Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Healthy Eating Starts at Firm's Garden" - Tallahassee Democrat Thurs., Nov 17th, 2011

[Garden installed by Tallahassee Food Gardens featured in Democrat.]

By Elizabeth M. Mack
Democrat staff writer

Turnips, cabbage and radishes are all fall vegetables that can be found in any home or community garden.

But what about at work?

The employees at FBMC Benefits Management started an urban garden of their own in the spring, said Glenda Atkinson, FBMC wellness coordinator.

The garden is part of the company's many wellness programs, Atkinson said. FBMC has had a wellness program for than 20 years offering employees yoga classes, a workout area on site and cooking classes.

Wednesday afternoon the company received recognition from the American Heart Association as one of its Fit-Friendly Companies — an honor FBMC received for the third consecutive year. It also received the Workforce Innovation Award for implementing the garden in its wellness program.

"You guys have done a wonderful job," said Kellie Thigpen, American Heart Association regional director. "You're the only company in Tallahassee that is doing anything like this."

Atkinson said that she got the idea to do the garden after realizing how the concept had been picked up around the community. When it started, there were only four 4-by-4-foot plant beds. It has now doubled, with hopes of even more expansion, Atkinson added. The garden's upkeep — planting, watering and harvesting — is done entirely by employees.

"This garden has gotten a lot of love," she said. "Everyone helps out in taking care of it. And it allows us to get outside, be active, and it relaxes you."

FBMC, which manages health plans and other employee benefits for its various clients, has a staff of 130 in Tallahassee.

Once the spring vegetables were harvested, FBMC held a healthy cooking demonstration, using the vegetables from the garden. Some employees have even started their own gardens at home.

"Everyone has been really happy about it," she said. "It's been really worthwhile."

And now that the garden is nearing another harvest, the employees decided they wanted to "share the wealth."

On Saturday, a full plant bed of turnips will be donated to the "Man in Overalls" food bank, Atkinson added.

"So now, not only will they feel good health wise, but they can feel good knowing they are helping out others in the community," Akinson said.

"A Peace of Bread" - Documentary -- featuring MIO-- about young people around the Country working on hunger

"A Peace of Bread" a new documentary by Diva Communications, is about young folks around the country who are working on food system change as a method of addressing hunger in their communities.  Debra, Diva's director/producer got wind of my work here in Tallahassee because I am a Food Justice Fellow with the Presbyterian Hunger Program.  She came through Tallahassee this past August to interview me and others amidst the Tallahassee Food Network. Take a look at their opening sequence:

A Peace of Bread - opening sequence from Diva Communications on Vimeo.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Food Justice: Honoring our Roots, Growing the Movement" - 15th annual conf of the Community Food Security Coalition

This past week I was in Oakland for the 15th annual conference of the Community Food Security Coalition.  With the Oakland's rich history of food justice work rooted in the Black Panther's Free Breakfast for School Children Program (that gave rise to the nation-wide free and reduced lunch programs), the Occupy Oakland movement centered just around the corner, and a gathering of 1100 folks from across the country and world all working amidst the food movement, the stage was set for a dynamic conference.

But how do I tell the story of a movement meeting itself? Of 1100 workers in the food movement-- a microcosm of the global good-food system-- in the same place sharing stories, successes, challenges, models, and dreams?  Can I capture the dynamic via lists and links of represented organizations?

If nothing else, I've got to discuss Food Sovereignty.  It was an oft repeated phrase at the conference.  As Malik Yakini from Detroit pointed out, "Food Security isn't enough... You can be food secure in jail.... The goal is not just to be a well fed slave but to control our food system." The issue is control.  In spite of the best intentions of the industrial food system and those who control it, if our food system is controlled by an ever smaller pool of food conglomerates (as it currently is: 84% of pork processing is done by the top four companies, 70%+ of beef, and over 50% of corn is all controlled by the top four companies), a small change in the board room can result in hungry, malnourished or obese communities at the local level.  Some even go as far as to say that the corporate food system is waging a "low intensity war" against local communities that is resulting in life-expectancies for children that are shorter than their parents due to chronic, diet-related diseases. 

The food sovereignty conversation took on a different dynamic when addressed by those from the global south, like the MST of Brazil, (global) La Via Campesia, Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (Honduras), (Kenya-based) G-BIACK and the Movimiento Campesino a Campesino (in Mexico). The stories held a common strand: indigenous communities who had farmed and fed their families for generations, centuries.  Amidst nationalistic efforts to "develop," "modernize," and "liberalize" their countries and economies, national leaders created laws requiring private-property deeds for all land, nation-wide.  Unaware of such laws, the peasant farmers of the world continued to farm and feed their families; meanwhile those privy to the bureaucratic loop (chiefly transnational corporations and the wealthiest of, for instance, Honduran families) hired deed writers and lawyers.  In the shadows of legality, deeds were created and sold to those who could pay, sometimes resulting in 2,3,4, 8 or more deeds for the same piece of land.  Those with access to money and lawyers won the resulting court cases.  With the endorsement of law and the aid of public (sometimes private) police and military, subsistance farmers became landless farmers.  Sadly, such economic indicators such as GDP grew via speculative sales of property thus misrepresenting the state of general welfare.  In such situations, food sovereignty is directly tied to the dispossession and speculative buying and selling of land, to the means and methods of supplying one's communities with food. --

A growing response is that of the MST who "organizes non-violent occupations of unproductive lands in order to [secure land for] the rural poor." They argue, our fundamental right to feed ourselves supersedes an absentee-landlord's right to private property.  The rules are not working-- to the detriment of the vast majority-- so they're re-writing the rules.  Food Sovereignty.  Powerful stuff.
How about a few anecdotes: La Via Campesina which is a peasant farmer organization boasting 300 million members worldwide and their principles of Food Sovereignty; There's a 14-acre Urban Farm Coop in South Central LA that is in a struggle with the city to get their land back after their farm was bulldozed several years ago to build a warehouse. (Cool fact: their urban community farm lead to a 78% reduction in crime in the area. After they raised property values via crime-reduction, the city attempted to sell the land out from under them.) Check out: And the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Windy City Harvest, the Sustainable Prisons Project, or Youth Grow are also awesome.  If the Occupy Movements have caught your eye recently, then perhaps you'd be interested in the MST of Brazil (i.e., the Movimiento Dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) which has occupied something on the order of 300,000 acres in order that poor, landless farmers (landless primarily because their indigenous land was swindled from under them) can provide for their families.

I met so many dynamic folks doing amazing work.  Below are the materials I brought home, and below that is a list of amazing organizations.
I met folks from the Americorps-like Food Corps, (Youth-led) Philadelphia based Urban Nutrition Initiative, Oakland's Planting Justice, the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, Ag-Missions, an Iowan soybean farmer featured in Fresh the Movie, the Farmworkers Association of Florida, Tucson Community Food Bank that has made farmers' markets and community gardens part of its food security focus, the Food Justice Club of Cal Poly Pomona, Live Real Food Challenge, poets, Black Urban Farmers and Gardeners Conference, Milwaukee's Growing Power, The Food Project in Boston, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Green for All, a to-be Brooklyn NY urban farmer whose email sports her last name "Farmer Brown," the US Family Farm Defenders, G-BIACK, an ecological farmer training center for women in Kenya, and Louisville's Fresh Stop church-sponsored CSA program.

What a conference! a sharing! an exchange!  The question I carry with me is this: What does food sovereignty look like in Tallahassee?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

From Food Day to Food Sovereignty

Food Day festivities were a whirlwind of Tallahassee's food movement.  From the New Leaf Farm tour to video screenings, garden open houses, the community gardens tour, the Youth Symposium on Hunger and Food, Food-O-Rama at Kleman Plaza, the Sustainable You conference, and the "Florida Grown School Lunch Week Kick Off" at the capital, Food Day revealed many of the organizations and efforts amidst the food movement that largely go unseen, especially the Tallahassee Food Network.

On Food Day proper, Oct 24th, I exhibited in the capital courtyard with the aid of my "truck farm," which was picked up by WCTV.  (As an aside, I'm working with a team of Frenchtown Youth to manufacture and sell the garden buckets you can see in the below picture, which are improvised earth boxes (which retail $60, empty).  We'll be selling ours, filled and planted for $25-$30.)

The same day, I taught a workshop at Sustainable You called "Food and Community Gardening 101." Also the same day (at the conference) Ms Miaisha Mitchell (of the Frenchtown Revitalization Council) and I received proclamations--as Co-Founders of the Tallahassee Food Network-- from the City and County establishing Oct 24th as Food Day.  I'll have to post the eloquent language in a future post.

So where do we go post Food Day?

Alas, before I could sufficiently pursue answering that question amidst the Tallahassee Food Network, two things required my more immediate attention.  #1: Business at hand and #2: An educational trip to California. 

Immediately following Food Day, I took a trip to Tampa to build and plant a couple raised beds for my cousin.

Fortunately, I ordered too much compost, so in finding a way to "get rid of it," I got the opportunity to visit Seminole Heights Community Garden in Tampa where my cousin is a working member.

Back in Tallahassee, just before my departure for California, Wendell (my co-worker) and I installed a micro irrigation system for the food garden at The Space at Feather Oaks. (look for the white raisers in the middle of the beds):

I also promised mention of my trip to California and the conversation of Food Sovereignty at the Community Food Security Coalition Conference, but given the length of this post, I'll have to do that in a follow-up.

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