Doing Food Justice at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School

By Liz Sims, La Plazita Institute Service Member  Beginning in August 2015, students council members gather twice a week at 6:30 AM for mandatory attendance as the sun rises behind Atrisco Heritage Academy High School (AHA). One team, the student issues group, surveyed their peers about student concerns at the beginning of the year. They discussed student concerns, and worked to address them. Their drive to address issues within the school led them to find that food on campus struck concerns among many within the student population.

Fast forward six months. These students are the odd balls of student council, waking up to practice choreography to Afrika Bambaataa among the massive student council group discussing prom and graduation. Our team took on a new role within student council not only because of their excitement to rehearse their flash mob at dawn, but they were also naming “Food Justice” within the school’s landscape. Our students felt passionate about starting a school-wide conversation regarding health disparities, food access, and to celebrate the often unrecognized abundance of fresh and traditional foods grown here in our own community.

AHA’s first ever “Food Justice Awareness Week” was in the making and swarming with excitement to learn, practice, and organize. Jags for Justice, as we were now calling our team (Go Jaguars!), spent countless hours gaining inspiration and knowledge from national and local farmers and activists. They even took trips after school to check out local farms. The massive chain of Food Justice quickly unraveled to reveal the inherent connections between ancestry, place, culture, water, land, access, and celebration.

Food Justice Week finally arrived. Out of nowhere, Afrika Bambaataa dropped on the loudspeakers in the cafeteria and our dance broke out in between tables of students with their school lunches. Shocked and intrigued, students followed the flash mob outside to find their peers rocking blender bikes and serving fruity spinach smoothies to everyone. Students helped build seed murals, made pollinator seed bombs, and even planted their own seeds to take home. Local farmers hung out to chat with students about growing food and the UNM Health Clinic shared their knowledge about health risks of eating processed foods. We celebrated student artwork by live screen printing our AHA Food Justice logo on t-shirts for students and staff.

The final day of AHA Food Justice gave local experts the opportunity to share their stories and knowledge with students. Our crew hosted a series of Jag Talks (a spinoff of the well-known TedTalks) which allowed teachers to bring their classes to learn from influential speakers from the community, University of New Mexico, and even within Atrisco Heritage itself. Our speakers shared snapshots of cultural history, ways to be involved as youth, and what a food desert even is. Students even learned about entomophagy and aquaponics.

Food Justice was a hit. This student-led event serves as a significant springboard for new ideas to mold food justice within AHA and ground our students’ concerns about access to healthy food in in greater context of understanding. Keep an eye out for more exciting news coming from Jags for Justice at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School.