Saturday, January 14, 2012

Occupy Vacant Lots, Philadelphia Works for Food Justice

I'm thrilled to see sustainable solutions emerging from the Occupy movement. The ideas may not all be novel, but applying them in any particular place requires creativity and dedication. In Occupy Philly, I met two young women working on an Occupy Vacant Lots project. Philly has 40,000 vacant lots, they said, so why shouldn't communities put the land to good use by turning them into gardens? Community gardens provide healthy, inexpensive food for people to share, helping communities become healthier and providing valuable educational and community-building opportunities.

I asked one of the project leaders, Bri, how communities responded when her group approached them, and she said people had been overwhelmingly positive. She didn't want to come across as elitist when approaching the communities, but she did want to share her growing knowledge about the importance of local food systems with people who could really benefit from community gardens. So far, she said, people have been very interested in starting gardens, eager to have access to nutritious, home-grown food.

In other words, while being perceived as elitist can be a concern for college-educated people working in lower-income neighborhoods, it's a concern to address through open dialogue that seeks feedback from communities. Assuming these communities wouldn't be interested in food soveriegnty would be the truly elitist stance. Everyone deserves access to healthy food, and that's a concept that may resonate somewhere deep within all of us, even if we're not used to eating the best quality food. 

It was just last week that I visited Occupy Philly and recorded Bri's story--she had a beautiful story about being presented with a Lenape squash, and feeling deeply moved by how this native species has survived for generations after so many have been lost. Being January, it wasn't exactly gardening season, but I have a feeling there will be a lot blossoming in the spring!

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