We are excited to continue our powerful Food Justice Voices series in 2017 beginning with El Sueño Americano – The American Dream. Food Justice Voices is intended to amplify the voices and experiences of grassroots leaders that aren’t heard enough, while creating awareness and educating readers on various issues connected to hunger and poverty. El Sueño Americano is no different. In this piece, you’ll hear directly from Kathia Ramirez, organizer and Food Justice Coordinator at CATA (The Farmworker Support Committee/Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas) in New Jersey, along with farmworker members of CATA. Kathia is from Los Angeles, CA although her parents migrated from the State of Oaxaca, Mexico where they have a history of working the land. In this piece, Kathia discusses the immigrant farmworker experience in pursuing the American dream, the struggles they face and why the work for food justice is important on many levels.

“Here in the United States, food is produced more as quantity over quality. It is not about whether it is nutritious but rather if it looks "good" on the outside even though it might be tasteless or have been forced to grow in a short period of time. Our food system is dependent on pesticides and paying workers a low wage in order meet the demand for cheap food. This creates a vicious cycle because farmworkers are only able to afford cheap, processed food with little access to healthy, organic produce.” – Kathia Ramirez

Read, download and share this article today!

Mark your calendars! We’re thrilled to announce that the annual WhyHunger Chapin Awards event will be held on Tuesday, June 13th at the Edison Ballroom in NYC. This will be a special evening of music and activism honoring musician and Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste for his philanthropic initiatives and our grassroots partner Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger for their food justice work in increasing nutritious food access in their community.

Comedian and talk show host Pete Dominick will host the night and guests will enjoy a cocktail reception, silent auction, dinner, and of course, amazing musical performances by Jon Batiste and Stay Human! Join us for an impactful night as we celebrate the work being done in the fight against hunger and poverty, and look ahead at what’s to come.

Watch the video below for a great recap of last year’s event and get your tickets today! Can’t make it? You can still make a donation or add a note of support to our program journal. Thank you for your support! 

Just in time for International Women’s Day, WhyHunger is excited to release our newest publication “Through Her Eyes: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty.” International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. We know that women are responsible for 60-80% of food production in the Global South and represent 50% of food chain workers in the U.S. Yet, women and girls are disproportionally affected by hunger. And for us, it is very important to recognize and honor the women around the world who are fighting for food sovereignty and creating just, sustainable communities that benefit all. In Through Her Eyes, women from all over share their opinions and experiences on topics including agrochemicals, fishing practices, food stamps, GMOs, farmworkers and more.

Excerpt:

It is imperative; therefore, that women’s voices are at the center of the debate about how to dismantle the current food regime and replace it with food sovereignty and agroecology. Though not yet mainstream concepts or practices, the work of grassroots organizations is beginning to result in a scaling out of agroecology in both rural and urban areas. This publication aims to highlight the leadership of women in making that possible.
Through excerpts of interviews and dialogue with women organizers and food producers from the United States and globally in response to the question “what are the impacts of industrial food and farming on women and how are women organizing to build an alternative,” this publication amplifies the voices of women who are on the frontlines in the ongoing struggle for land, water, localized economies, and a world free of violence and hunger.

It emerges in a moment when arguably a new world order is beginning to take shape. In the face of economic and social systems in crisis and deepening inequality the world over, the struggle for food sovereignty, agroecology and climate justice is a struggle for more than just the right to food. It is a struggle for a new world order that centers the rights of women to live freely and safely, and to lead in envisioning and crafting a world void of hunger and violence. WhyHunger is committed to standing in solidarity with women whose lived experiences are forging the path to food sovereignty.

We invite you to read, download and share this publication to learn more about the issues affecting our food system and the women who are creating solutions to achieve food sovereignty.

To culminate Black History Month we interviewed mother, farmer, activist and scholar-in-training Shakara Tyler and asked her to share her thoughts on the impacts and work that Black people have contributed to our food system. As we continue to fight hunger and poverty, it’s important to recognize the multiple intersections with other struggles within the food justice movement and embrace solutions developed by grassroots leadership. Hope you enjoy and learn something new!

For Black History Month, we want to share important contributions that African Americans have made to our food system/agriculture…what is one of your favorite historical facts or someone whose contribution you wish more people knew about? 

There are not enough word space to fully expound on Black peoples’ contribution to our food system and agriculture. Black people have provided the foundation – in conjunction with other indigenous people across the globe – of our agricultural system through labor, cultural knowledge and emotional and psychological sacrifice. A significant part of this foundation is the forgotten, silenced and ignored lives and work of Black women who I believe to be significant birthmothers of Black agrarian land-based resistance. Like Araminta Ross (Harriet Tubman) and Fannie Lou Hamer, the Freedom Quilting Bee (FQB) was a handicraft cooperative (and a member of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund) that also used their artistic knowledge to develop land-based resistance strategies in 1966. ). Comprised of 60 sharecropping women from across the Southern Black Belt region, the cooperative was housed in Alberta, Alabama and, the collective centered black land ownership in their handicraft efforts. The women sold quilts to supplement their families’ farm incomes. The seed money for the cooperative came from an initial sale of 100 quilts. In 1968, the cooperative bought 23 acres of land. They sold eight lots to families who had been evicted from their homes for registering to vote.

See Jessica Nembhard’s Book, Collective Courage, for more information. 

How are you working to connect the black community even more to agriculture and the importance of taking control of your own food system?

I work with Black farming communities on whatever issues they request help with such as financial capital and marketing access, cooperative development, and community outreach and engagement. My primary focus is exploring the development of Black agrarian pedagogies by co-assessing how Black agrarian communities’ personal, cultural and technical capacities can be employed to transform our lived realities.

It is imperative that we pay special attention to how teaching and learning occurs in Black agrarian spaces. In many Black agrarian educational spaces, participants feel the soil, taste the foods grown in that soil, share stories, transform as individuals in community with one another, which in turn transforms our communities themselves. Often times, the socially constructed dichotomies of urban and rural, youth and elder, global north and global south and capitalist and anti-capitalist create barriers that inhibit our teaching and learning in solidarity with one another. If we are going to fully reap the benefits of the self-determining food economies and land-based resistance measures we continue to embark on to transcend the intertwined systems of oppression, we must work in greater solidarity through the dialogue of our various ways of being and knowing.

What are some challenges facing the black community in agriculture and what do you see as possible opportunities or solutions? How can people get involved? 

In addition to the common issues faced by many agricultural communities like racism and sexism, land access, financial capital access, marketing access and product viability, the Black agricultural community is also struggling with the need to engage those who are not already aware and committed to principles of Black agrarianism. When we begin to revalorize labor of the land and become more keen of how to systemically exchange our knowledge of the land with one another, we achieve many of the goals and objectives of Black food justice and food sovereignty.

Folks can get involved by getting their hand dirty because many farms are in dire need of labor assistance. If you cannot get dirty on the farm with us, money and equipment donations are deeply appreciated as well. All in all, what is most necessary is rerouting time, labor, money and other resources towards food justice and food sovereignty projects. Our liberations are bound and cannot be attained without working together.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food justice movement? 

One of the most fulfilling components of working for a community self-determined food system is honoring the blood, sweat and tears of my ancestors who fought for food justice and food sovereignty through community land trusts, land and food cooperatives, nature-based spiritualties and more. These blueprints illuminate how our liberation is tied to the land but also extend far beyond the land. By walking the paths of our ancestors, we know we are not alone in this struggle for control over our destinies – our head, hands and hearts have been here before. For this reason, my work with food justice and food sovereignty movements has become a spiritual work of ancestral remembrance and embodied healing.

What’s your favorite traditional meal? 

My favorite traditional meal is more of a process than particular cultural dish. I enjoy cooking in community with others with food that was grown with our hands on Black cultivated land. There is no meal more powerful than the one prepared within spaces anointed with Black ancestral knowledge and the unrelenting spirit of Black community self-determination. Black soil, Black land, Black-kept seeds and Black labor prepare the most delicious meals!

#BlackLand, #BlackEcology, #BlackFarmers/Gardeners/Growers, #BlackChefs, #BlackKitchens, #BlackHistory WILL matter!


Shakara is a mother, farmer, activist and scholar. She obtained her B.S. at The Pennsylvania State University in Agricultural Sciences and worked as an urban farm educator for a youth empowerment organization in Philadelphia, PA, and obtained her M.S. at MSU in the Department of Community Sustainability, focusing on Black farmers and civil rights. She is now pursing research in the arenas of food justice and food sovereignty, while working with under-served farmers around land, financial capital, and market accessibility. Regarding our work on Black agrarian pedagogies, she currently employs decolonial theories in her food justice and sovereignty work.

Thank you so much for Shakara for sharing your knowledge with us!

Sneak peek! This is an excerpt from our upcoming publication “Through Her Eyes: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty.” This story featuring Magha Garcia, Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica and Anne Frederick,Hawai’i Alliance for Progressive Action(HAPA, is one of many that lift up the voices of women (farmers, farmworkers, food chain workers, etc.) fighting for food sovereignty around the world. Enjoy and look out for the new publication when it is released on March 1st!

Magha Garcia is an eco-farmer and environmental activist in Puerto Rico. She is a member of Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica , a grassroots group of farmers and allies who advocate for agroecology and are members of the Latin American Chapter (CLOC) of La Via Campesina. Magha also challenges agribusiness with the group Nada Santo Sobre Monsanto, a collective of multiple organizations, representatives of civil society that includes farmers, students, consumers, scientists, professional associations, teachers, and lawyers who have come together to defend the right to healthy food, free of transgenics.

Anne Frederick is the Executive Director of Hawai’i Alliance for Progressive Action which works to catalyze community empowerment and systemic change towards valuing `āina (environment) and people ahead of corporate profit. She farms on a homestead on Kaua’i. She is also the co-founder of Hester Street Collective in Lower Manhattan, New York, where she worked alongside communities on issues of urban planning and public spaces.

Magha: Due to their tropical climate, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are ideal places for the biotech seed companies like Monsanto. They can get three to four cycles of seed breeding per year. Location, shipment system and infrastructure, educated and well trained workers, and no government oversight are all factors conducive for GMO crop proliferation in the Caribbean. In Puerto Rico we have a long history of all sorts of experimentation since the U.S. invasion in 1898, but more intensively after the 1930s. Our status as a “non-incorporated territory” or colony allows the U.S. government and the corporations it supports, especially the biotechnology industry, to use us as they please. Monsanto first came to the island in 1983 when they bought the AgroSeeds Corporation. Then in 1996, Monsanto officially changed their name to Monsanto Caribe and since have grown tentacles that are woven into our communities, the public and private educational system, academia, the private sector and especially our local government. The two main functions of Monsanto Caribe are agricultural biotechnology and plant breeding experiments. The main crops they are experimenting on are corn, cotton, soy, rice, papaya, tomatoes, tobacco and sunflower. As “territories” Hawaii and Puerto Rico experience more experimentation than any of the other U.S. states.

Anne: Hawaii is particularly appealing to agribusiness because of its 12 month growing season so we have the greatest concentration of test sites, compared to the mainland. In 2014, we had 1,387 field test sites, compared to California which has around 75. Since 1987 Hawaii has hosted more cumulative genetically-engineered (GE) field trials — 3,243 — than any other state. In 2014 alone, 178 different GE field tests were conducted on over 1,381 sites in Hawaii. And the seed industry’s footprint here is 24,700 acres, so that gives you a sense of the density. The area planted in seed crops has grown tenfold since 1982 while land growing vegetables and fruits, excluding pineapples, has declined more than 50% since the late 1990s. Often those test fields are directly adjacent to residential communities and we’ve had cases where a school has had to be evacuated because all the kids got sick. The seed companies would claim it was something else. They’d say it was a weed called stinkweed here that made people sick. Multiple EPA scientists have said there’s no way it could’ve been the stinkweed.

Magha: As in most countries worldwide, the main chemical used to control weeds here is RoundUp. It is used by companies, municipalities, landscapers and homeowners to "resolve" the constant growing of weeds. Since Monsanto stated that it is "safe" for people, it is used freely and without any concern by most people. Despite an overwhelming amount of contrary evidence, their false propaganda is still working well. In our case, those experiments are in open fields and our government fully supports them, facilitating privileges like free water and tax breaks, while small scale farmers can barely survive. In the last 10 fiscal years the biotech industry received $519.7 million taxpayer dollars from our government. In addition, they received unique tax rates, exemptions, incentives and wage subsidies.

Anne: Hawaii currently imports, anywhere from 80 to 90% of its food, and we’re particularly vulnerable on Kaua‛i because we have one port where all the food comes in and if that port were to shut down, as it has in the past due to a hurricane or a dock worker strike, that’s it. We have a limited amount of food on the shelves. Food security is a real issue here and we have huge swaths of agricultural land that’s been used to test chemicals rather than grow food. There is a major need for increasing our food sovereignty here. There are people who are interested in farming but the industry and the landowners have such a hold on our local government that it’s been really hard for anyone to make headway over on the west side of the island.

Magha: In the last four years, the main initiative to confront and expose Monsanto or related companies in Puerto Rico is publicly expressed by the annual "Millions Against Monsanto" march. The collective Nada Santo Sobre Monsanto (NSSM), as an umbrella organization, is inviting the public to collaborate on improving effective strategies against Monsanto & Co. This year their efforts led to the rescuing of public land to create gardens. They also showed documentaries to address related topics like transgenic crops, health risks, agroecology, and food sovereignty amongst others.

Anne: The issue area where HAPA has been most active to date is in fair and sustainable food systems — in particular, advocating for better protections for the people and the environment here on Kaua‛i from the impacts of pesticide use. We do organizing, advocacy and education work — trying to educate the community about decision making processes, about opportunities to weigh in to effectively advocate. We sent a delegation of communities – spokespeople — to Switzerland to meet with and speak to the Syngenta shareholders. Gary, our board president, got the organization we work with over there to buy one share of Syngenta stocks so they could get Gary into a shareholders’ meeting. He delivered a very powerful message to the shareholders there about what’s happening and what they’re supporting in Hawaii and specifically on Kaua‛i. We brought over another board member who is a Hawaiian mother living in the homesteads directly adjacent to where Syngenta sprays, whose daughter’s hair has tested positive for 36 different pesticides, including 9 restricted-use pesticides.

We’ve been doing a lot to try to advocate for the governor to mandate and fund data collection and coordination of government agencies on the impact of pesticides. We brought a group of mothers from impacted communities to the governor’s office to meet with him and make a case for implementing the findings in his own report. We continue to provide public education about what’s going on right now with the court cases. We had hearings at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Hawaii. We were able to raise awareness about that and livestream it, continuing to work with our partners to identify other areas where we think we can have some wins. So one of our campaigns is to try and ban chlorpyrifos, which is one of the chemicals the EPA has already said it’s going to ban and is heavily used here.

Magha: There's still a lot to do but there is an increasing number of people who are helping spread the message. Organizations like Boricuá, CLOC, Via Campesina are in a continual educational process, spreading the message. On a personal level, I believe that it is best for people to grow as much of their own food as possible in order to boycott and avoid the GMO industry.

Anne: We are continuing to organize and develop our community leaders who are on the frontlines of impacted communities and find opportunities for them to develop their leadership. That led us to develop another area of our work which we call ‘reclaiming democracy’ because what we found is that the industry has such a hold on our local government and elected officials, that it’s almost impossible to pass any legislation regulating the industry at all. There’s a tremendous need to get fresh blood into our local government and to encourage people who are not part of the status quo to step up and run for local government. So we started a candidate's training program that includes leadership development, campaigning skills, some community organizing skills. So again trying from another angle — how do we encourage people that want to make a difference in their local community to step up and enter local government and try to run for office? It is a nonpartisan program and we can’t endorse any of the candidates but we can at least provide skills and training.

Magha: Puerto Rico needs allies outside of our island to help us denounce the atrocities, abuses and severe risks of the agro-biotechnology industry. Puerto Rico is in the middle of a complex financial crisis. The current debt is $73 billion. The U.S. Congress and the U.S. Justice Department decided that we have to pay a debt that was created by our government. Since we are a non-incorporated territory we cannot claim bankruptcy. In order to find a solution to this “crisis,” they imposed a Fiscal Board that will govern our country. This board has absolute control over the finances and many other financial and business issues. Their main purpose is to make sure that the investors will get their money back by all means possible. Meanwhile the only ones investing in Puerto Rico are the biotechnology corporations. Last week, Bayer of Puerto Rico announced that they are investing $17 million to remodel their main branch and create a new one. Monsanto is also consolidating and investing more in their facilities located in the South of the island. We have no doubt that the 11 biotechnology corporations will be fully protected by this board.

Anne: The most heavily impacted communities happen to have the highest density of Native Hawaiian residents. I think they have been some of the most powerful voices, especially Native Hawaiian mothers like Malia Chun on Kaua‛i who’s been a really vocal critic of the industry and a very powerful voice. A lot of companies claim to be these major job providers but actually it’s a pretty small amount. You talk to plenty of Hawaiians over there and they all just say that [the jobs that are created] are not worth the contamination of our land; we have to look more long-term at the future of āina. The seed company has been really successful in using this issue to drive a wedge in our community and there’s this ‘don’t rock the boat’ mentality — “don’t threaten your jobs, don’t make waves.” That’s why voices like Malia and other mothers who are Native Hawaiian are so important in the movement. And stepping up in our small communities is really challenging. I think here is where relationships are so important. People don’t like to jeopardize relationships or talk out against their neighbor, so people are very reluctant to speak out about the industry publicly. The ones who do put themselves out there become exhausted and it takes a toll. Also, there have been cases where people have stepped forward and shared their stories and were not happy with the media’s use of their story.

On the north shore of Kaua‛i, we have a lot of organic farms and generative farming practices and then the west side is literally like a food desert. So there are folks on the west side — like one of our board members, Josh Mori, and some of his partners who are trying to start a youth farming initiative. Similarly there’s an organization on Oahu called Ma‛o Farms which has a similar mission of youth leadership development, growing the next generation of farmers, and trying to create pathways in local agriculture. There’s definitely work happening; it’s just hard because those projects tend to be relatively small and we don’t have the political will to incentivize them or to get them on state land. So even though there’s discussion at our county and state level of increasing food production, it seems like the policy has to catch up to our goals of increasing food production. Meanwhile, there are a lot of people just kind of doing it — just trying to create the solutions outside of working with government. I think we could be doing a lot more to incentivize that here. For instance, last year we hosted a food justice summit, with the help of the Pesticide Action Network, where we brought together four women working on food sovereignty projects and battling the impacts of the agrichemical industry in their home countries to speak about their struggles and lessons learned and to share and exchange with Hawaiians and with the local food movement here. That was really powerful. I think that it’s helpful to share what’s happening in Hawaii because people think of Hawaii as this tropical paradise where you come for your honeymoon. Yet we are ground zero for pesticide testing. Pesticides are actually going into the water here, this pristine beauty that we think is Hawaii is actually not the case; our ecosystems are in distress and sharing that message is really important.

Interested in what we do? WhyHunger is working to build and strengthen a grassroots-led movement for food justice and food sovereignty worldwide. We are happy to share a recap of our 2016 impacts ranging from supporting social movements, strengthening social justice efforts and protecting the right to nutritious food, while increasing community access to food around the world. Thank you for your support! 

Building Grassroots Movements

In 2016, a total of 102 grassroots partners benefited from WhyHunger directly sharing resources and granting funds for specific projects and travel in the amount of $485,000 to help communities develop their own solutions to hunger and poverty and build their capacity to engage in long-term change.

WhyHunger’s International Solidarity Fund invested $305,699 in strengthening existing and emergent social movements for food justice and food sovereignty by supporting 25 community-based projects in 13 countries to end hunger among peasant, fishing, and indigenous communities worldwide. Additionally, we secured a donation of $500,000 to support and grow the fund in 2017. By investing in local community-led activities like agroecological training, leadership development for women and youth and capacity building projects, tens of thousands of families are benefitting from immediate access to nutritious food and education while the food sovereignty of entire communities is strengthened.

WhyHunger organized and accompanied key social movement and grassroots partners from the Global South through five strategic site visits to the United States where our allies from Brazil and Zimbabwe were able to meet, learn, share and build solidarity with WhyHunger and allied organizations by supporting and practicing agroecology in the U.S. These exchanges are critical steps in helping to build capacity for individual organizations while strengthening the fabric of the growing social movement for food sovereignty and justice for all. We continue to foster and grow the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, providing organizational and technical support for the Alliance and the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize and Food Sovereignty Encounter. In 2016, we helped the Alliance to create and implement a new regional structure, increasing their effectiveness to build food sovereignty locally. We helped initiate a strategic dialogue between three growing movements; La Via Campesina, the Climate Justice Alliance and the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, to build collective power and strengthen the ability for joint-initiatives and cross-sector support at the intersection of hunger and the environment.

Nelson from Zimbabwe visited with WhyHunger to share learnings about agriculture and agroecology

Fueling Social Justice

WhyHunger is actively supporting and stewarding a national alliance of emergency food providers to shift from a model of charity as the solution to hunger to a model of social justice. In 2016, we facilitated a leadership retreat to establish a clear vision, goals and plan for the growing network and the Closing the Hunger Gap national conference in fall 2017, which aims to attract more than 500 participants from all 50 states. Our popular Food Justice Voices series What Ferguson Means for Food Justice, a powerful collection of articles featuring the grassroots voices of Black leaders working within movement building and food justice, produced 3 new issues. We launched a new report titled School Breakfast at Half Century - A Look Back to Move Ahead from activist, author, professor and WhyHunger Board Member Janet Poppendieck, an animated video If You Give Someone a Fish illustrating our theory of change, and Connecting Hunger & Health in Brooklyn and Beyond a video that tells the story of food justice and health in everyday lives. These publications and materials helped to educate and engage hundreds of thousands on the issues and solutions at the root of hunger and poverty.

WhyHunger's 2016 Impacts. Picture from Chicago gathering with food providers.

WhyHunger continues to organize grassroots partners using our community of practice methodology around the intersection of hunger, food, agriculture and social justice. In 2016, we convened and led communities of practice for 70 participants around Hunger and Health in the Mid-West and Mid-Atlantic regions and nationally around Youth and Food Justice and Race and Food Justice. WhyHunger supported and accompanied Rooted in Community, a national youth food justice alliance, as they work to organize youth food justice leaders to build collective power. In 2016, WhyHunger provided capacity building support by facilitating a process to re-envision the organization’s governmental structure and by providing funding for youth to participate in their annual Youth Leadership Summit where they joined in skills building, co-learning, creative arts and direct action.

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This spotlight is a feature of WhyHunger’s digital storytelling that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: Soil Born Farms; Sacramento, CA. Story and photos by David Hanson.

In 2006, Soil Born Farm’s Food Access Coordinator, Randy Stannard, heard about a man selling peaches at a crazy low price at one of the city farmer's markets. He heard the man had incredible fruit but no permit. Since Soil Born Farms is a non-profit in Sacramento that supports farmer’s markets and encourages sustainable growers and farm education programs throughout the city, Randy found the man with the peaches and the man invited Randy to his orchard.

The orchard makes an thick L-shape beside and behind a modest two-story house in the northern suburbs of Sacramento, CA. It’s a quiet street with some empty lots, a suburban area where retail and residential have trickled in slowly rather than undergoing a full-on, mass development assault. The kind of outer city place that still has overt, physical reminders of its rural past, like tall, dry native grasses or a lot with an old barn still in back.

Randy walked with Carlos among his and his wife Maria’s 150 fruit trees. The couple had planted the trees twenty years prior, as soon as Carlos bought the empty lot. Apricots, grapefruit, oranges, apples, plums, pluots, cherries, peaches hung from the trees’ shady ceilings. A row of nopale cactus stood one story tall. Randy couldn’t believe it all grew on this non-descript semi-suburban lot and that Carlos had never intended to sell any of it until that year.

Now this story will sound like a movie writer’s or campaign speech writer’s ideal of American Dream: Immigrant Version. But it's true and it’s told just as Maria told it to me while we walked under the fruit.

Carlos moved to the US at age 15. He and his father and brother left the small pueblo of Atangillo and worked on a dairy farm in the States. Then they went back to Mexico. But Carlos didn't want to stay in the small town. He wanted the American dream. So he moved to Tijuana and drove a taxi, shined shoes, and worked in a restaurant. Eventually he settled in Sacramento. When the construction season slowed down in winter, Carlos returned to Atangillo to visit his family and his girlfriend, Maria. He and Maria wrote letters to one another, too.

In 1972 Maria moved up to Sacramento to marry Carlos. They lived on the other side of town from where the orchard and home now sits. Carlos worked construction for 29 years. They had kids and Maria stayed home to be with them. They wanted their kids to love the land and enjoy simple pleasures, like the ones Carlos and Maria remembered from their pueblo. They didn't want their kids to be spoiled.

In 1985 Carlos bought a piece of land in the north side of the city. He planted fruit trees there and he'd go most evenings to water and tend to them. By 1993, he and Maria had saved enough to build a house on the lot and move into their fruit orchard. Their kids could wander into the yard and sit in the shade below a ceiling of fresh fruit, just like Carlos had imagined.

Carlos never intended to make money off the orchard, even though he had 150 trees. He simply wanted to grow fruit and share it with his family. But Maria saw it differently. She asked why he worked all day on the fruit and they could only eat and give away so much of it, then the rest rots. So Carlos decided to try to sell some of his fruit.

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rich garon root causes of hungerWhyHunger sat down with longtime supporter and author Rich Garon to get some insight on his new novel Felling Big Trees, his commitment to address the root causes of hunger and what his career in politics has taught him about social issues. Proceeds from Felling Big Trees benefit WhyHunger.

Q: Of all the charities, what drew you to WhyHunger and its mission?

A: I started working with WhyHunger 40 years ago, which was known as World Hunger Year at the time. My first duties as a legislative assistant were supporting my former boss, Congressman Ben Gilman, as he worked on the Right-to-Food Resolution. That was followed in the late 70s when I helped him as he worked with this whirlwind dynamo named Harry Chapin. He and Bill Ayres had just set up the group and they were determined to create a Presidential Commission on World Hunger. The Commission was established and Ben served with Harry, Congressman Rick Nolan, Senator Pat Leahy, Senator Bob Dole, and other members from the private sector. Harry was soon known as the conscience of the Commission—the driving force to get things done the right way. I’m truly heartened by the great work WhyHunger has done and continues to do.

Q: How did a career in Washington both help and fail to help you prepare for spending your retirement serving the homeless?

A: I saw how Ben, as Chairman of the House Commission on International Relations, could use that position to make a difference on issues such as children’s survival and related nutrition and health issues. However, as we know, there’s a lot more to do, and Washington can be a tricky place to get done what needs to get done. I guess as I entered my work on behalf of the homeless, I had little power to bring to the table. I had to, as Harry would say, just do something. I learned through a lot of trial and error what seemed to work and what didn’t. I think I’ve been doing my homework as I now begin to approach elected and appointed officials. Again, I learned that from Harry. Policymakers he met couldn’t believe that a singer/songwriter seemed to know more about the issues than they did.

Q: In your book, Felling Big Trees, the main character Fran Stewart is a disgraced politician who is searching for meaning and an answer to global injustices. Do you relate with the main character and why?

A: Yes, I think it’s not uncommon to come away from a career on Capitol Hill wondering why more can’t be done to effectively and humanely deal with the problems our nation and the international community face. I had to think for quite a while on how to portray a single act that captured his lashing out at Washington. Congressman Fran Stewart wonders what could have been done, for example, to halt genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. Having visited both areas, those questions always burned in my mind.

Q: Why did you choose to write about poverty, hunger, and homelessness from the point of view of Capitol Hill?

A: I wrote this novel 15 years ago. I had just retired from a career on Capitol Hill, so that seemed to be the perspective from which I could relate with authenticity. The novel format gave me an opportunity to create characters struggling with personal issues, as they also tried to better understand and deal with issues and themes I thought important.

Q: What has a career in politics taught you about social issues and how we can help?

A: It is important to be persistent in seeking change, but not to the degree that you can’t recognize that those who earlier have opposed change are now ready to talk. I’ve seen some real opponents come around to seeing the merit in one’s position.

Q: Why do you think it is important to support community-led solutions to hunger, poverty and homelessness along with policy change?

A: It’s important, as Fran Stewart recognizes, to ask some universal questions, questions as relevant today as in the 1990s: What breeds inaction and apathy? How do we jumpstart a deeper connection to injustices we see every day? How far will we humble ourselves to help those with few resources? Community led solutions, such as those advocated by the work of WhyHunger, focus on these types of questions in the face of the realities of changing obstacles. WhyHunger has served its supporters well in doing this over the years and in alerting policymakers of the voices and stories of the people, who are a force to be reckoned with.

Q: How do the challenges of our current political climate dovetail with the challenges in your book, Felling Big Trees, and how do you see that affecting the state of hunger, poverty and homelessness in the U.S.?

A: Ben used to urge us to keep our powder dry until we knew exactly what we were dealing with; to see the best way to get what we wanted from any given situation. I think that’s sound advice, and a position embraced by Fran Stewart. At some point, he realizes long-established ways of doing things are not the best ways. He raises one person’s voice and does what one person can do to the fullest extent possible. I believe in any political climate, that’s the measure of a person.

Rich Garon received both his M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics from New York University and began a career on Capitol Hill that lasted more than 25 years. For the last six of those years he served as Chief-of-Staff, Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives. He currently chairs the Serve (Outreach and Mission) Committee at the Immanuel Anglican Church in Woodbridge, VA and coordinates the Homeless Ministry, with an emphasis on those living in the woods. He was named to the Board of Directors of the Greater Prince William County [VA] Community Health Center, and conducts mission trips with his wife, Karen, to Bolivia to support church-building in several areas including what began as a tent city.

For more information, please visit www.richgaron.com, watch TV interview and connect with Garon through Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Felling Big Trees is available on Amazon, BookBaby, and wherever fine books are sold.

Proceeds benefit WhyHunger.

NAHO Letter Sign On! Calling all community-based, state and national organizations to join WhyHunger and The National Anti-Hunger Organizations (NAHO) in sending a clear message to the incoming Administration and the Congress that we must protect a strong and effective national nutrition safety net for low-income individuals and families! Programs like the National School Breakfast and School Lunch, SNAP, Summer Meals and WIC are a critical part of ensuring everyone has access to nutritious food and the first line of defense against hunger. 

As we work together to transform our food system, build social justice and invest in community-led solutions that attack the root causes of hunger and poverty, we must also ensure these critical programs keep providing the food and support our neighbors need day in and day out.  Join us today and sign on to this important message! (Organizations only please).  

Action Needed:  Read and Sign On today to join other national, state, regional and local organizations to demonstrate the diverse groundswell of support for the federal nutrition programs.

Deadline: Wednesday, March 1st! This letter will be a key advocacy resource for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, March 5th-7th in Washington, DC.  For more on the conference, click here. Please sign your organization onto this letter by Wednesday, March 1st to ensure your organization is listed in the Lobby Day (March 7th) materials.

WhyHunger is a member of the National Anti-Hunger Organziations (NAHO), along with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), No Kid Hungry, and the Alliance to End Hunger. The following statement is delivered by NAHO.

December 14, 2016 ─ Our organizations, which make up the National Anti-Hunger Organizations, are committed to ensuring a strong and effective national nutrition safety net for vulnerable, low-income individuals and families. With a united voice, we reflect on the hunger problem in America and its solutions as we transition to a new president and a new Congress.

There are 42 million people in this country — 13 million of them children and over 5 million of them seniors — living in households struggling with hunger. This problem would be far, far worse if not for the nation’s very effective anti-hunger programs:
• the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps);
• the National School Breakfast and School Lunch programs;
• the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) that provides nutritious meals for children in child care, Head Start, and afterschool programs and shelters;
• the Summer Meals programs;
• the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC);
• The Emergency Food Assistance Program ( TEFAP), which provides commodities to food banks;
• the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations; and
• nutrition programs for the elderly (e.g., the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and congregate and home-delivered meals).

Together, these federal nutrition programs reduce hunger and poverty, improve health and learning, increase productivity, create jobs, and strengthen our communities. They help the many people in our country — of all ages, races, ethnicities, and life circumstances — who are struggling. This includes seniors, children, people with disabilities, military and veterans’ families, low-wage workers, unemployed and underemployed adults, and others.

In particular, SNAP, as our nation’s first line of defense against hunger, has the broadest reach. It is structured to respond effectively to need as a result of economic downturns, natural disasters, and other causes.

Soon, the new Congress and President-elect Trump will be sworn in and will begin making key decisions. We call on them to recommit America to one of its most important and widely agreed-upon beliefs, one that has deep and long-standing bipartisan support: nobody in this country should go hungry.

We call on them to safeguard the federal nutrition programs, including protecting the programs against block grants or other structural changes that would undermine their effectiveness; fully funding these programs and defending them against budget cuts; and taking steps to assure all hungry people in our country receive the help they need.

We look forward to working with the new Congress and President-elect Trump toward the goal of ending hunger in the United States.

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