Majora Carter, Food Justice and the true import of the urban agriculture movement

Organic growing practices have been enjoying increased visibility in the eyes of the general public, as attested to by the more than two-fold increase in the number of students participating in this year’s spring section of HORT 3131/3151. As notoriety and public awareness of organics expands, growers and advocates have enjoyed greater access to organic products and growing aids, the creation of new legislation and community programs, and the attention of the popular media, as well as the scientific and academic community. These are important strides for all stakeholders, but perhaps especially so to sectors of the population often lacking representation in our student body.

Across the country, oppression and marginalization still run deep along socioeconomic and racial furrows. Creating truly sustainable solutions to food access and equity are powerful tools in the fight for true parity. Majora Carter’s recent lecture at the Ted Mann Concert Hall was a poignant reminder of this fact. That the creation of, and equal access to local, natural, nutritious foods isn’t just a rehashing of standard American agricultural practices, but a burgeoning social movement capable of offering hope in the fight against food deserts, and providing a means for green income generation and job creation.

The members of our community who most need good food the most are often those with the most limited access. In densely populated urban areas there are large swathes of land where food exists solely in one form: mass-produced, highly processed and necessarily affordable. Such food is often produced at the expense not only of the environment, but also of the producers, and ultimately the consumers. It’s no coincidence that the rates of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related health concerns appear in an arguably epidemic frequency in those areas hardest hit by economic downfall. Health issues are exacerbated by the inadequate medical care that has come to be part and parcel with poverty and acts to highlight the need for prevention. Across the US, migrant farm workers still toil in dangerous, toxic, abusive working conditions that those with the privilege to choose would never tolerate. Often, even when good food is available, the same price points necessary to keep producers in business, exclude many potential consumers from taking part. These issues, however grave and widespread, are not hopeless. Home, institutional, community and public gardens, low cost greenhouse construction, urban market farms and value-added urban farm products have the potential to create a groundswell of change.

This isn’t simply an organic farming class, but a market farming class, proving a practical tutorial on best practices, planning, and marketing, lessons directly applicable to potential business startups, like many of those highlighted in Thursday’s lecture. We cannot expect change to come top down, but must create change from the bottom up in our own communities and our own backyards. As Carter puts it, “We are the key to our own recovery.” 

Carter is currently working to create a national brand for independently owned urban market farms, which she says will create rural-urban alliances and “produce a network of regional jobs”.  This holistic focus on fairly distributed eco-economics is central to Carter’s message; environmentalism, when done right, should be a full-spectrum solution capable of simultaneously building public and environmental health and security, strong communities, and enterprise for all. The production of local, sustainable, justly produced food is a keystone of a larger movement with the potential to impact long-standing injustices and bring about a new era in the way we feed ourselves and our nation.

Lotus Lofgren

For more information:

Majora Carter Group

Food justice certified

Growing food and justice for all

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