Civic Agriculture and Community Engagement

Food justice can be defined as the ideal that all people have access to safe, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods in adequate amounts, no matter their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. (Whyte, Food Justice) This may seem like a basic human right, and at the same time an insurmountable barrier to equality in this country. Either way, it is especially important for minorities to recognize food injustice and fight against it. Years ago, this country was so racially divided that black people knew that their only choice was to stand up and provide for themselves or else fall victim to the apathy of people who thought of them as less than human. Of the many programs instituted by the Black Panther Party from the 1960s to the early 1980s, several of them pertained to food access and health; alongside the free health programs and clinics were a free breakfast for children program, a free food program, a food cooperative program, nutrition classes, community health classes, and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). (http://web.stanford.edu/group/blackpanthers/programs.shtml)

It was clear to the leaders of the black community and the Black Panther Party that food and health were a right and that the community was being deprived of it. Things have gotten better in some ways since the 1970’s, but frankly, not much. As some sections of the country become less openly racist and segregated people speak about racism less and less. But the United States is still segregated and systemic racism, though more insidious, is showing itself in many of the same ways it always has. As our individual and community health declines, I see a growing complacency within the black community. We seem to be ok with the lack of access to real food, and the resulting debt due to medical bills. The conversation has quieted and everyone is looking at their iphones in silence.

DeLind’s article really hit home with me when she said that civic agriculture should ‘ground people in common purpose, nurturing a sense of belonging to a place and an organic sense of citizenship.’ (p. 1) Perhaps black people have grown complacent because they feel isolated and therefore powerless. Maybe what we need is to rally around a common purpose, to rebuild our sense of community, and reinforce our sense of ethnic identity. A ‘common purpose’ certainly unified people in Ferguson. But what did we accomplish?

Will it take more deaths for black people to feel motivated to stand up together against oppression? Death and hardship are not the whole of our ethnic identity. We have a rich culture and history that needs to be spoken and heard, it needs a place and a time. What can a farmer’s market do for a community? Other than the obvious benefits of bringing fresh food and nutrition education to a food desert, it can start a conversation that has been long over due. What can we do for each other? What is our history, why are we here, and where are we going? The market will be an opportunity for people not only to physically be in the same place as their neighbors once a week, but also to feel that they are coming together for a purpose that serves not only the individual but the common good. Maybe seeing a vibrant market as a part of their community will help to rebuild a sense of pride, hope, belonging, and motivation to keep striving toward something better. A farmer’s market isn’t just a place to buy vegetables, it’s a sign that the neighborhood is alive and healthy, and reassurance that we can be our own heroes.

Nicole F.

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