Food Justice in the South
Guest post by Pam Kingfisher, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group serves as the South Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month.
From the ancient tribal agricultural ways of Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, Natchez and others, the landscape of the South has always been rich in food systems, right along with the racial and economic disparities forced upon the region. The original farm workers were slaves laboring on rich plantations across the south. The tribes accepted runaway slaves into our communities, to grow food and families along with our people. This mutual and violent history has pushed both Native and African Americans from the land. Many of these same systems of racial and economic disparity have played a part in the destruction of small and family farmers and the continued abuse of farm labor and the ecosystem.
But, many people and organizations are promoting agricultural and food systems that protect our lands, people, animals and water in order to rebuild healthy communities.
Visiting New Orleans over the last few years has provided me with a unique view of “food justice” after Katrina wiped out most of their infrastructure. Community charter schools were some of the first buildings to re-open. The hurricane disaster created a clean slate for community members to establish systems a little differently. At Green Academy the lunchroom has a blue line around it where the high water mark was. This year they are painting over that line as they have healed from that time. The administration built in a kitchen classroom for the students along with “Edible Schoolyards” for outdoor classrooms and growing food. Three of the schools in this system have Edible Schoolyards, each with a unique point of view. At Arthur Ashe I visited with bunnies, chickens and goats, as well as students, throughout the schoolyard. At Langston Hughes they had recently celebrated a sweet potato festival after growing 300 pounds of them. They have a Garden Lab classroom with a full time horticulture teacher to guide these young producers.
Each of these schools were hard to approach – the streets are still a mess of potholes and patches of pavement – but the welcome received from the faculty and students can’t be beat. The students preparing for an Iron Chef contest were so enthusiastic, it was hard to leave before the contest happened! The schools don’t fence the gardens so that everyone feels free to gather food if they need it. There hasn’t been any vandalism at these schools either - the communities treasure these assets and take pride in what they have built.
That is food justice to me. When a community can rebuild their schools to include gardens and animals with outdoor classrooms to teach whole children in a whole system.