Connect Blog | WhyHunger

Amanda Staples and Matt McFarland seem to have a secret garden. Except that, unlike in the famous story, their garden has only three tall, vine-covered walls surrounding it. The fourth side opens to the street, and Amanda sells her produce there each Wednesday in addition to providing for a ten-family CSA.

The lot had been abandoned and overgrown for thirty years until Staples and McFarland, following a dream they’d had of owning and operating a small farm in the city, bought the lot and the house behind the lot’s back wall. For a year they cleared the land and prepared the soil for planting.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has been seeking out and supporting city growers like Staples and McFarland since it launched the Philadelphia Green initiative in 1974 with a mission to support grassroots efforts at tree planting and gardening throughout the city. So it’s not surprising that PHS found Staples’ project, now called Germantown Kitchen Garden, just when Staples needed help most, in the form of seedlings, seed, tomato framing, row cover, pest controls, salt hay, and massive loads of compost. Staples hopes to make it a viable business, something she can do full-time while her husband continues work as a software designer. She’s weaning herself off PHS’ support, buying her own seedlings and other materials as the garden progresses.

This is not the first kinda-secret-garden to pop up in Philly. The city has a long history of community gardens and “guerrilla” gardens. The Vacant Lot Cultivation Association was founded in 1897, to help people access land and start market gardens. Food rationing during World War I and World War II spurred many Philadelphians, as it did with Americans throughout the country, to plant gardens for food. And the exodus of black farmers from the sharecropper south in the early to mid-nineteenth century brought a new agrarian population to the city.


In the 1970s, the community vacant-lot gardens took off, just as the industrial boom imploded, leaving over one-hundred thousand people jobless.

At the same time, another wave of southern blacks moved north. They were joined by Puerto Ricans, who had begun arriving in small numbers during and after World War II and were now coming by the thousands, pushed by the transition of their island’s economy from agriculture to export-oriented industry, and by Southeast Asians escaping the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Many of these newcomers came from rural environments where they grew food or worked on farms. They brought an agricultural knowledge and ethic with them, though largely in the hands of the older generations.

PHS’ Ernesta Ballard launched the Philadelphia Green initiative in 1974, and the Penn State Extension began its Urban Gardening Program in 1977, a success that was eventually folded into a long-running U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program. By the 1990s over two thousand projects covered the urban farm spectrum from gardens raising ornamental flowers to food-producing small farms similar to Germantown Kitchen Garden.

The success of PHS in creating a web of small growers throughout the city has necessitated gradual expansion of their services. In 2004, community growers began asking PHS if they could bump up the capacity to share their fresh produce beyond the reach of individual growers’ family and friends. PHS received a grant from the Albert Greenfield Foundation to begin a program that connects growers with food cupboards like SHARE. They also began a program at the city jail to teach basic gardening, nutrition, and job skills in a rehabilitated greenhouse on the prison grounds. The seedlings from the city jail program were used in educational garden programs and for fruit orchard plantings.

In 2009, PHS received the USDA's Community Food Project (CFP) grant to expand on these five-year-old efforts. The city jail program expanded to incorporate a work-release project to place released inmates into landscaping jobs. The grant allowed them to create greenhouses, more raised beds, and community workshops at the SHARE food pantry distribution site. They can now supply a network of over 100 growers with 200,000 vegetable seedlings.

SHARE and PHS were able hire a farm manager at SHARE to operate the produce garden and seed nursery at the distribution warehouse. Truck drivers, often volunteers from the various churches and food pantries, see the gardens while they wait for their trucks to be filled. Bill, the farm manager, tells them about growing healthy produce in the city. This year, ten of the churches connected to SHARE have asked Bill to help them establish a church garden on their site. Grassworks simplicity and patience at work.


In the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of North Philly, the East Park Revitalization Alliance Farm (EPRA) began in 2003 as a community-based non-profit. They’ve helped to establish over a dozen community gardens, thirteen acres of community green space with new tree plantings, and helped organize mural paintings to bring art into the neighborhood. At the EPRA Farm, a small table holds baskets of hot peppers, tomatoes, okra, greens, pears, squash. Two young employees work the farm stand on a humid October afternoon.

Ray Boston, aka Razor, walks over in gray dress slacks, white shirt and tie, and blue cardigan sweater. He smiles as he asks the young women working the stand if there are any insects in the $1 pint of okra.

He’s lived in this neighborhood since 1985. He remembers another garden two blocks over run by some older guys.

“Mr. Wilbur and Mr. Gray were old fellows,” he says. “That lot was an old church and had been vacant. So these guys were retired, sitting around not doing much. They were from down South. So they started growing on the lot. Had a rooster. They’d give you vegetables, kinda like this farm. Then one died and then the other died. New houses went up but they didn’t wipe out the garden like we thought they might. So God is good.”

*The above photo was taken by Charlotte Dillon.

WhyHunger stands in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. The fight for clean water and environmental justice is inextricably linked to the struggles to end hunger and poverty worldwide.

A Brief Timeline

After the town of Bismark, ND rejected the Dakota Access Pipeline in their region due to concerns over water contamination and environmental impact in 2014, regulators decided without consent or approval from tribal members that the course of the new pipeline would cross Sioux treaty lands, bringing with it those same concerns for the water and land. The new route of the pipeline would pass half a mile North of Standing Rock reservation and cross the Missouri River. For months, thousands of people have been occupying the proposed construction site at Standing Rock, where they are not only physically resisting the pipeline with their bodies but also building a movement based on a 500 year tradition of indigenous resistance, ushering in solidarity across the struggles for climate justice and indigenous rights.

Following militarized attacks on water protectors in October 2016, the United Nations called for an end to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, validating the Sioux struggle at Standing Rock. In response to silence from President Obama, activists announced plans for a national day of action on November 15th 2016 to demand that the United States government remove the permits for construction and investigate human rights abuses at the camps. In a move many see as a response to the on-going activism, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a statement to pause construction pending “additional discussion and analysis” on November 14th.

Water protectors responded to this with an even stronger message: they will not wait for an answer, construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline must cease and the Department of Justice must investigate human rights abuses against water protectors at Standing Rock. As part of the national day of action, I attended a solidarity action in New York City, where the WhyHunger office is based. The carefully planned event combined principles of non-violent direct action with song, dance and prayer. Chants like “Water is life!” “People over oil!” and “We stand with Standing Rock!” echoed through Foley Square, bouncing off the towering government buildings around us. I was reminded that in dark and uncertain times, unifying in a common struggle is evermore necessary to continue moving forward on the issues that matter: food, water, land, and justice.


The Road Ahead

While President Obama has not directly met water protectors’ demands on the pipeline, President-Elect Trump is predicted to have an even harsher stance. Facing the cold North Dakota winter, water protectors are standing their ground and those in solidarity around the country are strengthening their efforts. The fight at Standing Rock is a critical moment not just for the local community but for social movements working for environmental and social justice around the world. Here are some ways we can all support the fight for clean water and climate justice at Standing Rock:

1.Find out if your bank is funding the pipeline. Move your money or write to your bank.
2.Follow and support our partners on the ground like Indigenous Environmental Network.
3.Find an action or organization near you and get involved.
4.Send monetary donations or supplies to Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp at Standing Rock.
5.Visit Standing Rock! Support is needed in the camps so that water protectors can continue defending their land.
6.Keep learning, sharing and engaging on social media with the hashtags: #WaterIsLife #NoDAPL

Food justice cannot be realized without access to clean water and land. WhyHunger supports the water protectors at Standing Rock and the fight for environmental, social, and economic justice.

This is a repost of an article originally written and published by GRAIN.

Could your pension be pushing small farmers off their land?

Around the world, farmers are losing their lands, often violently, to large companies and speculators who see farmland as a lucrative investment. But what are the complex mechanisms behind these processes? Could your pension fund be contributing to land grabbing in places like Brazil?

This animated video shows how a global farmland fund, managed by US financial giant TIAA-CREF, used a complex company structure to avoid restrictions on foreign investment in farmland in Brazil. It then acquired lands from a Brazilian businessman who has used violence and fraud to grab large areas of farmland from small farmers and indigenous peoples in the Brazilian states of Maranhão and Piauí. This video is intended to pressure pension funds to publicly disclose the names and locations of the farmlands they have acquired across the world and to stop speculating on farmland.

Struggles over land and resources are intensifying in Brazil, where 150 environmental activists have been murdered since 2012, many of whom were fighting to protect the lands of small farming communities. It is important for us to expose the actors and mechanisms behind this violence and say STOP to farmland speculation and land grabbing.

If you have a pension, contact your pension manager to say you do not want your savings contributing to land grabs and farmland speculation!

Like so many of our fellow Americans, the staff at WhyHunger gathered this morning to reflect on a moment in our collective history that has the power to reshape our country and our future. We feel a deep sense of urgency to support and lift up our grassroots partners who have been on the forefront of the movement to end hunger and to build a world brimming with -- not just food justice -- but social justice. It is alongside them that we are strengthening our resolve to transform our collective food system into one that is socially and economically just, nourishes whole communities, cools the planet and ensures the rights of all people to food, land, water and sustainable livelihoods.

This is a critical juncture in our nation’s history. It is a moment for political education where we must strengthen our shared understanding of the systems and institutions that have fostered the deep divides along racial, gender and class lines, and the painful struggles of those communities most impacted by the failures of the current political and economic systems. It is a moment to come together with the millions of Americans who share our values of social justice and equity for all. To double down on our strategies to build and strengthen grassroots-led movements for food justice and food sovereignty; to work for social justice by addressing the root causes of hunger and the deep inequities of poverty at the intersection of economic inequality, racism, health and the environment; and to protect and advance the right to nutritious food for all.

Now more than ever, this is the time to recommit ourselves to building strong and vibrant social movements that lift up the ideals of the just, hunger free world that we all want to see. Our work for the last 41 years has been to nourish, support and accompany these grassroots organizations and social movements to further their work and build power together. We remain committed to continuing to build alongside our partners with even greater urgency. We have seen firsthand the resilience, power and beauty of the community-led solutions that are transforming our communities, our country and our world for the better – from vibrant urban farms and rural co-ops, to food banks and food pantries working at the root causes of hunger, to youth leadership development and Veggie RX nutrition programs, and from networks and alliances to large-scale social movements. We know that it is with, and only with, a grassroots movement led by those who are most affected by the injustices of hunger and poverty that we can achieve real change.

We know we are not alone. There are millions of people in this country who want change and are ready and willing to address the structural issues that we are facing, like so many of you who have supported our work and the work of our partners over the years. Together, we must move forward by envisioning and then building the country and world we want to live in where nutritious food, a dignified life, opportunity and justice are a right for everyone. We need to take this moment of pain and build. We need to come together and be bold in our resolve to continue the struggle. We must reject racism, sexism, misogyny, bigotry and hate as a critical step on the journey to build social justice and peace for all. We must use this moment as an opportunity to elevate the discourse, the actions and engagement of all those who share our belief in justice for all.

At WhyHunger, we pledge to continue with urgency and determination to build this global and growing movement with our partners, foster dialogue and collective action and continue to support and amplify the voices of those facing hunger, poverty and injustice. We will keep bringing you stories of hope and glimpses of the communities and people who are transforming our world each and every day. We will bring you opportunities to learn, engage and act, because we need you in this struggle. Together, we know that we can and will build a just world for us all.

In Solidarity, 

The WhyHunger Staff

The below statement was drafted by Maria Luisa Mendonça of the Justice and Human Rights Network (Rede Social). WhyHunger stands in solidarity with our partner, Landless Workers Movement (MST), and has signed this letter along with the National Family Farm Coalition, Grassroots International, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and others. Please read below to learn why this is important. 

Armed police raid the MST’s National School, detain MST members and fire live ammunition

Early on the morning of November 4, an estimated 10 vehicles full of armed civil and military police raided the Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes (ENFF) in Guararema, Sao Paulo, detained several MST members and waved their weapons and fired live ammunition. The school is owned and run by the Landless Workers Movement (MST). The brutal action is part of an illegal crackdown operation against the MST spanning three states - Parana, Matro Grosso do Sul and Sao Paulo.

In another operation against an MST camp in the state of Paraná, six other local MST leaders were detained for unknown reasons.

The MST was created over three decades ago and is Brazil’s largest social movement dedicated to peacefully defending small farmers’ access to land. The MST has assisted hundreds of thousands of peasant families in gaining land for farming with the support of articles 184 and 186 of Brazil’s 1988 Constitution. The MST has also played a central role in the peaceful protest movement opposing the anti-democratic removal of former President Dilma Rousseff from office earlier this year.

The Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes campus was financed with donations from notable figures such as Brazilian musician Chico Buarque, photographer Sebastião Salgado and the Portuguese Nobel Prize winning author José Saramago. Hundreds of Brazilian and international intellectuals, teachers and artists have regularly contributed lectures, courses and teaching materials to the school. The Escola Nacional is a symbol of solidarity to the rural movements in Brazil that advocate for the democratization of education and land.

The raid of the school by armed police was carried out without a warrant. According to reports, police arrived around 9:25am with a supposed warrant to arrest two individuals who weren’t present at the school. Police agents climbed over the reception gate and shot multiple rounds. Based on the bullet casings found at the scene, the police used lethal bullet rounds – not rubber.

According to the MST, two members of the movement were detained and subsequently released a few hours later. Those detained were the singer Gladys Cristina de Oliveira and 64 year-old librarian Ronaldo Valença Hernandes, whose rib was fractured during the incident.

State-led attacks against the MST began escalating during the month of September when several members of the MST were arrested and accused of being part of a “criminal organization” under Brazil’s Law of Criminal Association.

We call for an immediate end to the repression and criminalization of the MST and other grassroots organizations in Brazil, and for the release of all those arrested on groundless charges.

Advocacy for land rights and peaceful protest are essential rights that are protected under Brazil’s constitution and that must be respected by all Brazilian authorities.

Learn more about what’s happening here.

WhyHunger's 2015 Annual Report has just been released! This report is full of our achievements and impacts over the past year as we continue to build a broad-based social movement with our grassroots partners to ensure that everyone has a right to nutritious food. In this report you’ll find updates on annual campaigns such as Hungerthon and Imagine There’s No Hunger, as well as programmatic work done through the Grassroots Action Network, Global Movements, Artists Against Hunger and Poverty and the Nourish Network for the Right to Food, with a highlight on alliance building with Closing the Hunger Gap and the National Black Food and Justice Alliance.

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Here’s an excerpt from WhyHunger’s Executive Director, Noreen Springstead:

“With one year as the executive director under my belt, I feel honored and excited to be working with our staff, board, grassroots partners and you to lead such an incredible organization. Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres started WhyHunger in 1975 to move beyond food charity and address the social justice issues at the core of hunger. We remain true to that mission today. We stand in solidarity with our community-based partners all around the globe and listen to their wisdom to inform our work. Together
we move our strategy forward to tackle the root causes of hunger by building a strong movement rooted in grassroots innovations, social justice and the right to nutritious food for all. What we know for certain is that charity alone will not end hunger; working for social justice will.

Food pantries and soup kitchens across our country are dedicated to the necessary task of feeding hungry people, but giving out food only solves hunger today. This model of charitable food distribution cannot address the problems that trap millions of people in a cycle of food insecurity and poverty. We need passion, strategic-thinking, community-led solutions, effective policies and unified power emanating from the grassroots to tackle these issues. We need a movement.”

Download and read the full annual report.

This Q & A was originally published by the New York City Food Policy Center.

Noreen Springstead began her career with WhyHunger in 1992 working at their front desk. Twenty-four years later, her vision as the Executive Director guides the organization’s marketing strategies and establishes successful philanthropic partnerships. She has built steadfast relationships with notable artists and their record companies through WhyHunger’s Artists Against Hunger & Poverty program, which have resulted in millions of dollars in aid to WhyHunger and other community-based members of their Grassroots Action Network. Noreen’s commitment to making nutritious food a human right by supporting sustainable, community-based solutions to ending hunger defines her work with WhyHunger and their mission.

New York City Food Policy Center (FPC): What inspired you to become a hunger advocate? Was it something in your background? Was there a specific trigger or moment?

Noreen Springstead (NS): I’ve always been on a quest to understand the deep essence of freedom. What does it mean to be free? At a basic human level, the freedom of want as articulated by FDR is among the most intriguing to me and inspiring for my anti-hunger and food justice work especially given that FDR’s Four Freedoms speech inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I wholeheartedly believe in a human rights framework to advancing social justice for all.

FPC: What drives you every day to work to end hunger and fix our food system?

NS: A desire for all people to be free from hunger with access to bountiful nutritious food is at the core of my drive and that comes from a belief in fairness in the midst of abundance. When workers toil long hours under the hot sun to pick the food for our table and are paid measly wages for a hard day’s work while big corporations profit and the workers go hungry, we know the food system is broken. It’s broken up and down the food chain; from field to truck, from market to table, all the way to food and farm policy in Washington, D.C.

FPC: You have spent your entire professional career at WhyHunger. How has your work evolved and what are you most proud of in your 24 years with the organization?

NS: I began my career at the front desk with a passion and drive to make a difference whether that was improving office infrastructure or influencing programmatic services for greater impact. It has been an adventure that has spanned the globe, giving me firsthand experience at the grassroots level with some of the most extraordinary people who are changing the world, from the bottom up in the fields and at food banks and food pantries. I’ve sat with cabinet secretaries and urged changes at the USDA and other agencies. And, I’ve had the opportunity to work with well-known artists to use their platforms to talk about the great injustice of hunger in our world. Today, I am most proud of the fact that we have honed our strategy and are very intentional about growing a movement grounded in social justice with a human rights framework. I believe people understand that a forty plus year system of feeding is not the solution to hunger and because economic inequality has been so exacerbated and touched so many in the last decade, they are more in tune to finding new approaches that address the deeper inequities of poverty.

FPC: What in your food life at home has changed because of your work with WhyHunger?

NS: As a family, we are more conscious of what we are consuming. I’m always striving to make sure we all eat a well-rounded nutritious diet while not being afraid to splurge. You know there is a change in awareness when you are sitting around the kitchen table talking about high fructose corn syrup as well as who picks the tomatoes at the table. Those things translate into a broader understanding of our broken food system and the role different actors play in it. That sets the stage for change at both a personal level and societal level.

FPC: How does WhyHunger differ from other organizations dedicated to ending hunger? Can you talk about the role that social justice plays in guiding WhyHunger’s work?

NS: WhyHunger is different because we’ve always looked at the root causes of hunger. Social justice is our guiding light and we work at the intersection of hunger with economic inequality, racial inequity, health, and the environment. We are at the forefront of the movement to shift the prevailing model of food charity to food justice rooted in the wisdom and experience of the grassroots. We look to grassroots leaders and those most affected by hunger to guide our work and to ultimately lead the movement we are working to build.

FPC: What is the one food policy change at the local (or state or federal) level that would have the greatest impact on hunger?

NS: At the federal level we need to keep a well-resourced first line of defense against hunger through the Federal Nutrition Programs; however, because so many people who are hungry in America are working, I believe an enhanced Earned Income Tax Credit could make a huge difference to people who are working and struggling to pay the bills and feed their families. Strong legislation on raising the minimum wage is also in order for the same reasons. I also believe that reforming our agriculture policies, especially tackling subsidies so that they are fair and don’t simply go to support big agribusiness, needs to be paramount to fixing our broken food system and creating one that is healthier, more diverse, less concentrated, and better for our environment.

FPC: What do you see as sources for positive change in our food system?

NS: There is a convergence of consumer awareness about food and a populist uprising around economic inequality that has the potential to shape a powerful audience who can support just food policies in America. Organizers, activists, and organizations, like WhyHunger and so many of our grassroots partners, are coming together to form networks and alliances, both regionally and nationally, to support each other and our greater vision for change. I am excited by the power and potential of building a strong, unified movement that works across various sectors and industries to address the underlying issues in our food system and create real change.

FPC: What is the one food issue you would like to see addressed by the presidential candidates/a new presidential administration?

NS: Hunger. It’s the starting point for bigger conversations about social justice. As a country, we need to agree that no person should go hungry. There is something fundamentally wrong in our nation when people are struggling to feed themselves and their families in a land of great abundance.

FPC: What is one problem in our food system that you would like to see solved within this generation?

NS: We need to dismantle the highly concentrated wealth and power of big ag and its negative influence on our health and the degradation of the earth. We need to invest in small and medium scale farms, farmers, farmworkers, and food businesses who are enhancing local and regional food and farm economies and creating access to more nutritious food while not only mitigating the effects of climate change, but also replenishing the land through more sustainable and agroecological farming practices.

FPC: How can individuals make changes at home and in their communities to help end hunger?

NS: Consumers have a tremendous amount of power. Shifting your purchases to support local farmers and healthy food choices can have a big influence. Get involved locally at a community based organization that fulfills your interest while expressing your voice with a national organization or coalition working to create long term change. Use your social media channels, small donations or your voice with local officials to support movements that address the root causes of hunger, like the Fight for $15 or the Fair Food Program of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Grew up in: Oradell, NJ
Background and Education: Rutgers Political Science B.A.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Broken
Food policy hero: John Steinbeck
Your breakfast this morning: Eggs and Toast
Favorite food(s): Cheese and Chocolate
Social media must follow/Food policy website(s) you read: Shaun King
Photo credit: Michael Paras

For over 30 years WhyHunger's Hungerthon tradition has tapped into the power of radio personalities, listeners, celebrities and fans to raise $16 million for the fight to end hunger in America and the right to nutritious food for all. Each November, WhyHunger, its radio partners and celebrity ambassadors team up to raise awareness about hunger and poverty and to engage the public through radio broadcasts, merchandise, social media activation and an extensive celebrity-driven online auction. Funds raised are invested in long-term, community-based solutions to hunger that help communities across America.

“We believe that hunger is a solvable problem and that nutritious food is human right,” said Noreen Springstead, WhyHunger Executive Director. “Hungerthon is an incredible opportunity for people to get involved and make a difference in the fight against hunger. We know that with the help of the community and radio partners, like SiriusXM Satellite Radio, CBS Radio New York, Cumulus New York and iHeartMedia, we can continue our work to help more families access healthy, affordable food and create a future free from hunger.”

2016 Hungerthon Ambassadors Emily Kinney, Kenny Loggins and Switchfoot are using their public platforms to help raise awareness for the campaign, and to educate and engage their fans in action to help end hunger in America.

“WhyHunger was founded on the belief that musicians and the music community have the power to fuel social change and Hungerthon has been part of building the movement for social justice and an end to hunger for three decades,” said Hillary Zuckerberg, WhyHunger Artist Against Hunger & Poverty Director. “We could not be more thrilled to be working with our 2016 Hungerthon Ambassadors to continue this tradition.”

With 42 million Americans struggling with hunger, WhyHunger asks everyone to join the campaign. Here's how to take action and contribute to WhyHunger’s work:

  • Visit this fall and make a donation to receive signature gifts such as a John Lennon “Imagine There’s No Hunger” Campfire Mug, Hungerthon Full-Zip Sweatshirt, Hungerthon Tee, Hungerthon ¾ Sleeve Baseball Tee or a Hungerthon Women’s Tank Top.
  • Spread the word and join the conversation on social media using the #Hungerthon and #GiveThanksgiving hashtags.
  • Tune in to Hungerthon on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, CBS Radio New York, Cumulus New York, iHeartMedia and more this fall to hear from celebrity ambassadors, grassroots leaders and community organizers who are building solutions to end hunger in America.

Starting Nov 8th, visit to bid on exclusive auction items including autographed memorabilia and celebrity experiences. Included among the many items that will be up for bidding in this year's Hungerthon are:

  • Autographed Bruce Springsteen Guitar 
  • Autographed Usher Guitar
  • Autographed Sting Guitar
  • Piano bench autographed by John Legend 
  • Lunch with Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau
  • 2 tickets to see Billy Joel on November 30th at Madison Square Garden
  • 4 VIP tickets to Giants game + autographed Odell Beckham Jr. jersey
  • Brunch with actor Charles Grodin
  • Personalized audio recording by Olaf (actor Josh Gad) from the smash hit movie “Frozen”

Additional Hungerthon auction items and events will be announced soon. Visit for updates.


Welcome to WhyHunger’s Connect Blog featuring stories, projects and articles from the community-based organizations, organizers and social movements that are building the movement for food justice.

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