the faces of food justice: an exhibition
Originally published: October 22, 2015
I recently had the privilege to exhibit some images that I have taken along my journey to document the rise of women in agriculture. These images represent the stories of many of whom work anonymously to create social change. But not just that -- they use agriculture, the growing of food to care for the marginalized and the poor and to advance economic opportunity. These amazing people welcome and help to integrate immigrants and refugees into their communities and are good stewards of our environment. These are the faces of food justice.
Farm Incubation Program for new farmers
This location in the South Side of Chicago, which is aptly named Legends Farm, sits in the footprint of a former Robert Taylor High Rise Public Housing Building. The area was known as ‘the projects’, and represented 11 of the nation’s 15 poorest census tracts. The last of the buildings torn down in 2007, the housing complex was an ideal location for studying the effects of urban living and lack of "green space" on the human condition and is now home to several organic farms.
Windy City Harvest is a program run by the Chicago Botanical Garden and provides a two-year apprentice program for new farmers including shared access to mentors, tools, equipment and markets.
Stacey named his farm Return 2 Life – a designation he attributes to his feelings about the turn his life has taken since joining the apprenticeship program and his contributions to his community. His small 1/8 acre plot remarkably produces 30 boxes of fresh produce for WIC recipients every week.
“I love this work so much, I even come in on the weekends to take care of my farm.” – Stacey Kimmons
West Seattle, WA
Gardening as therapy
It’s often said that getting your hands into dirt and gardening can be the best therapy. Now science is backing the claim that gardening can have not only therapeutic effects on stress levels but that the soil and its microbes itself might have positive affects on brain chemistry.
Tucked away in a busy street is a resource and transitional living center for individuals living with major mental illness such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. In addition to helping with housing, employment and counseling; the organization offers a number of wellness groups. What once was a small gardening group has now blossomed into the smallest certified organic farm in Washington State. Every week the counselor/farmer Jenny calls the residents to remind them to come join her in the greenhouse or in the garden for planting and weeding. She can never predict who will show up, or for how long. And while many are hesitant to jump in once they arrive, the group has become a success. It is responsible for creating at least one part time job for a resident and many have enjoyed learning to cook with the produce.
At one time the vegetables were sold to local restaurants and at the Farmers Market, but now the produce has become so popular that all of it is now distributed to residents and donated to the West Seattle Food Bank.
“Garden Group allows us to get out of our heads and tap into fascination- a state of being that has us hooked on the incredible natural stimuli all around. And for my clients, focusing on something other than voices or uncomfortable side effects of medication is a welcomed relief. It’s a kind of therapy that doesn’t have you talking, but has you doing.” -- Jenny
Photographer note: In respect for the residents’ privacy I chose not to show their faces in these images. - Audra
New York City, South Bronx
Community Gardens and Market
Market manager and community gardener, Karen Washington has been a driving force behind garden and healthy food access initiatives in the Bronx for decades, as well as a vocal advocate for underserved communities throughout New York City and beyond. “I don’t like to take credit,” Karen says, “Just write me up as a little birdy that puts things in people’s ears. It’s not one person that makes things happen, it is a collective. I just want to be part of a group that dreamed big, and had a big vision.”
Karen co-founded La Familia Verde Garden Coalition in 1998, when the city was auctioning off community gardens. Karen, a member of the Garden of Happiness, realized that instead of trying to fight for each individual garden, gardeners could band together and have a much better chance of survival.
Familia Verde’s Farmers’ Market continues to grow. For Karen, the best part of the market’s success is how it has strengthened the community. “The money we make pays for the guy who puts up tables, the people who pick up the produce, and the guy who puts veggies into the truck. This year we are able to pay an EBT manager. We’re becoming more self-sufficient, so, instead of relying on grants, we’re creating jobs and self-reliant communities.” Ninety percent of the food is purchased with SNAP benefits and other low-income assistance. “If someone comes to the market hungry, they don’t walk away hungry.”
Gleaning for Food Banks
In Washington State, 14.6 percent of households experienced food insecurity, with 6.1 percent of households falling within the “very low food security” category.
Through partnerships with local farms, farmers markets, community gardens, and individual growers, Snoqualmie Valley’s Hopelink Harvest program collects donations of produce from farms and orchards that is either too small or past prime for market viability but is still incredibly nutritious food. Between 2011-2013, the program has harvested and distributed over 109,000lbs of fresh produce with expansion every year.
“Hopelink’s food bank clients receive access to the bounty of fresh produce being grown in Snoqualmie Valley through volunteers like Judy. Increased access to farm-fresh foods in our community is satisfying for volunteers and recipients alike.”
-- Lindsey Robinson, Hopelink Harvest Program Coordinator
Job Training Program for
those with barriers to employment
The Englewood community is a three square-mile neighborhood in the south side of Chicago. Nearly 45% of its residents live below the poverty level and is ranked one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city by every metric. Amongst hundreds of empty lots and corner ‘food’ marts is Growing Home, 1.5 acres of land and host to two small and thriving farms.
Growing Home is a 14-week job-training program helps those with barriers to employment; housing, childcare and criminal records. Seven weeks are spent in the classroom and seven weeks are hands-on at the farm. The program enjoys an 85% completion rate and a 79% job placement rate. They are unique in that they are USDA organic certified and a high-production farm selling produce in local markets, restaurants and at their farm stand to serve the Englewood community.
Program graduate Ben (not pictured) racked up 18 arrests and lost his best friend to gunfire, before hitting a breaking point and deciding to make a change. “Growing Home was different. They actually put you to work and the care they give you is way above average.” Ben is now a full-time cook at a local restaurant. “It’s the best, I love my bosses, I love my shift and the food we make is good.”
Through Mercy Corps Refuge Gardens, recent refugees from Myanmar and Bhutan are connected with land, supplies and markets they need to improve their livelihoods through small scale farming enterprise.
For Guman, the path to this small parcel in Southeast Portland began in Southwestern Bhutan and has been a long one. Born in 1969 to an ethnic Nepali family, he was one of six children raised by his father on a small subsistence farm in the Samste region of Bhutan after his mother died early in his childhood. Guman took domestic work outside the home from the age of 10, later working on a large poultry farm operated by the Bhutanese government.
Soon after meeting and marrying his wife Jumuna in his mid-twenties, backlash against the Nepali minority in Bhutan forced the Bharatis to leave their home and relocate to the Beldangi 2 refugee camp in Eastern Nepal.
In the spring of 2009, the Bharatis were granted refugee status and a fresh start for their family in Portland. Guman has used Refuge Gardens to help find stability in Portland and to become a leader in his community. He combines income from his garden with janitorial work to give his children opportunities to pursue their education. He says that the fresh produce, extra income, and opportunity to do healthful work with his family have helped him adjust to life in the United States.