By Casey Coty, FoodCorps Service Member at SouthWest Organizing Project
Are your students eating some beautiful rainbow carrots after defiantly claiming that they don’t like carrots? Are you getting reluctant young folks to eat their greens by sneaking them into a delicious smoothie? That’s awesome!
Whether coming from the school garden the students planted themselves or from a local grower, how do we work with this new found enthusiasm and momentum to increase the flow of fresh, healthy, culturally appropriate foods into our schools and other institutions in an equitable way that honors and respects the workers, land, water, and systems of production and distribution that make up our respective communities and ecosystems?
How can we organize around food and continue to grow relationships to work towards a resurgence of genuine, sustainable, sovereign communities that resist patterns of neoliberal commodification and the systemic injustices continuing to feed off of communities of culture, people of color, women and poor working class folks.
What kind of awareness can we grow within the gardens and classrooms
to help empower our youth
to move from trying and liking new veggies
to organizing and advocating for more just food systems?
Merely presenting so called new methods and situations
with a grinning green washed face
does little more than reinforce the existing structures
of exploitation and deceit.
There are many examples of communities successfully asserting themselves
and using their traditional knowledge and lived experiences
to grow international solidarity
in a grassroots food justice movement.
During the first week of January this year, the Southwest Organizing Project and University Sin Fronteras hosted a dinner and discussion with a representative from the National Education Collective of the Movimento Trabalhador Sem Terra (MST). The Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), one of the largest social movements in Latin America, is internationally famous for its success occupying large unproductive land estates and pressuring the government to redistribute this land to over 1 million landless farmers. The discussion included information about the National Education Collective of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement’s work in public schools that are currently functioning with MST land occupations.
These schools draw on diverse educational theories to develop a set of pedagogical practices for schools that include fostering collective forms of work and participation in political struggle, engaging in contentious actions to support their educational ideas, facilitating community discussions, organizing teacher trainings, and writing curricula with state actors.
In addition to learning about and trying new foods, our students should be given the opportunity to develop a critical understanding of how society functions and how historic injustices continue to shape current structures, including food systems. This should also include learning about different forms of organization, education models, and struggles, like the MST and others, so that they can become empowered to assert their own ideas and solutions in discussions about issues directly affecting them, their families and communities.
That can start with the food they have access to at the school and in their communities and extend well beyond into public policies, including curriculum that reflects their histories, struggles, and visions for a just future. Helping our students develop a critical analysis and vocabulary on historical injustices and current forms of structural racism as they relate to food is central to discussions in the spaces I work in.
One of those spaces is the 21st Century Extended Day Learning Apprenticeship Program at Van Buren Middle School. An 8th grader in the apprenticeship program last year went on to be part of the Southwest Organizing Project’s Youth Group as a summer intern through the Youth Employment Summer Institute, a program that places young people ages 14-24 with local organizations that provide them with the tools they need for developing skills in community organizing.
During the program SWOP’s Food Justice team took some of the participants on a three day trip entitled Reconnecting with our Roots. We visited one of our most beloved mentors’ and his neighbor’s farms that grow a variety of produce including our favorite local chile. It was also a time to get together and share good food, including the first round of chile fresh from the farm, and hear stories about history,culture and food from our mentor.
For the past couple of years we have taken students to the New Mexico Legislative session to support Food and Farms Day to highlight legislative proposals that support local growers and the importance of healthy school lunches. Wednesday, February 3rd we will once again be taking students to the Roundhouse to support Food and Farms Day and to learn about the political process.
The opportunity to talk to their representatives, like the photo above with Wilson students and State House Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton, is critical to shaping students’ understanding of the complex systems that they are a part of.