On the Eve of the Growing Food and Justice Conference

Today I will be participating in the Intensive Leadership Facilitator Training (ILFT) at the 4th annual Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative (GFJI) Gathering. I’m excited; I was here two years ago and it was an experience like no other. It is routinely held at the state fairgrounds in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where five or more of us share a bunk room. There is no real transportation so most of your day is spent with everyone at the gathering. (I snuck out the first year I attended. I needed some cheese.)

The purpose of the Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative is to dismantle racism and empower low-income communities and communities of color through sustainable and local agriculture. ILFT is designed to build a community of leaders and provide intensive training and dialogue for participants to facilitate anti-racist food justice trainings in their own regions or communities. Many of those participating are from grassroots organizations that may not be able to attend costlier conferences that occur throughout the year. This gives those groups the opportunity to meet with people they may not have had the opportunity to otherwise.


At my first ILFT I was scared, uncomfortable and it was the first training of its kind that I had ever participated in. I was not sure what to expect. . What I got was daunting but fun and I was able to bond with forty people struggling with similar issues in their own communities. It wasn’t easy, especially when you spend most of the day not talking, but acting out concepts like ‘institutional racism.’ However, after those two days, we were connected in a way that others who were at the gathering but not the training weren’t. We had spent two days getting to know each other, our fears, our favorite foods, how many tattoos we had, while working on how to make our world better.

This year the training is going to be more hands on, which for this born-and-bred urban girl is a bit intimidating. Participants will experience a series of farming activities that explore how to build a just food system. Again, seems scary and uncomfortable; but if last year is any indication, I know it will be amazing. So I am returning to GFJI with an open mind, excited and hoping to see some old friends and make new ones.

Patricia Rojas