Our food system is filled with racial injustice and we have the power to do our part to change the system for the better. Will Allen has been doing some amazing work with bringing justice to the food system and communities of color with his corporation Growing Power. The more I learn about our food system, the more inspired I am to make a difference in the ways that I eat and live. You too? We have power. Let’s use it for good.
“I felt there was a lesson for young people in compost. The process showed how you could take something that others considered to be trash and transform it into the basis of life”.
“My father taught me that the fate of a seed can be predicted by the health of the soil where it takes root. This is true of summer crops. It can be true, in another sense, of people. We all need a healthy environment and a community that lets us fulfill our potential”.
“I wanted to try to heal the broken food system in the inner-city community where my market operated. So I began to teach young people from the projects and the inner city how to grow food”.
“Today, industrial beef and chicken are much less expensive, widely available, and overused… The typical American consumes more than two hundred pounds of meat in a year. Fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, have become scarce in some areas”.
“Sometimes on the sidewalks in Milwaukee, there will be a flower or a tall weed sticking defiantly out of the tiniest crack in the concrete. I realize that human lives can be like that. People find a way to persist even when they are provided the narrowest possibility”.
“All of these innovations at Growing Power came from relationships. I could not grow my compost without companies that were willing to provide their organic waste to me. The work of creating renewable energy required me to develop lasting partnerships…Industrial farming has disrupted these kinds of relationships, and it has torn at the fabric of communities”.
“The worms taught me. I couldn’t expect to put them in a box with inadequate resources and have them do well. They required husbandry, and they demanded the kind of attention and care you would pay to sheep or pigs. The worms also made me reflect again on what it took to improve the lives of people. You couldn’t place folks in the middle of a blighted neighborhood- without a strong family unit and without easy access to healthy food- and expect them to thrive. If you could create an environment in which people felt secure and healthy, though, you could provide the possibility of a better life”.
“The work of creating a new food system will offer work that engages both the spirit and the body. It will allow people the satisfaction of seeing and tasting the results of their labor. It will require the cultivation of human relationships that are off the grid, as well as an attitude of respect toward the natural world. This movement- this ‘good food revolution’, as I like to call it- will demand the best efforts of our hearts, bodies, and minds. The revolution has already begun”.
“If we can figure out ways for more people to control the growth, marketing, and distribution of food on a local and regional level- and even to grow some food within cities- I believe we can play a part in remedying some of the problems that are troubling us as a country right now: the absence of jobs, the problems of waste, the crisis of rising energy costs, and the lack of access among low-income communities and people of color to a healthy, affordable food”.
“The gradual depletion of the land’s natural health has also meant that most of our crops are now less nutritious than they were even fifty years ago. The amounts of protein, iron, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin C have all declined noticeably in all harvested fruits and vegetables in the United States from 1950 to 1999. Riboflavin, a B-vitamin that helps the body convert food into energy and is necessary for healthy skin, eyes, hair, and liver- declined overall in fresh foods during that time period by nearly 40 percent”.
“Human beings need the right amount of grit: not too much, but not too little, either… Farming is difficult work, and there are often setbacks: crop losses, spoilage, insect infestations. If you persevere through these setbacks, there is still a harvest. The lessons conveyed in farming are applicable to all other areas of life. All the good things that have come in my life were only because of grit, and my willingness to forge ahead even in the face of uncertainty and mistakes”.
“Farming does not provide instant gratification. It can take more than fifty days to bring an eggplant from a seed to harvest. A seed is not like an iPhone or computer, insanely responsive to your touch. On the day you harvest a fresh vegetable that you planted weeks before, you understand that patience matters- and that anything worthwhile cannot be done all at once… The benefits of hard work that you do now may not be felt for a very long time. But if you plant seeds and continue to tend to them- and keep faith in the harvest- good things can come”.
“I noticed that the members of our youth corps constantly chomped on chips, soda, and candy. They had grown up in families where this was the only food they knew. I had no illusions that I could change their diets right away. I didn’t pretend to be a perfect eater either. Yet I also believed that the experience of growing food could ultimately do more good than any nutrition lectures I delivered”.
“Something changes in them when they walk up to my worm systems and put their hands in the soil for the first time. They mellow. It can be a spiritual thing simply to touch the earth if you have been disconnected from it for so long. I have also seen the faces of children come alive when they eat their first tomato or sunflower sprout freshly picked from the soil. If the child planted the vegetable and watered it, the experience is particularly vivid. Most young people form the inner city have never had a face-t-face encounter with a vegetable that has just been plucked from the earth. They have never planted a seed. The experience of eating a tomato is not likely to change a young person’s eating habits dramatically in a matter of months, particularly if those habits have been established since the person was born. Yet I think early experiences with fresh food and shape a person’s diet when that person is older”.
“If you start in the middle of a rough neighborhood and with a broken family, it is difficult just to be a functioning person. It is tough to get up in the morning. It is hard not to be overwhelmed and not be disillusioned about the gap between the person you are and the person you hope to be. It is hard to be scared you’re not going to have enough to pay your rent or put food on your table… It is hard to have people look at your skin and make assumptions about you before you have a chance to prove them wrong. It is difficult to suffer the consequences of a diet you didn’t know could damage you so much until it was too late. A better food system will not fix all these problems. It won’t heal everyone. But if we can take control of the food environment in our inner-city communities- and if we can knit together the broken fabric between local farmers and our cities, and repair the damaged urban land and grow fresh soil and food there- it can provide a chance for people to have lives with greater dignity”.
“Access to reasonably priced, healthy, fresh food provides a defense against the dehumanizing and debilitating effects of diabetes and other food-related illness. A better diet will allow our young people to find more joy in their own bodies and in their minds. Growing food intensively in cities and on the edge of cities will offer the chance for new kinds of work. Creating opportunities for local farmers to connect to urban communities can help heal an emotional rift between the countryside and the ghetto. Not least, planting a small garden in your yard can provide the self-respect offing a little more self-sufficient in a world where we often are made to feel the powerless victims of the Dow Jones Industrial average, or the rise and fall of oil prices, or the employment market, or the fastest of large corporations”.
“‘We’ve got to put up a fence to protect our garden,’ people will say. I tell them no, you don’t. You have to do the harder work of engaging the community. You’ve got to make sure the neighbors know that the garden is their own, not yours… in order to build a new food system, we’re going to need a world without fences. We all have a responsibility to work together. We need everyone at the table. We’re going to need black and white, young and old, rich and poor”.
“This uneven distribution of healthy and affordable options was not unique. It was part of a broader national problem of food access and food security. A study from the United States Department of Agriculture from that time found that roughly thirty million American households were ‘food insecure’- meaning that at some time during the previous year they weren’t sure of having, or were unable to acquire, enough food to meet their basic needs”.
“The problem with the current price structure for unhealthy food is that the food is deceptively cheap. The prices for unhealthy foods rarely reflect the cost they impose on the rest of society. The health costs associated with obesity have been estimated at nearly $170 billion annually, for instance, and these costs are disproportionately affect communities of color and are often paid by federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid… The industrialized food system has long been propped up with federal subsidies for industrial farming and taxpayer money for health care once people get sick”.
“The average item of food consumed in the United States today travels fifteen hundred miles from producer to consumer, and it is buoyed on a sea of oil and gasoline. To feed just one American, the industrial agriculture; system requires, on average, the equivalent of 530 gallons of oil a year. The long journey from farm to consumer also has nutritional effects on the foods we consume. Fresh green beans, for example, have been shown to lose nearly 80 percent of their Vitamin C within a week of being picked”.
“A family living in an inner-city community today faces a radically different food environment than their ancestors did. Less than half of one percent of the food they eat comes directly from farmers. This family often lives two miles or more from a supermarket, which abandoned inner cities in the 1960s and 1970s as part of a tide of urban disinvestment. If the family is poor-and the father and mother are working one or more jobs- they contend with the daily struggle of nourishing themselves using as little money and time as possible”.
“The Raiford children gathered back at Rosa Bell’s house after a morning of work in the fields picking cotton… She was responsible for giving them strength for more work until dusk. As they picked cotton and asparagus, the family sang spirituals together: Sometimes I feel discouraged // And think my work’s in vain // But then the Holy Spirit // Revives my soul again”.
“And while some suffer from the effects of too much unhealthy food, others go hungry. Almost one out of every six households in the United States will find themselves fearful sometime this year of not having enough food to eat. These problems are not limited to one race, and they are now owing simply to faults of willpower and personal discipline. They are the symptoms of a broken food system”.
“I believe that equal access to healthy, affordable food should be a civil right- every bit as important as access to clean air, clean water, or the right to vote”.