Tag Archives: food deserts

Urban Gardening as Response to Food Deserts

In this TEDtalk, Ron Finley discusses his gardening work in South Central LA, where structural racism has created food deserts, health problems, and other systemic injustices among poor communities of colour.  He talks about planting gardens in empty lots, creating farmers markets, putting kids to work, and making gardening sexy.

“To change the community, you have to change the composition of the soil.  We are the soil.”

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Growing Food and Justice: Dismantling Racism through Sustainable Food Systems

Morales, Alfonso. “Growing Food and Justice: Dismantling Racism Through Sustainable Food Systems.” In Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, 149–176. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.

This article explores food justice in communities of colour, focusing on the emergence Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI), a coalition of groups working on antiracist food justice.  In addition the article begins by placing food justice in historical context of industrial food, racialized suburbanization (white flight) and its implications for food deserts, the medicalization/individualization of food, and the emergence of community food security–which gave rise to the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) in 1995.  He situates food justice as an antiracist response to community food security, driven by people of colour.  He sees this as building on the work of community food security and its ‘systems-focused thinking’ that addresses roots of food insecurity.  By the same token, he suggests that the antiracist GFJI–spearheaded by communities of colour–complemented the CFSC.

The CFSC is “the dominant private, nonprofit organization in the field of CFS” (community food security), (152) and he suggests that it has had important impacts on federal policy (153).  It exists in “dynamic tension” with the GFJI, which works “to promote individual and organizational empowerment through training, networking, and creating a supportive community” (156).  In terms of both farmers and eaters, people of colour are some of the most marginalized (158).  By taking an explicitly racialized approach, then, the food justice movement helps avoid the colorblindness of the food movement (158).

He discusses a conference held by the GFJI which linked the problems faced by poor households (hunger, lack of access to good food, obesity) with the problems of farmers (low farm-gage prices, consolidation, overseas competition).  He reads presenters as engaging in three types of work, broadly: identifying/combating racism, advocacy for immigrant farmers and other communities of colour, and “reimagining the participation of immigrants, indigenous peoples and other communities of colour within the food system” (160).

He presents three detailed case studies of organizations that presented their work in the conference: 1: organization working with disadvantaged Hmong farmers to coordinate training, improve access to markets, and securing land and other resources (160-1). 2: An Indigenous organization working to reintroduce traditional farming and food prep.  Morales reads the presenter as extending a critique of institutional racism and the democratization of the food system (163). 3: A rural organization working with Latino immigrants to help train and support new and economically viable farming operations (165-6).  Through this process, the new farmers “trade their identity as labour for an entrepreneurial identity” (166).

Morales admits that different places and contexts are unique, but insists that “food security and food justice are woven together by individuals and organizations who recognize a problem, reconstruct it as an opportunity, and organize around it while at the same time empowering communities in agricultural production, healthier consumption, local politics, and economic self-determination.  A vision of self-sustaining, independent, yet interdependent community and local economic activity etches itself in different ways in distinct communities, not so much as resistance to industrial agriculture, but more toward establishing resilient and sustainable communities” (169).

In his conclusion, he suggests directions for future research.  First, three kinds of work: immigrant farmer/processor, food distribution systems, and small grocery/corner stores.

He also calls for applied research to “discover and advance policy objectives related to the antiracist and economic objectives espoused by GFJI and its participant organizations” (170).

He is interested in unerstanding “the organizational and institutional elements of the GFJI” as well: knowledge diffusion, growth and change, how members pursue antiracism.  He also asks how the antiracist framework of the GFJI articulates itself in relation to other frameworks of food-systems thinking: “industrial food, urban agriculture, sustainable and local food, community gardens–each has its history, ideas, and particular practices.  Each is also associated with values we often think of as incommensurate, I would argue for research that uncovers comparability in these practices and fosters dialogue among the practitioners” (171).  He also calls for research on “community formation, political activism, and approaches to leveraging food-based economic development in marginazlied communities” and the need to “understand the variety of activities taking place to shape policy to enhance the chances for economic political, and social success”(171).

Commentary/Questions

Morales is clearly more than an academic–he’s in conversation with organizations and people working on food justice, and he sees his research as a way to continue the conversations going on.  The brief contexutalization of the GFJI not only within food justice, but within the institutional racism of the industrial food system.

Like most other articles in this book, it only goes back to the early 20th century.  More specifically, it says nothing about colonialism and the emergence of property relations, despite (brief) descriptions of a indigenous food sovereignty project.  More generally, there’s no discussion of the political economy of land, except for food deserts: land prices and property vanishes as an important way to think about farming and access to land, for example.

Finally, Morales repeatedly emphasizes policy as a major focus for research, action, and a way to assess the impacts and success of food justice movement.  No doubt policy is important, but he seems to neglect other, more grassroots impacts.  Furthermore, there’s no mention of actual tensions between policy objectives and horizontal, grassroots community-building.  Although he points to tensions between the CFSC and GFJI, this seems like a missed opportunity to consider broader (or other) tensions between non-profits and more grassroots coalitions (especially in terms of antiracism).  What are the unintended (and often regressive, racist, and destructive) impacts of policies–even policies that have been fought for by food advocates (such as those discussed by Guthman)?  How might new regulations, incentives, or grant programs create new problems–such as competition and professionalization–that have led to critiques of the NGO-industial-complex?  Are there places and people who are self-consciously side-stepping these problems by doing horizontal grassroots modes of intervention in the food system?