Posted on Thu, November 19, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
1 Comments | Categories: Events, Farms and Farming, Food Justice,
by Ryan Kimura, Slow Food Chicago
The 2009 Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI) gathering held at the beginning of November brought together a diverse crowdwriters, teachers, urban farmers, ethnic group leaders, students, and activists. Together, we sought to find a common bond from which to work to dismantle racism and empower low-income communities and communities of color through sustainable agriculture.
At the gathering, we all had different backgrounds, cultural heritages, and talents. We recognized that that these aspects affect the way we work and talk with each other. The gathering was about learning how to forge relationships, especially across cultures, to present a united and committed front on the food issues that we care about. Ultimately, we are all tied together in our mission for a more delicious and just food system for all.
As a board member for the Slow Food Chicago chapter, I attended the gathering to learn how others have improved access to good food in low-income communities. For 2010, our chapter has been planning work in one particular food desert in the city, so it was stimulating to hear about similar projects and others experiences. Yet, the spiritual approach and racial undertones of the gathering shifted me out of my comfort zone. Social justice work is new to me, like it might be for other Slow Food members, and having honest conversations about the role and impact of race and income in food systems was challenging. I knew that I had a lot to learn and did a lot of listening.
I left the gathering with a few key takeaways that I will be bringing back to my community. Hopefully these lessons are valuable to you as Slow Food chapter leaders, volunteers and supporters.
Rethink the administration needed Speaking during the gathering, Will Allen, founder of Milwaukees exemplary Growing Power, urged non-profits and project leaders to not get caught up in the administration or the overhead around organizing food justice projects. He suggested that we capitalize on inspired individualsthose that are committed to the core ideals of food justice projectsand set them up with the resources they need to get projects off the ground instead of wading through drawn out decision-making that can often hinder boards or committees from achieving prompt forward movement.
Be willing to work with the enemy Recently, Growing Power started supplying Milwaukee Public Schools with their produce. Will explained that since Sysco is the mandated supplier of all food for the schools, the only way to deliver Growing Powers produce to the schools was to work with Sysco instead of against them. Rather than employ an idealist approach for farm to school programs, Will took advantage of the existing food service infrastructure to improve the quality and access of food. Will emphasized, Give them an opportunity to do the right thing.
Government support is key When Milwaukees City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcouxs spoke, he wowed a room full of skeptical and work-hardened farmers, teachers, and activists. He passionately explained how much the city valued the commerce, jobs, and social change provided by Growing Power. We were all refreshed and inspired to hear what can happen when government and a non-profit work together. The city committed to making permitting and other city processes easy as well as providing financial support for the planned $10 million building at Growing Power.
Get the support of the community & make it a community decision Give community leaders control over the outcome of the project. Ensure that there is diverse representation in the leadership that accurately reflects the impacted community. The more someone is involved and has ownership, the greater the likelihood that they stay engaged and committed.
Take the pulse of potential partner organizations When reaching out to like-minded organizations, take survey of active groups in the area, including community organizers, religious groups, cultural organizations, food pantries, and food policy councils. Be sure to understand the work being done by the organization, and have some ideas in mind about how to work together. When establishing partnerships, be very clear about the commitment from each, and make sure to follow-through.
Know your audience When reaching out to those that dont typically care about food issues, understand the readiness of the audience to receive your message and reframe the issue to resonate with the audience. Not everyone likes hearing about food issues in an academic and Michael Pollan-esque manner. Many people that work in African-American communities suggested that food issues would be better received framed in a cultural context. Consider teaming up with community organizers more familiar with the concerns of the neighborhood.
To build relationships with ethnic and cultural groups different from our own volunteer in the community, use existing relationships or organizations within the community, or setup a meet and greet, and listen. Try not to rush the work; a relationship must be built before groups can work together.
These lessons can be applied on any food justice project, whether working to bring fresh food into underserved areas, establish community gardens, or educate children on food sustainability. It was invigorating to hear the progress being made and the big role that youth are playing. More importantly, I think we all learned to take a step forward, as people of all colors, to work together to begin to reach a broader, newer audience.