Once upon a time, as a child of eight, my mom shared with me the truth about the veal she’d order so often when we went out to eat: that it comes from a baby cow, kept immobile in its excrement before it ends up on her plate. As a child who greatly preferred animals to most people, I was horrified, and began an initiative to end the plights of all veal calves. I created all sorts of art to distribute, and brought the issue up with every person I came across. I like to think I was fairly convincing; just about everyone I came in contact with promised not to partake in veal again (although they may have just said that because I likely would have burst into tears if they refused, again, I was eight). This was the first time I grasped the notion that an individual’s choice in their diet effects more than just themselves, and that change is only possible if we try.
Fast forward to about a year ago. I have lived in many neighborhoods within Baltimore, and at that point in time I was in Irvington. While it technically isn’t a food desert due to the fact that the majority of residents have access to a car, for those who don’t all of the grocery stores were a mile or more away. While this didn’t directly affect me, it was all around me, and it was something that I wanted to change although I had no idea how. By then I was vegan (shocker) and in the works of growing most of what I was to eat that coming summer. I was already in love with living a wholesome sort of life, but I needed a push to take it further.
That came push when my boyfriend told me of his plans to attend a conference in Jackson on cooperatives. While that wasn’t a subject I was particularly invested in at the time, I take any opportunity I can to travel, so away I went. At the conference, I wandered into a seminar centered around food, particularly urban farming and food justice. A woman named Nia Umoja was leading it, and I was blown away what she was undertaking. She and her family with young children moved from Fort Worth, 400 miles away, to a impoverished neighborhood in Jackson that was at great risk for gentrification. Her plan was to transform the neighborhood into a place where developers wouldn’t try to push the residents out, led by the residents themselves and working with their particular skill sets. One of her many projects she was working on was creating a community permaculture farm, which would both feed the community and produce enough to sell for profit, which would in turn be invested back into the community. The more I heard her speak, the greater I felt inspired to action, and left Jackson with a lot of ideas in my head but no idea how to make them reality. In many ways, Jackson is like Baltimore, and seeing the great strides that were being made there made me really want to get in touch with what’s happening back home.
And that’s how I found my way to this class; to gain more skills and knowledge through doing and through watching others. I’m going to spend much of my time on the True Greens project, because of the immense satisfaction I get through growing food and because my artistic background may be of use when it comes to marketing, and I’m going to work on the Edmondson Village farmers market, because I can see how vital it is to people living within that community, and how successful it will be if we work to give the residents exactly what they want.
If you care to see what Nia Umoja and the Cooperative of New West Jackson are doing, you can check that out here: http://vimeo.com/114244409. They don’t get too into the farming aspect in this but it’s still really amazing.