The answer is, very. I came to this conclusion after a recent trip to Detroit, MI, also known as the “motor city.” I was there to attend the Detroit Food 2017 Summit and participate in WhyHunger’s Midwest Gathering of emergency food providers who came together to discuss the emergency food system and think about how we can collectively transform it to one that focuses on long-term solutions and is socially just, to truly end hunger. With that purpose in mind, learning about using narrative change as a strategy to achieve that transformation was a key activity. Narrative, or stories, influence our perspectives on every issue, including our view of hunger and poverty, and we hear them every day, be it through the media, friends, family, coworkers, books, etc. As we take in news we should think about the words used, how they were said, who is saying them and why.

Think about the stories you’ve heard of about Detroit. Now, what immediately comes to mind? Perhaps bankruptcy? Abandoned homes? Urban? Poor? Well, I’d like to help shift that narrative a bit by giving examples of a resilient community, thriving businesses, urban gardens and hope. Below, are the community-led organizations and businesses I got to learn a little about during my time in Detroit. Hopefully, even as short summaries, they leave you as inspired as I was.

Georgia Street Collective

detroit2

Resident Mark Covington started The Georgia Street Community Collective (GSCC) in 2008. Originally, it was meant to be a beautification project but as they cleaned up the empty lots in the neighborhood Mark became inspired to start a community garden. He wanted to help the elders in the area who struggle to pay for both medicine and food, and empower the youth and provide them with structure. GSCC is achieving that by focusing on health, education, leadership skill development and protection to rebuild and sustain their community one house at a time. They offer school supply giveaways, holiday dinners, Easter egg hunts and more – all free to residents. They sell honey and eggs, and one of their goals is to have a fully functional greenhouse by next year. You can give a donation or learn more here.

Detroit Friends Potato Chips Co.

detroit3

Located in Detroit’s Hope District, Detroit Friends Potato Chips. Co. is a wonderful example of a locally-grown, sustainable business that gives back. So wonderful in fact, that Oprah even knows about them! Detroit Friends is the brainchild of Michael Wimberley who wanted to renew his relationship with the earth and think about ways he could help fix Detroit’s economy by creating work and opportunity for those around him. Detroit Friends started growing potatoes on a vacant lot and soon realized making potato chips could be the right business model for them. Mike enrolled in a food lab business incubator, and after many tries and failed experiments; their potato chip was born. Their story caught attention of Oprah Winfrey and in 2016 they made it into Oprah’s Favorite Things list. Mike’s advice, “Be entrepreneurial, and never give up.” Detroit Friends gives back to the community by sourcing their Russet potato from a 3rd-generation farmer in MI and has become a community hub by having a soup kitchen and senior program. Order these delicious chips here, I personally recommend the Lemon Pepper flavor :)

The Farmer’s Hand

detroit4

Last, but certainly not least, is the woman-owned The Farmer’s Hand located in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Founded by Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya, The Farmer’s Hand is part grocery, part café, and part farmers market that is dedicated to selling 100% locally grown and produced goods. As Kiki explained to us, they believe in growing agriculture in Michigan and helping farmers earn a living wage to create a better ecosystem. Developing personal relationships with farmers and telling their stories is essential, so people know where their food came from. They have over 100 different partners, 70 cents of each dollar goes directly back to their partners and they focus on providing seasonal, culturally appropriate foods. Check out their website to learn more and be sure to visit next time you’re in Detroit!

After reading a little about these community groups and organizations, I hope now when you hear “Detroit” you think about something different - the amazing people, thriving small businesses, food justice and self-determining communities. We should all think critically and evaluate the different narratives we hear and challenge ourselves to speak up or add new perspectives to conversations when we can.

On a triangle of land in the South Bronx, gardeners at the urban farm La Finca Del Sur are growing strawberries through the concrete. The farm sits at the middle of an urban jungle – Metro North and Amtrak roars on one side of the garden and a highway ramp on the other, while the enormous plane trees that grow on the garden's eastern fence have roots that reach toward the tunnel of the 4/5 subway line. But inside the garden, peace reigns. Bees hum, sunflowers nod and grapes dangle on the vine. And the farmers are gardening.

Last week, on July 30th, Suzanne Babb, one of the community garden members of La Finca Del Sur and WhyHunger’s Community Partnerships Manager, invited WhyHunger staff members and interns to the farm, for a day of volunteer gardening.

Suzanne explained that the garden was founded in 2009, with the purpose of providing local women of color a place to grow fresh and healthy food and develop leadership­– and with the long term goal of the green space improving neighborhood health through nutrition, education, economic empowerment and social justice. Now there are 15 to 20 farmer members participating in La Finca Del Sur. The farm is has no paid staff, and is struggling to find new funding, so along with running his or her individual plot, each farmer does at least six hours a month of gardening in the communal garden. There, produce and flowers are grown to sell at the South Bronx Farmer's Market held a few blocks away. Suzanne told us that one local man comes to the market regularly with his son to buy fresh flowers to take home to his wife. Along with the flowers, Suzanne said the farm’s fresh herbs, such as papalo, epazote and cilantro, have been particularly well received as produce that actually reflects the preferences of the South Bronx community, which Suzanne described as a neighborhood with a strong culture of cooking, but limited options for buying or growing healthy food.

Suzanne and Freddy Gonzalez, another La Finca Del Sur member and longtime Bronx resident, showed us around the garden. A sudden burst of heavy summer rain had left the garden glistening and fragrant. Two and a half acres of land doesn’t sound like much to support all the members and the community, but space at La Finca Del Sur has been efficiently organized. The farmers’ efforts have been rewarded with a beautiful abundance – tightly curled cabbages, sweet-smelling basil, garlic, collard greens, tomatoes, tiny red strawberries, Swiss chard, potatoes and beets in tall pots. Each bed of vegetables is brightened by vibrant orange marigolds, which Suzanne explained help attract the bees.

Suzanne and Freddy were full of knowledge of purposeful planting – such as the large lavender bush, which they explained is not only pretty but acts as a natural bug repellant. The farmers grow their vegetables in raised beds and pots, which they keep free of pesticides and Miracle Gro. The soil, bought from upstate New York, is used in raised vegetable beds because most of New York City soil is damaged by lead and other contamination. But although they don’t grow their produce from it right now, the gardeners are working to heal the dirt beneath their feet, planting rows of cheerful sunflowers, which draw contamination out from the soil. The farmers cultivate their garden from the ground up, regenerating the soil with composting, and growing their plants mostly from seeds (mostly donated), which they raise in a green house.

Once our tour was finished, the WhyHunger team joined Suzanne in the main mission of the day – weeding. It’s one of the strange truths of gardening that weeding is almost as good for the gardener as it is for the plant – as I turned the earth over, and carefully plucked invaders out from around the cabbages, I felt my mind become clear and focused. Maybe that’s because weeding combines seeming contradictions – it’s about pruning, plucking and ‘cleaning up’, but it’s also about getting your hands dirty. And while you embrace ruthless decision-making in which weeds are recognized and uprooted, you also offer gentleness and protection, caring for the plants that nourish us. Every time I looked up, my fellow-gardeners were frowning with focus, but simultaneously smiling with the satisfaction of tugging out another stubborn weed.

It’s one of the strange truths of gardening that weeding is almost as good for the gardener as it is for the plant

I grew up in Aotearoa New Zealand, a country about the size of Great Britain, but with a total population that is half that of New York City. While our people are not especially affluent, New Zealanders are hugely wealthy in terms of their access to the land. Even in the biggest city centers, apartment living is still a rarity. Almost everybody lives in a house, and that house usually comes with a bit of land – maybe a small front lawn, or maybe a sprawling backyard garden. With beaches all around, many people spend most of their time barefoot - a condition which applies to pavement and supermarkets, as well as the sand. Walking barefoot, cultivating a garden, swimming in rivers you know well– these experiences teach you that access to land isn’t a privilege, but a right, a vital part of living on a green planet. But after a year of living in New York City, to be able to garden at La Finca Del Sur felt to me like the height of luxury. I felt so lucky to have access, for a day, to growing things. But a luxury is exactly what access to the land shouldn’t be. While the paradigm of the New Zealand back yard won’t last forever, and certainly is no longer applicable to New York, the peaceful abundance of La Finca Del Sur offers an inspiring alternative. If there are more urban farms like it in the City, more communities will have access to gardening - the oldest means of feeding yourself, your family and your community, and a way to understand the land we live on.

Evangeline Graham is WhyHunger's current Editorial Intern. An artist and writer living in Brooklyn, she originally hails from Aotearoa New Zealand.

This spotlight is a feature in a series of the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program (CFP). Grantees are doing some of the most innovative and collaborative projects to change local and regional food systems. WhyHunger’s www. — also funded by a CFP grant — is profiling these organizations through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real flavor of what the projects look like and how they’re accomplishing their goals. Up today: Ingersoll Gardens and the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project in Brooklyn, NY. Story, pictures and video by David Hanson.

ingersoll gardensA half-century of the American urban narrative has unfolded in the Brooklyn neighborhood below Edna Grant’s apartment. She moved into Ingersoll Houses 55 years ago so through her window she’s seen the tale of post World War boom, then the manufacturing collapse of the 70s, a few decades of unemployment and crime, then the revitalization, and now the gentrification. But Ms. Grant’s house always stayed clean.

“I’m a captain of this building,” she says. “Me and the co-captain keep it clean and we don’t let people hang out in the hallways.”

Ms. Grant had a career as a book binder. Books for courts, schools, libraries, even cruise ships. She has an easy laugh and a playfully self-deprecating sense of humor. She uses a walker to get around and needs to sit and rest after a while. Ms. Grant raised five kids, four of them adopted from her daughter after she passed away. The train used to run from across the street to the rest of the city. Ms. Grant has been planted here in this corner of Brooklyn, a witness, participant, and place-maker of her community. It’s no surprise that the community food movement of the 2000s found her, like someone seeking shade might spot a sprawling, welcoming tree.

ingersoll gardens

The Ingersoll Houses went up in 1944 during the war-time boom days. The Brooklyn Navy Yard had attracted a skilled-labor population to the area with over 70,000 jobs. Ingersoll and nearby Walt Whitman apartment complexes housed many Yard sailors and employees. Encouraged by Walt Whitman, Brooklyn built its first park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Now Brooklyn’s iconic Fort Greene Park ends across Myrtle Avenue from Ingersoll Houses.

A decade after Ms. Grant moved in, however, the bloom had faded from Myrtle Avenue. The Navy Yard shut down in the 1970s along with the elevated subway track. Like much of metro New York at that time, the neighborhood fell into financial and social decline.

Read the full profile at Community Voicesa WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

By Thomas Fisher, WhyHunger Communications Intern, Summer 2014.LVEJO3

From 1985-2013, WhyHunger recognized hundreds of innovative and inspired grassroots organizations across the nation with the Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award. In 2013, we honored Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) for their incredible work in Chicago. We’re excited to share what they’ve been up to:

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) addresses environmental justice and builds community power in the predominantly Mexican southwest Chicago neighborhood of Little Village. The group organizes for democracy and a voice in decisions about how, when and where development happens in the community, working to end pollution and toxic waste and increase public transit and green space in Little Village and throughout Chicago. The funds from the Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award were used to support the LVEJO Urban Agriculture Project, including laying the groundwork for the neighborhood’s first urban farm cooperative, the Las Semillas de Justicia community garden.

little village environmental justice organization Breaking ground at the LVEJO garden site.

The Las Semillas de Justicia community garden, created and led by the community, is focused on, “giving community members a space to grow organic food that many can no longer afford due to inflating costs.” LVEJO is made up of both youth and adult volunteers from Troy, Chicago. The group works with families who are fighting for food security, food justice, and environmental justice in their communities.

Through the support of WhyHunger, LVEJO has been able to construct 20 raised beds and a hoop house to grow food in lower temperatures, along with other vital urban farming infrastructure. The leadership committee’s volunteers lent their skills and expertise to better organize the volunteers and guide budget decisions. By engaging local youth and volunteers in community meetings, the team has developed guidelines for community participation. The master gardener, Fermin Meza, local youth and20 organic farmers have also pitched in shape the program’s direction.

Part of LVEJO’s tremendous support system comes from their youth advocacy program, which asks Chicago youth volunteers to spread the message of LVEJO to the community through local educational summits, protests/marches, workshops, and more. LVEJO Youth Leader Carolina Gil stated for the Lawndale News, “"We always heard if you put your mind to something, you can make a difference, but now, we know exactly what that means, and what steps we must take to achieve it.” Gil along with her Little Village counterparts are looking forward to their upcoming campaigns on the forefront of Chicago activism: fighting metro-fare increase, establishing community gardens around the city, and fighting air pollution policy abuses in disadvantaged areas.

little village environmental justice organization

This is a guest post from Dan Susman, Director/Producer of the documentary film Growing Cities. Many of WhyHunger’s partners, including Karen Washington, Malik Yakini, Growing Home, and Added Value, are featured in the film.

We’ve all heard about the problems in agriculture, from GMOs and CAFOs to aging farmers and dead zones in Gulf of Mexico. But, what all these acronyms and statistics don’t add up to is change. So, close to four years ago, my childhood friend, Andrew Monbouquette, and I figured it was time to highlight positive stories of people transforming the food system, right in their own backyards. And this is what our new documentary film, Growing Cities, is all about.

From Detroit to New Orleans, the film follows us as we visit folks who are challenging the way this country grows its food one vacant city lot and backyard chicken coop at a time. We’ve found urban agriculture has remarkable power on many levels—it connects people to their food, strengthens communities, revitalizes blighted areas; and much more.

In many ways it appears that urban agriculture is our generation’s back to the land movement, but with a crucial difference—today’s new farmers are not running away from society’s problems but tackling them head on. They are helping solve issues of hunger, food justice, and giving hope to many communities where there was little previously.

You can help Dan and Growing Cities spread good food stories to millions on PBS by supporting their Kickstarter.

And sure, while many young people continue to flock to urban centers like New York and San Francisco, more and more are putting down roots in their less assuming hometowns. For instance, in Omaha, NE, where I’m from, a collective of young people came together to form Big Muddy Urban Farm, which has a 25 member CSA and grows on vacant lots throughout the city. In the heart of industrial farming country, these young people are a wonderful example for residents, many of whom don’t know a CSA from a GMO – which, let’s be honest, is probably true for a majority of Americans.

I’m not saying urban farming will fix every problem that our communities face. It won’t. However, I do think these farms are an integral part of changing the food system, even the front lines, when you consider close to 80% of our population is considered urban. As Eugene Cook, a farmer in Atlanta, says in the film, ‘Grow Something, Grow Where you Are.’

You can help Growing Cities spread these inspiring farmers’ stories to millions on PBS! Learn more and donate on their Kickstarter page: //kck.st/1kTnQdg.

This spotlight is a feature in a series of the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program (CFP). Grantees are doing some of the most innovative and collaborative projects to change local and regional food systems. WhyHunger’s Food Security Learning Center — also funded by a CFP grant — is profiling these organizations through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real flavor of what the projects look like and how they’re accomplishing their goals. Up today: Jones Valley Teaching Farm, Birmingham, AL. Story and pictures by David Hanson.

edwin jones valley teaching farm

Some towns need a revolution more than others. Birmingham, AL, at the turn of the 21st Century, was begging for some fresh ideas. The downtown had been all-but abandoned, a classic American urban food desert where corner stores and fast food were even running scarce.

Edwin Marty grew up in Birmingham, but not downtown. He lived in the nearby suburbs and attended the best schools. When he got the chance, Edwin bolted to the west coast for college and stayed there to learn how to be a sustainable farmer, to sail, climb mountains, surf, and to teach youth in alternative education programs.

But eventually Edwin felt a pull back to his homeland where his ten years of farming and teaching the benefits of healthy living and eating were most needed. So in 2001, just as the country was reeling from the attacks of 9/11, Edwin planted a revolutionary seed in the forgotten soil of Birmingham.

The seeds went into an abandoned lot in Birmingham’s Southside neighborhood, the kind of narrow city lot surrounded by half-burned crack houses and where syringes and beer bottles seem to grow like weeds. He cleaned up the soil and started growing greens and tomatoes and beans and squash, and he sold it, the city’s only local produce at the time, to Birmingham’s pioneering farm-to-plate chefs like Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings.

edwin jones valley teaching farm

Read the full profile at the Food Security Learning Center...

In January, NHC staff traveled to Austin, Texas to attend the One World Everybody Eats Summit and to visit with some new and old partners. Although each event or partner carries out different activities, they all demonstrate how community building can be a powerful tool for change.

Our first stop was The Sustainable Food Center (SFC). This community food security organization uses a systems approach to their work centered around their motto: grow, share, prepare. The Grow Local program (grow) teaches adults and children how to grow food in various parts of the community, such as schools, community gardens or in their own backyards. Their Farm Direct program (share) connects farmers to consumers at schools, businesses and several SFC-run weekly farmers markets that accept SNAP and WIC and offer a double coupon value program. The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre program (prepare) trains peer facilitators from the community to teach free nutrition and cooking classes in low-income communities. With a new building equipped with a state of the art kitchen, SFC hopes to expand their work and offer a wide variety of cooking and nutrition classes open to the entire Austin community.

Our next stop was Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MLF), an organization that is literally and figuratively building a community for people who have experienced homelessness in Austin. About 15 years ago, MLF started their social outreach program, which provides food and clothing to those who live on the streets.  Through conversations with people they met, they realized that a main contributor to homelessness was lack of family support and lack of community. So MLF decided they were going to be the family and community support people never had. They started with moving people off the streets and helping them access affordable housing. In their ROADS program, they offer clients the opportunity to earn a living through microenterprise opportunities, such as running their own ice cream or coffee carts or a waterless car wash business.

Now they are on the verge of physically building a community with the Community First! Village. This ambitious 27 acre village will house about 200 chronically homeless and disabled people in refurbished RV, mobile homes and tiny homes and will include a church, a medical facility and a woodworking workshop. Housing and furniture for the Community First! Village is being renovated by the clients who have carpentry skills or have received training through MLF. A portion of the property will house a bed and breakfast that will be run by the residents of the village and will be a source of earned income. The Community First! Village will also include the Genesis Gardens, an existing program of MLF that provides fresh, healthy food for clients and trains them in gardening, animal husbandry, aquaponics and beekeeping skills. With this farm training, several clients have gone on to become farm managers at Genesis Gardens.

A model community kitchen at the Mobile Loaves and Fishes Community First! Village A model community kitchen at the Mobile Loaves and Fishes Community First! Village

The chicken coop at Mobile Loaves and Fishes Genesis Gardens The chicken coop at Mobile Loaves and Fishes Genesis Gardens

Our last stop in Austin was the One World Everybody Eats Summit. This annual summit brings together groups who are operating or developing pay-what-you can cafes, food trucks and restaurants. The concept behind pay-what-you-can restaurants is that healthy meals should be within everybody’s reach and by encouraging people to enjoy a meal together they can see the value of food as a glue and a catalyst for healthy people, relationships and communities. This economic model is also seen as alternative to the traditional soup kitchen. At a pay-what-you-can restaurant, patrons order a meal and can pay the suggested donation price, more than that amount or less. If a patron cannot afford to pay, they can volunteer their time at the restaurant in exchange for a meal. The One World Everybody Eats Annual Summit is a time to celebrate successes, address challenges and offer support, encouragement and advice. The popularity of pay-what-you-can restaurants and cafes has resulted in the doubling of restaurants growing from 16 to 34 establishments around the country in the last two years. This includes several pay-what-you can restaurants run by Panera Bread Company called Panera Cares. The most integral aspects of the pay-what-you-can model are that it cannot exist without the patronage of all sectors of society and that the most successful pay-what-you-can restaurants are situated in areas where people from all economic classes intersect and congregate.

What was apparent on this visit is that when you approach the issue of hunger with a community building lens, it forces you to look beyond this immediate symptom of poverty. It forces you to see things systematically and to create holistic solutions that radically transform lives.

National Hunger Clearinghouse staff visited the Hell’s Kitchen Rooftop Farm Project as part of an urban agriculture tour put on by the Partnership for a Healthier Manhattan. This coalition of community organizations, funded by a CDC Community Transformation Grant, is looking at how urban agriculture can be used to increase access to healthier food. Through site visits and interviews, the Partnership plans to develop toolkits on how Manhattan residents can create their own urban agriculture projects.

In the center of bustling midtown Manhattan lies an innovative example of how you can grow food anywhere. Actually, it is several flights above the streets of midtown on the rooftop of the Metro Baptist Church in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, also known as Clinton. The Hell’s Kitchen Rooftop Farm Project is a collaborative initiative of the Metro Baptist Church, Clinton Housing Development Company and Rauschenbusch Metropolitan Ministries. The farm was started because these organizations recognized that it was difficult for people in the neighborhood to access healthy food, especially those who rely on emergency food. The farm’s goal is to bring wholesome food to the Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries Food Pantry, which serves 600 participants per month. In its third year, it hopes to supply the food pantry with 300 pounds of fresh produce — doubling what it was able to produce last year.

What make the Hell’s Kitchen Rooftop Farm Project even more innovative are its raised beds.  Fruits and vegetables are grown in 52 plastic kiddie pools with holes drilled into the bottom of each bed to facilitate drainage. The kiddie pools are durable, lightweight and can be used in a variety of spaces, adding 1000 square feet of land to the farm in which to grow basil, beans, blueberries, cabbage, collard greens, chives, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, kale, lettuce, oregano, peas, peppers, radishes, rosemary, scallions and tomatoes. The raised beds are filled with a lightweight shale-based soil, which eases the burden of otherwise heavy soil of the beds on the rooftop.

In addition to limited space, farming on a rooftop has unique challenges. There aren't problems with flies because the garden is four flights up, but the pigeons have no issues with the height and are the farms most menacing pests. The lack of access to a rooftop water source poses a challenge as volunteers must haul water up four flights of stairs (no elevator, either). However, these constraints pale in comparison to the advantages the Farm offers the neighborhood: hands-on farm education for children, fresh produce for their community and an opportunity for neighborhood residents to get their hands dirty and get closer to their food. The volunteer-led effort can be easily replicated and demonstrates that with creativity, limited space and funds don't need to be obstacles to sourcing fresh produce.

Anyone is welcome to help out and learn about farming on the rooftop during their weekly workdays:

  • Tuesday from 3-6pm
  • First Saturdays of each month from 10am-12pm
The Hell’s Kitchen Rooftop Farm Project is located at 410 W. 40th Street. For more information, visit www.hellskitchenfarmproject.org.

Most of us in the local food / food justice movement are familiar with urban agriculture -- and even with programs that glean fruit from trees, in cities where citrus and other tree fruits grow. But last month, we read about a twist on urban agriculture we hadn't heard of before: urban maple sugaring! In Somerville, Massachusetts, non-profit Groundwork Somerville has been tapping trees in people's yards and at Tufts University for ten years. We asked Lee Dwyer, the coordinator of the program, to tell us more.

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Urban Maple Sugaring by Lee Dwyer, Gardens Coordinator, Groundwork Somerville

The word “maple” conjures up images of Vermont, brilliant fall foliage, and a warm, fresh stack of pancakes. It’s not something you usually associate with densely-packed neighborhoods, public school classrooms, urban youth and city-wide collaboration—unless you happen to live in Somerville, Massachusetts, just next to Boston. Here, community members have been tapping local sugar maples, collecting sap and boiling it down into syrup for the past ten years. The Somerville Maple Syrup Project brings a centuries-old New England tradition of maple sugaring to the city, engaging children, families, neighbors and volunteers in hands-on syrup production and education. It’s the first (and currently, only) urban maple sugaring operation in the world!

Local non-profit Groundwork Somerville coordinates the project, in partnership with the Somerville Community Growing Center (a communal gardening space), the Somerville Public Schools, libraries, local businesses and Tufts University. Staff and community members tap maple trees located on the Tufts campus in late January to early February, depending on the weather, and volunteers collect buckets of sap until the trees start to bud in early March. During the sugaring season, we host a series of maple-related events, from a fundraiser brunch to a tapping day to workshops in the second-grade classrooms. It all culminates in the Boil Down Festival, which features live music, tapping and boiling demos, and local food and drinks, and which draws as many as 800 attendees to the Growing Center in the heart of the city.

As a community-focused program, Somerville Maple Syrup Project fits into Groundwork Somerville’s mission of building a stronger and greener city. The organization also runs eight school gardens, provides environmental jobs and training to urban youth and promotes parks, food security and urban agriculture. The locally-produced syrup is sold at the Groundwork Somerville farmers’ market stands along with fresh produce from school gardens and South Street Farm--establishing a sweet new urban tradition!

I'm serving as a FoodCorps mentor this year, which means that I'm getting to know the stellar Casey Hancock, who is spending her year teaching food and garden education in New Hanover and Brunswick counties in North Carolina, hosted by nonprofit Feast Down East. Along with working with kids and gardens, she’s exploring her own interests in various aspects of sustainable agriculture, food system change and food justice. She shared an experience she had volunteering on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday last month.

Highlights from a Day of Service at LINC Farm by Casey Hancock, FoodCorps Service Member I am typically found teaching third graders about science, gardening and nutrition; building and tending school gardens; and connecting local farmers to cafeterias through fresh produce promotions. On the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday this year, though, I swapped my usual school gardens for the chance to work at the LINC Farm, with a different part of the community. It is imperative to teach children about food at a young age, as I’ve been doing, but fundamentally, food is a community-wide issue.

[slideshow id=37 template=caption] It was a busy weekend at the newly-established LINC Farm. LINC, Leading Into New Communities, is a non-profit organization in the Wilmington, NC, area that strives to empower people with criminal histories and at-risk youth to make positive choices in order to become productive members of society. The organization’s transitional facility, which can house twenty men and twenty women, was brimming with positive energy all weekend as it prepared the new farm site. The farm will teach residents about sustainable agriculture, while providing them with fresh produce and generating funds through vegetable sales so that the organization can rely less on grants.

Three of us local long-term volunteers--Feast Down East VISTA member Erin O’Donnell, FoodCorps Fellow Sebastian Naskaris and I--all rallied our networks to take part in a day of rewarding service following a crop mob that took place on Saturday of the weekend.

Over the course of the weekend, the transformation of the property was incredible. We harvested bamboo, bushwhacked invasive species and brush to make room for vegetable plots, crafted bamboo trellises, and sorted through bricks and concrete buried in the soil. Best of all, we all broke for a delicious lunch donated by local farmers and businesses. As we watched President Obama’s second inauguration, we also heard from Senior Corps members about their experiences during the Civil Rights movement. It was a powerful and productive event, ultimately celebrating the diversity and strengths of the community.

After studying theory on community development at the University of Vermont, it was enlightening to actually experience bottom-up development with community members actively involved. To see residents join outside volunteers in working to turn a neglected property into productive farmland was so much more than physically rewarding. The event fostered community building, sustainability and awareness – and provided an opportunity for people to reconnect and improve food security in a pragmatic way.

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