A delegation of seven African American, Latinx, and Mexican farmers and farmworkers from the US, including WhyHunger’s own Corbin Laedlein, traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa to participate in the second South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange co-organized by members of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. This is the first in an article series by participants, co-produced by WhyHunger and Community Alliance for Global Justice.
This refection was written by Shalon Jones of Mississippi Association of Southern-Cooperatives.
In October 2017, I was offered the opportunity to participate in a US-South Africa agroecology exchange, representing the Mississippi Association of Southern Cooperatives alongside Mr. Ben Burkett. With much excitement and anticipation, many thoughts ran across my mind. Although this was a journey to gain understanding, knowledge, and bring awareness, this experience was soon to turn into a revelation.
I was always a person who loved embarking on opportunities and enthusiastically willing to learn new things. My most recent work allowed me to engage with many individuals and families about healthy eating tips and how to break unhealthy eating habits growing up. In the province of Limpopo, after visiting the Maphata Herbs Project, organized by a member of the Mopani Farmers Association named Olga, I began to see the remedy was literally at home. I toured a beautiful garden filled with home grown herbs and vegetables. All created for prevention and healing. While witnessing all the great things in Olga’s own yard, I began to think about my uncle, whose life ended due to prostate cancer illness. Right in the midst of walking through the yard there was this thought: “If I had this knowledge, could we have prevented or helped him be with us longer?” Every part of the tour was filled with enthusiasm and love. Thinking about my work, I think about how I’ve been giving the communities I serve and even myself an injustice. Not only do we need to support local farmers but learn how to grow for ourselves. This will not only help us, but everyone connected to us.
Another impactful moment was with another female farmer, Ms. Rikhotso Tintswalo Mallina, a community resident and Mopani Farmers Association member that organically grows over 20 different fruits and vegetables. In spite of her lack of resources, Ms. Rikhotso has found ways to keep her garden flourishing with a variety of produce that not only feeds her family, but the community as well.
Both of these farmers’ undeniable influence and compassion is appreciated throughout their villages and now has crossed over to the USA. While there were many more moments worth saying both experiences have caused me to not use my current apartment living as an excuse not to plant. Once arriving back in Louisiana, I planted broccoli, lettuce, and rosemary.
Now when I walk out my door I will think about who inspired me! It was all because of our South African comrades inspiring us to continue to fight for what’s best! Ms. Rithotso stated “when I met the MFA, I began to understand that it was possible.” I’m glad to say “when I met my fellow comrades, I understand that it really is possible.”