Food Justice in the Bay Area: A Grassroots Panel

How can we talk about agroecology and its beauties without talking about patriarchy, colonization, institutional racisms, wealth inequality and all other kinds of social injustices?

At MESA we think it is crucial to gather voices and a strong network who can address these interconnected issues and further positive changes. For this reason, we hosted a panel at Soil not Oil Conference about food justice in the Bay Area which brought together a group of brave people doing their work within their communities. We welcomed Leo Orleans and Morris Bell both students at the Bay Area Farmer Training Program and Planting Justice staff, Hank Herrera from Center for Popular Research, Education & Policy (C-PREP) and New Hope farm, and Kelly Carlisle from Acta non Verba(ANV). The panelists each shared their personal journeys coming from different backgrounds and finding meaningful work addressing social injustices in the Bay Area.

Morris Bell shared his story as a person who spent time in prison. “If you go to prison, it is because you have some issues with yourself. So time at prison should help you work on those issues, but this does not happen . . . I know I made a mistake, I already spent a lot of time in jail. I think that I deserve a second chance, a do-over.” Morris said that he found a way to reintegrate to society by planting gardens and trees at Planting Justice. He thinks that having dignified work with living wages gives him the opportunity to be a better human being and to re-enter society successfully. He is enthusiastic about his participation in MESA’s Bay Area Farmer Training Program, hoping that the connections he is making, and the relevant skills and education he is immersed in will increase his future work and social opportunities.

“If you go to prison, it is because you have some issues with yourself. So time at prison should help you work on those issues, but this does not happen . . . I know I made a mistake, I already spent a lot of time in jail. I think that I deserve a second chance, a do-over.”  he found a way to reintegrate to society by planting gardens and trees

Leo Orleans, another student in MESA’s Bay Area Farmer Training Program, talked about the possibilities that gardens have to heal feminine values “the garden gives you the opportunity to embrace values such as nurture and care, it can be a space for personal healing”. Leo is a nursery manager for Planting Justice and says “My ultimate goal is to radicalize healing as a strategy towards decolonization and resisting neo-liberal globalization. More importantly than that, I hope to work collectively, in a multitude of creative ways that can resemble healing, to re-connect to our roots, our ancestors and our highest selves as we move forward building our ancient future.”

Hank Herrera, President and CEO of C-PREP, a community-based nonprofit which “serves vulnerable communities with participatory action research, training, technical assistance, and policy”, talked about how the many years of colonization has affected the distribution of land and wealth in the Bay Area. He pointed out how Native American people and other minorities have been dispossessed and victimized by colonial logics, “If you count how many acres the Bay Area has and if you pay the money that it cost to the native people who were dispossessed, it would be billions of dollars. It is difficult to give them the land back, but they deserve reparation, maybe money.” Hank recently formed New Hope Farms, “a worker-owned cooperative farm producing healthy, affordable food especially for vulnerable communities.” New Hope farms is based in Pinole, and links a network of small farms and small corner stores selling farm-fresh, healthy food.

Kelly Carlisle, Executive Director of Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project (ANV) which “elevates life in the inner city by challenging oppressive dynamics and environments through urban farming” shared reflections from before she began working with her community. Kelly saw problems such as displacement and gentrification as something abstract and distant, but now she faces these issues everyday in the West Oakland neighborhood she serves. ANV has a quarter acre farm located in Oakland’s Tassafaronga Park. The farm is “planned, planted, harvested and sold by youth in grades K-8. One hundred percent of the proceeds are placed into individual savings accounts for those who participate.”

Kelly also shared that as a former military officer for the US Navy, she has seen a big changes take place in war-veteran colleagues who have chosen to work in gardens. Their lives, though often psychologically altered from the pain of war, have a chance for positive regeneration through working with the earth, “they have joy seeing how their hands can produce life”. Kelly is an active member of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, and sees this work as critical for healing our increasing veteran population.

they have joy seeing how their hands can produce life

The panelists identified the following as major challenges for the growth of the food justice movement in the Bay Area:

  • Poor access to land and capital (especially among underserved communities);
  • The tendency that some of the active members of the movement have to exploit themselves in the name of change;
  • Lack of support for healthy consumption of fresh produce from urban gardens in oppressed communities;
  • Gentrification and other phenomena affecting the use of the territory;
  • Lack of voices coming from grassroots communities, i.e. “How can we encourage our people to speak for themselves?”

The International Soil not Oil Conference is an exciting space where people from multiple backgrounds gather to talk about the possibility and necessity of scaling-up sustainable agriculture to produce food in the context of global climate change and massive depletion of natural resources. For MESA, it was an honor to open the space for discussing how sustainability in the food system is only possible if we address the critical pieces of social justice in our food system.

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from left to right: Morris Bell, Leo Orleans, Hank Herrera and Kelly Carlisle

 

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