth connection and our integral role as members of the earth family.
Also, I came to realize that the foundation of our civilization is food, food systems. Only by virtue of growing food can there be engineers, artists, and teachers. Only through food production can we have what we call human civilization. Also, the foundation of our sense of earth connection comes through food. Food is the foundation for how children can learn cooperation, civilization, tranquility, civility, cultural traditions and all that.
And also, being grounded in the civil rights movement, I have come to realize that what is killing black people is what we eat or dont eat. Its killing us physicallyhigh rates of obesity and cancer, diabetes, etcbut also it is killing us psychologically. Earth connection gives you a sense of connection, tranquility and peace.
I feel that this whole sense of urban ag and gardening and outdoor classrooms, are a way to better restore the sense of the American dream that we thought would be there in the large industrial cities, but the large industrial cities are so detached from natural surroundings that it has added to our insanity.
Q: When did you begin to see food, farms, and gardens as elements in the sustainability of a city?
I read a book calledWhen the Drummers Were Women
by Layne Redmondin her book, I learned about this physicality, that when women are carrying girl babies, at 4 months of gestation, that girl baby has all the eggs she will ever have. That means I was inside of my mother when she was inside of my grandmother, so right there, I might have had 4 generations of vibrations resonating in my egg. I heard the voices of my grandparents, my great grandparents, and their sense of mission, an their purpose in life. I feel that I was called upon to do this work before I was even born. My great grandfather was 4 years old at Emancipation he went on to Berea College in Kentucky, and he was there when James Bond was there, the grandfather of Julian Bond. Berea was this hotbed of activism.
Every Saturday morning my grandfather would ask: how much did you pay to get on this bus? I did too, and were not moving! This was in the 20s , way before Rosa Parks. So that kind of sentiment of transformation, change, and courage has been embedded in my family in all kinds of ways. My mother went on to become a founding member of CORE [Congress of Racial Equality], and I got involved in that from a very young age and I helped lead the march on the Frankfort capitol with Dr. King when I was 17 years old .and I spent every summer on my uncles and aunts farms, learning about edible plants and that whole love of land, and also learned how to use my hands a lot, so I had this mentality that when things broke you just fixed them.
So on the one level, I have been involved since before I was born. I believe that in the South, what kept African people from not killing all white folk in the south was the tranquility that earth connection gives you, people were working the land and that provided a certain quality of civility .I have a friend who says that through gardening we find our humanity. Those things help make us a human.
So when I was growing up in the city of Richmond, we had a huge backyard garden, wed eat potatoes right out of the grown, go out and harvest hickory nuts and walnuts, all kinds of wild edibles. So I grew up in that kind of ethos. I think as the whole Slow Food movement has developed, in my view it is a whole continuum that has been going on. Carver laid out the framework for sustainable food systemscrop rotation, cover crops, what we now call organic gardeningbiodiesel is big now he was saying that in 1910! We cant forget what has come before us historically. I call slow food a great remembering of what came before us. Everybody eats! We just need to connect with you in a variety of ways, wherever you are. We have to help people realize that, yeah, I am a part of this movement.
Q: Your organization Sustainable Communities Network brings different groups and people together who all have at least one common goal: making Lexington KY a more sustainable place to live. Can you talk a bit about the role of networks and partnerships in creating this kind of change?
By using the word network, in many ways we are just mimicking the ecosystem, nature, the environment, which is essentially a network. Quantum is about relationships, it is not about separate entities/silos. It is fundamental to life, which means that if human beings want to have this sense of spiritual connection, then one of our essential forms of connection is through relationships and networks. I have been an organizer/activist pretty much my whole life so I am always trying to meet people and trying to find ways that we can work together and collaborate.
Every day meet a stranger, is my philosophy. I try to network with the broadest spectrum I can, especially the folks who needclearlybetter quality food, better sense of self esteem, need involvement. Our network can be that sort of outreach that can connect the people who like to eat the finest of food, with those people who dont know where tomorrows meal is coming from. We dont need to develop a CSA for middle class white people. Lets first develop a CSA for the poor black community out here that doesnt have any other optionlets look at how we prioritize these initiatives. How we better refine, enhance, create different forms of networking is really important work in this next period of time.