Commitment to civic agency

Working with true greens definitely served a purpose in ensuring that people were being connected to the work we did during the semester. The sole purpose of the project was to support local growing initiatives so that students on campus could have access to micro greens that were grown right on campus. Whether or not people understand why this is important and the purpose behind our work, it was a start in introducing this to students to open their awareness of eating fresh and nutritious greens. It is redefining the way we eat as mass consumers in America, in order to awaken to some of the harsh realities of our current food system. Introducing micro-greens to UMBC diner is also introducing questions for people to pose. What are micro-greens? Why should I try them? Who grows them, and why? This is the way we begin to spark change is by first educating. And, sometimes the best way to do so is to offer a tangible medium for people to experience themselves.

Growing micro greens is not just beneficial for myself, but it something to be shared with the surrounding community. That was our role with True Greens as a producer. Our work was to be translated as an opportunity for students and community members to understand what it means to eat local, and why this is important for our earth and the people who live in it.  Our work can be seen as a commitment to democracy, as we create an alternative to large food corporations who seem to have the American food system dangling on a thread. Not to sound cliche, but until we get the big push we need from our current generation to make a shift in the food system…. that is exactly what we are doing…. dangling on a thread.

– Erika Bishoff

Hungry Harvest and Civic Values

Food Justice: First thing that comes to mind is- rights and equality. Having ACCESS to healthy nutritious and also AFFORDABLE foods. Why is it so cheap and easy to find and eat fatty unhealthy foods? Fast food places are more accessible and affordable for individuals and families than fresh produce markets. This is an example of the lack of healthy food access in some communities- college campuses and students can easily fall victims to this category.

Many students reside on campus without cars or transportation to markets, while others simply can’t fit groceries into their budget.

I really took interest in the Hungry Harvest project this semester to bring fresh produce options available and affordable to campus, mainly for student, but for staff as well, creating access to fruits and vegetables convenient for many. Hungry Harvest saves a trip to the grocery store by dropping off produce right on site. They uphold to their services being more affordable than farmer’s markets, CSA’s and other produce delivery services. This project ties in much of what DeLind discusses on civic agriculture- community, local food and farming. Hungry Harvest is taking initiative to reach out and recover local produce.

When it comes to food justice there are many factors that contribute in its system, the 2 factors I find essential that this project targets are accessibility and affordability. This project is not just between Hungry Harvest (supplier) and UMBC (consumer), there is much more behind it. Nearly 40% of all food ready for harvest goes to waste. Hungry Harvest recovers the surplus and select all the freshest fruits and vegetables. To find and make use of food waste is amazing and contributes in helping our food system.

The transaction between Hungry Harvest and the consumer does not end after deliverables are made, Hungry Harvest takes initiative to give back to a families with low socioeconomic status. A donation for every bag that is purchased is made, Hungry Harvest is partnered with a network of non-profit organizations to identify recipients who will benefit the most.

I look for justice in the accessibility and affordability of fresh and healthy foods through our work in bring Hungry Harvest to UMBC this semester.

For my final project I will create an informative brochure for UMBC students and faculty. The brochure will include details on Hungry Harvest, their purpose, contact info, how to get signed up, and benefits of signing up.

On Seeking Justice

Going about the solution to food system justice does not work when people or groups go about in separate directions or even on separate paths in the same direction. The two choices for solving food system justice have been posed as 1) Begin to make material and tangible changes by simply remedying “broken things,” such as changing our diets and nutritional awareness, or 2) Begin intellectually to form positive values and outcomes that we then put to action. Action or thinking, which comes first; where do we begin; is this duality the symptom of the same faulty reasoning that tells us the opposite of what we should think: the solution to food system justice requires the synergy of a twofold solution, action and intellect, working together in whatever ratio necessary to produce the fastest, most efficient, effective, moral, and compassionate solutions.

Setting aside the inextricable and yet obtuse association between action and intellect, I would like to examine the material solution of simply fixing “broken things.” It seems that fixing broken things has gotten a bad rap. This strategy has been tagged as a Band-Aid fix or a bunch of Band-Aid fixes that do not solve the real problem. The negative connotation of saying, simply fixing these problems, means that the work is of little consequence or easily accomplished, which undermines the arduous and necessary work that these Band-Aid fixes are doing, such as creating refugee gardens, gleaning food waste for farmer’s markets, and growing healthy, edible microgreens for college campus consumption. Combatting the epidemic of diet-related diseases requires a lot, a lot more effort beyond ending poverty, the perceived be-all-end-all solution to world hunger. Do not get me wrong—poverty is decidedly the strongest enemy to food system justice, but without Band-Aid fixes like canvassing neighborhoods to provide healthful tips for living, those who escape poverty would still consume the same glop, the same highly processed, enticing but literally killer food in their new, lower-middle class lives. And then again Band-Aid fixes have their shortcomings, especially their disparate nature that prevents them from sharing resources and joining in the fight to end poverty and all sorts of other movements. Rather in a figurative way, only an interwoven complex of Band-Aid fixes dabbed with triple-antibiotic, poverty-ending ointment heals the wound.

An idea of indelible impression arose in conversation about this subject, but it was not that I agreed, but significantly disagreed that left me ruminating. The idea to supplant Band-Aid fixes with a movement to empower people to grow their own food, even in urban areas, seems sort of ridiculous. It might work for people who do not hold jobs. But often the poor and struggling have to work multiple jobs, pulling double shifts each day to survive. Now, okay, there are options, like people could potentially quit a job, or a spouse could give up their job to produce food. But a sad portion of the urban poor does not have spouses to rely on, and when the mouths need feeding plus bills need paying, a single mother cannot leave her job to begin working the soil. Yes, that’s a severe portrait, but I’d venture to say a single mother can’t even afford to learn, and I mean learn, with no guarantee of success, to grow food. History also suggests that in order to farm, people generally tend to need more children. Now that might be amiss, because we today have better vaccines and just generally better health and medicine, which means less children die, which means we need to birth less children than in times when large families were needed to work farms because often some children would perish. Even in the best scenario, having more people on Earth to produce more food exacerbates the problem while trying to fix it—and it doesn’t even fix it, because there is enough food already (good, healthy food); people just don’t have the money to purchase it (especially not the good, healthy, food—for various reasons). So, to relegate Band-Aid fixes while harkening a new epoch of food-growing education and implementation is not the answer. Indeed, there is no answer; there are only small answers. Nothing is the be-all-end-all and no answer is better than another. They all serve a common end. Together they form a healing force that neither alone can muster. Together, in association with other Band-Aid fixes, they cause a lasting restoration.

In like comparison, action and intellect have the same synergistic effect when combined. I can’t say whether I favor one solution or another: 1) Because I am not qualified; I’m just offering empirical evidence, and 2) In the immortal words of Mr. Johnson: it’s always better when we’re together. Cynically postulating though: on one hand are insipid abstractions and on the other are various ramblings, both choices of which when working together really, actually, awesomely create stunning polypartisan food system justice. Our UMBC polypartisan projects—from lowly college students creating and leading initiatives for refugees to secure places to grow food for their own consumption; to developing awareness and hype among food desert communities for a novel, local farmer’s market where refugees might someday sell their produce; to the plans for a sustainable college farm that produces healthy, edible greens on campus for campus—exemplify the aggregate of ideas and actions, all types of diverse people, interests, abilities, values, and goals working for justice. Alone, each project is a Band-Aid fix, but cohesively sharing information, struggles and benefits, strength and weaknesses, we do good things better together than the good deeds done alone.

Small steps done by individuals are totally necessary, but what’s better is a collective effort—and usually it is difficult to parse an individual’s efforts from a movement’s, because individuals band together to create beneficial and inclusive movements that take on supporters because they do not forget their lowly roots. Whereas, exclusive movements and groups working toward the same end get mired in the insularity of their respective crews and semantic rhetoric. So, I do not resent referring to fixing problems as simple and thus somehow inferior to some intangible goal of ending poverty or a citizen-growers revolution, because I accept the shortcomings of simple Band-Aid fixes, as well as more importantly recognizing their collective potential. They are integral pieces of the whole solution. Our collection of projects serves as a microcosm for this point, but it also serves as exciting and tangible progress, a part of the real-life, larger picture—where we are actually making a difference and enacting change.

-Thomas

Connecting People to the Earth and Each Other

The food system is broken. This we are aware of. There are many reasons why, and there are many causes. One that I’d like to focus on is our societies general disconnect with the natural world. Seemingly from the dawn of industrialization, the commodity has become separate from the nature of its production. Many of us grow up under the presumption that food simply exists. We’re aware someone makes it somewhere, but the most important thing is that it’s on the shelf and not far behind, that it’s affordable. We did not grow up with the need to consider the origin of our food as generally speaking anything in the grocery store, or at a restaurant is safe to eat (I mean, someone makes sure this stuff isn’t poison, right?).

The points I mean to make are two things:
1. The ease of filling our stomachs has greatly decreased the need to consider our food sources, and..

2. Many of us have grown up without many significant experience with the natural worlds resources, making it much easier to be less emotionally connected to the provisions it gives us daily.  In this mindset, it’s much easier to equate food with supermarkets, not forests.

By taking our thoughts back to our common humanity, our basic need to eat, and the earths historic role in feeding us when we nurture it properly and work together, we can find the solutions to our common need to feed ourselves and our family good wholesome food.  DeLind describes the need to think of civic agriculture in terms of engagement with a common place, both in and out of economic market systems, perhaps encouraging a wave of societal appreciation for the full capabilities of the well nurtured and collectively-cared-for natural world.

So where does my involvement in the food forest come into this picture? In the small area that the food forest will occupy, I’m a little doubtful that it will make a massive impact with the food it produces. My goal in being a part of this project is to create an experience for the UMBC community, using the food forest as an interactive reminder of what the earth can provide for us when we cultivate it in a certain way.

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.

Real Hope

The distinction drawn, by Jill and the authors we’ve read, between working to fix “broken things” and working toward positive values or outcomes you wish to see is an important one. Working with my primary project, the Village Farmer’s Market, demands the latter approach. The fact is that it is nearly impossible to sustain the energy necessary to carry out a successful project this ambitious, with purely negative emotions. While there is a place for anger (even hate) in social activism it must be transformed into a positive, hopeful approach. Saint Augustine said,

 

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

 

Cornel West often talks about love in the form of righteous indignation. He develops this idea in his new book Black Prophetic Fire, which I highly recommend (although I haven’t finished it yet). This clip from RealTime with Bill Maher gives insight to how hate can be guided by love. (00:15-00:35)

One of UMBC’s points of emphasis for students is the development of civic agency. A great example of UMBC’s commitment to developing civic agency in students is the political science 205 (Civic Agency and Social Entrepreneurship) class taught by David Hoffman, in which students are given latitude to pursue their interests while being guided through the process of initiating change in an in institution like UMBC. I am hoping the Village Farmer’s Market can contribute to the development of civic agency within the community and it’s the individuals within.

 

In speaking with older activist over the last few years, I have heard a common theme about what makes this moment different from earlier periods where social activism made huge gains. They talk about how in the Great Depression era of activism (which gave us the New Deal) and the 60’s era (which pushed forward on many fronts) there was a sense in the aire that things were goin to improve and that people had ways to make that happen through organizations (labor unions, student orgs, political groups, etc.). Today, they say, much of that hope is lost. They talk about a defeated underclass with little hope because they see no way, no mechanism for change. The political system is such a joke, so obviously broken, that a majority of the voting population simply doesn’t bother to vote because they see no way for it to positively effect their lives. This is indicative of a belief about power that puts elite people and institutions at the top of a power pyramid where people can only ask for change from above. We need to re-establish a civic agency that will empower people and change that paradigm.

 

I think this is the only approach. In all of our projects we are hoping to fix “broken things”, but I think the ultimate goal of the Village Farmer’s Market is to empower people by connecting them to their community and re-establishing values such as: solidarity, democracy, autonomy. VFM has the ability to build hope in the community by providing a vision where people don’t wait for change to be handed down from above, but create the change they wish to see in the world – to paraphrase Gandhi.

 

Christopher Comeau

The meaning that I place in our project is multifaceted and conjoins with many ideas I have for the future. The Food Forest idea has potential to connect people as community members because it will provide the opportunity for students and other volunteers to interact with the natural landscape on our campus, a landscape which often receives little attention outside of its aesthetic value. The creation of the food forest provides the opportunity for student to recognize the potential to make long-term impacts upon their physical landscape which actually have potential to benefit the environment as well as build community awareness towards the issues associated with the food system.

I absolutely see our project as having potential to nurture values such as community, civic agency, and environmentalism. The ecological principles we are exercising in order to implement the food forest have the immense potential to inspire others to seek more profound understandings of the natural environment and possibly enact similar projects in their communities. Furthermore this project possesses the immense potential to inspire various communities to take a more invested stance in their production and consumption of food.