Understanding the Intersection of Social Justice and the Food System with Accokeek Foundation’s 2012 Food Justice Series
By Annamarya Scaccia
Our relationship with food should involve more than its mere consumption. Instead, when we regard food, we need to consider its origins, the hands that cultivated it, and if equal accessibility to garden-fresh foods actually exists. In other words, our understanding of the food system needs to go beyond the aisles of the local grocery store.
And that’s where the Accokeek Foundation comes in. Founded in 1957, the Accokeek-based foundation, which is home to the historic National Colonial Farm, advocates and supports land conservation, historic preservation, environmental stewardship and sustainable agriculture. Whether it’s offering workshops on operating tractors, organizing cleanup efforts for the Potomac River Watershed, or enlisting volunteers to maintain their budding gardens, the Accokeek Foundation works to educate and engage the community so our comprehension of agriculture and the environment is that much more enlightened.
One important way the organization approaches these issues is through its 2012 Food Justice Series, which is part of the Robert Ware Straus Lecture Series and is run in partnership with the Rural Coalition and Southern Maryland Agricultural Commission project. Now in its second year, the free four-part educational presentation, which began March 29 and ends November 10, addresses “the intersection between social justice and our food system.” “It is a time to bring together members of our community participating in all levels of our food system to raise awareness and deepen our analysis of these issues,” says Molly Meehan, outreach and education coordinator for Accokeek’s Center for Agricultural and Environmental Stewardship.
Prince George’s Suite had a chance to chat with Meehan about the 2012 Food Justice Series, what food justice means, and how members of Prince George’s County community can be agents of change.
Prince George’s Suite: What do you hope to accomplish with the 2012 Food Justice Series?
Molly Meehan: Our goal is to build community and solidarity within this movement, and to help folks not only to better understand food justice issues, but to find opportunities and connections in our communities in which they can engage.
PGS: How did you decide which topics you would discuss for each of its events?
MM: Last year, we started with topics that were sort of an aerial global view of issues in food justice globally, particularly the food sovereignty movement of communities working together advocating local participation in and control over our food systems, then we went on to topics such as food policy, building local just food systems, food access, farmworkers rights, and the connection between the environment, our food and our health. This year, we have chosen again to start the series off [on Thursday, March 29] by honoring Cesar Chavez, and bringing light the issues that farmworkers face here in the United States and globally. [On Thursday, May 13] we will [focus] on food access in Southern Maryland, a panel in which we will be inviting members of local communities, faith and government based initiatives, as well as local schools who are all working in various capacities to connect local and sustainable food with communities in need. Our third event [on October 13] will focus on a growing movement of new/young farmers addressing the issues that face them such as access to land and capitol to begin farming, access to healthcare, proper training and equipment, etc. The Food and Farming Mixer serves in addition as a social function that brings together new and beginning farmers from all backgrounds, building bridges between commodity/conventional growers and organic, building solidarity to face the issues that affect us all. The final event [on November 13], Farming in the Four Directions, will be a look at our diverse ancestral past farming in this area and a look at the future of farming in our region.
PGS: What do you mean particularly by “food justice”? What types of issues fall under that umbrella?
MM: Food justice, in the simplest explanation, spans across all of the issues of justice and equity in our food system. It can span everything from food and agricultural policy that effects certain countries and communities in damaging ways that threaten their farming communities and local economies, to deplorable working conditions that many farmworkers face, to food deserts in both urban and rural communities that sometimes have more access to the local liquor store than to fresh and healthy foods. The issues of food justice are many, the important thing that is happening in this movement is that people are beginning to look at the food systems from a systems [interconnected] standpoint, and realizing that all of us working at various play very vital roles, and this has really helped the movement gain strength as well as depth.
PGS: Why is it important for the community to talk about food justice and transform the food system?
MM: We believe that it is important to continue to give voice to these issues so that we can grow in consciousness collectively and learn the ways we can support these efforts in our daily lives as well as working together. Communities hold the answer to the issues that we face, and holding space for participatory and community based approaches to healing our food system is a very important part of the work that we do.
PGS: What are the important things for the community to remember about the food system, farmers and the way food is cultivated?
MM: It is important that people remember that real, healthy food is grown by real people, family farmers, farmworkers, etc. These communities deserve dignity, and our respect, and they are working hard to preserve a very threatened livelihood that is controlled more and more by large corporations that look at our food as simply an economic activity. We must remember that agriculture is not an economic activity alone, it is a culture, a right, and a livelihood, and has massive implications on the health of people and of individuals. Sustainable, community and family based agriculture that is just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable and encourages local thriving economies is what must be preserved, encouraged, and protected. That is our future.
PGS: How can the Prince George’s County community bring about change with regards to this?
MM: Start small, pick an issue you feel called too and passionate about and then being engaged becomes easy and natural. Reach out to folks in your community to learn more about these issues, and go for it! Always learn to dig deeper and ask the important questions, these can be complex issues with many sides.
For more information on the series and the Accokeek Foundation, visit http://accokeekfoundation.org.
Photo, Mid-Right: Rudy Arredondo, president of the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association, sings “De Colores (Of Colors)” at last year’s Food Justice Series. (Photo from Accokeek Foundation’s Flickr Stream)
Photo, Bottom Right: Lorette Picciano, executive director of the Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural, introducing speakers at last year’s Food Justice Series. (Photo from Accokeek Foundation’s Flickr Stream)