By Heather E. Smith, ASC intern
On the morning of July 4th I spent time on the farm weeding and thinning carrots, and thinking about food justice. Among the many freedoms that I enjoy, I feel especially grateful for the freedom and independence of being able to grow food. It sounds pretty basic, I know. But in this day and age where we can drive through, microwave, or buy five gallons of mayonnaise if we choose, fewer of us Americans are choosing to grow our own food. We can have an avocado in a mid-Atlantic winter if we choose. Now that’s independence, isn’t it? Why bother growing and preparing our own food? Why think about what’s in season or who grew this food and where, and how fairly were they compensated when it is so easy to look the other way. But the more time I spend with my hands in the dirt, and educating myself through books like “The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved” by Sandor Katz, the more I tend to want to be apart of the solution on this issue.
On super hot or rainy days I think about the farmer. Heck, I am the farmer! And on pleasant summer mornings while weeding my carrots and celebrating my independence, I think about the hungry people of the world who don’t share these same freedoms. And I try to gather ideas. So far, what I have come up with is that if more people participate in the growing of food, this will lead to improved health and well-being of individuals and communities, mentally, physically, and socio-economically. And if we can come up with creative ways to grow food in places and contexts slightly outside of the boxes that have been neatly stacked for us, and if we can come up with creative and culturally relevant ways to get safe, healthy produce and the notion of food sovereignty into the minds and bodies of more people, we can become a part of the food justice revolution.
It used to be that people farmed their land, fed their families, and bought, sold, and traded goods and services with their neighbors. Growers saved seeds and passed them down their lineage. What they lacked in financial wealth was over shadowed by the wealth of food sovereignty. But over time many farmers migrated to the cities in search of better work. And over generations people have lost their connections to the land.
The people most negatively affected are the people on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the racial disparities in health and nutrition due to the lack of food access. A report from The Food Trust said, “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adult obesity rates are 51 percent higher for African Americans than whites and 21 percent higher for Latinos. Black and Latino children are more likely to become obese than white children. The lack of healthy food retail also hinders community economic development in neighborhoods that need private investment, activity hubs, and jobs” Poor nutrition also leads to poor academic performance and poor physical, social and emotional development.
Here are some more sobering facts and statistics: Food security for a household is defined by the USDA as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes, at a minimum: (a) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods and (b) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (e.g., without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).” Food insecurity is defined as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways. In 2011, according to feedingamerica.org, over 50 million people lived in food-insecure households. Fifty million!
Plus, much of the food grown today in the U.S. is grown with the use synthetic pesticides. Organophosphates were once used as a nerve gas in World War II. Some farmers use poisonous insecticides, herbicides and genetically modified seeds. They keep their animals confined, pump them with drugs and then sell their poisonous food for cheap. We buy it up in bulk, eat it, get sick, and die. And I mean that quite literally. Food-related diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and stroke are killing us in large numbers, and the problem is spanning generations. A couple of weeks ago I read that over twenty children in India were poisoned to death from eating food which was tainted with an insecticide. Dozens of others became ill and were hospitalized. The food was provided through a free lunch program run by the government.
Shouldn’t we be outraged by this? Maybe we aren’t because we are saturated with “hunger” infomercials, benefit concerts ending in “aid”, and depressing news from around the world. Or could it be the mayonnaise that’s coating our empathy neurons and numbing our responses? Some of us seem to have developed a tolerance for such an obscene numbers; as we sit in our comfortable environments, with our money, our cars, our freedoms, our privileges, and our access. The problem is that too many of us don’t share these privileges, and too few of us care. Somewhere along the way, only the wealthiest people became the elitist consumers of organically grown fruits and vegetables with their gardens, their mulch and endless supplies of water.
Improving access to healthy food through urban farming is a critical component of the solution that I am thinking of. And as I sat there in my carrot bed on the fourth of July, I re-affirmed my commitment to learning to grow food organically. I gathered my resolve through the carrot that I wiped on my shirt and ate. I’d taken it from the earth to allow another more room to grow. I fed myself those nutrients which allowed me to exert my energy back into the work of cultivating more food. It’s cyclical, spiritual, and if it can uplift my spirit, it certainly could do the same for others. Imagine the souls out there that could use a little levity!
I try to remind myself as often as possible, what this work is for. I’ve taken the liberty to remind you too. I try to be attentive and alert to the issues. I tolerate the heat, the rain and the row cover for this cause! Despite the pests, the weeds and the long hours, I try to become a part of the solution. To grow organically and share the experience with others is the most authentic expression of my self that I can think to employ right now. I look forward to learning and sharing the energy with like-minded people. I look forward to progress. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’d better quit looking at the computer and get back to it.