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Learning Guide: Frontline expertise from community food justice leaders 


From 2011-2016, over three dozen people at five community-based organizations (CBOs), three universities, and one college collaborated on the action, research and education project we called Food Dignity. During those five funded years and two additional ones, we collaborated in mapping and traveling the most appropriate and effective roads forward for creating sustainable community food systems that build food security in the US.


This installment in the series of Food Dignity Learning Guides is a guide to some of the first-person, frontline expertise shared by community leaders who were co-investigators in the Food Dignity project about their struggles, strategies, and successes in their food justice work. 


East New York Farms! (ENYF!), of the United Community Centers in Brooklyn, New York, works to organize youth and adults to address food justice in their community by promoting local sustainable agriculture and community-led economic development. Three leaders of ENYF! share their video stories of how and why they became involved in the organization’s food justice work: My Food Justice Story Starts Here, by Daryl MarshallSeeing Differently, by Sarita Daftary-Steel; and An Agricultural Place, by David Vigil.  What grows in urban East New York?  As illustrated in a multi-media case study and a book chapter, East New York Farms! grows more than food.


On the other side of the country, in Cherryland and Ashland in the Bay Area of California, Dig Deep Farms (DDF) also aims to address more than food through its urban agriculture initiative. A project of the Deputy Sherriff’s Activities League, Dig Deep Farms is a social enterprise founded on the conviction that integrated community involvement in healthy food access and job creation raises the quality of life – individually and collectively – as a community. Two of DDF’s urban farmers and a captain in the Alameda County sheriff’s department share their stories of coming to this work, and what it means to them:  Fresh Start, by Pac RuckerMy New Life, by Mike Silva; and When Good Food Makes for Good Policing, by Marty Neideffer. Also, a journal paper, produced in collaboration between leaders from ENYF! and DDF, documents the “unattainable trifecta” of expectations for urban agriculture without significant and stable financial supports to achieve them.

Feeding Laramie Valley (FLV) is committed to working towards creating a sustainable and local food system and promoting food security in Albany County, Wyoming. FLV programs are dedicated to the mission and philosophy of sharing the best of what they have in order to create collaborative, community-led food systems that are sustainable, equitable and just. The Grace to Receive, by Lina Dunning illuminates both sides of the sharing philosophy, giving and receiving.  Food in Wyoming, by Reece Owens illustrates ways place and culture matter when thinking about what counts as part of the community food system. 


In Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, Blue Mountain Associates, Inc. strives to provide quality programming and professional expertise to help meet the health and human services needs of the rural and urban communities of Indian Country. Etheleen Potter shares a story "Growing Gardens... and Kids" about how much, and who, gardens grow. Jim Sutter's story "Responsibilities are... Responsibilities," also allegorical, carries and conveys the weight of the food justice and sovereignty mission.


Whole Community Project (WCP), which was based at Cornell Cooperative Extension, Tompkins County in Ithaca, NY, was a collaborative effort of organizations and individuals in Tompkins County to support the health and well-being of Tompkins County children and youth. Jemila Sequeira's story, "Sankofa," of personal pain brought about in part by a broken food system sheds light on her motivation for taking on a leadership role as the WCP Director. Damon Brangman is no less driven to play a part building a sustainable community food system through his work with the WCP and shares his story, "Roots Rising"of honoring his connection to the land through his love and respect for the land.

Food for thinking

  1. What are organizations in your community doing that remind you of what hear about from these food justice leaders?

  2. What stories do they tell about their mission, their motivation, the problems they aim to address, and the assets they leverage in addressing community food security or justice?

  3. In his book The Truth About Stories, the author Thomas King writes, “Want a different ethic? Tell a different story” (p.164).  If you had to distill one moral, or an ethic, from each of the video I-stories above, what would each be?

  4. Think of something you choose to do that you feel passionately about. Sketch a two-minute read-aloud story about how and why you came to do that.

  5. Compare the video stories here, or your own story above, to what kind of information might be in a person’s resume. What does each convey, and not convey? If you had to decide whether to go out to dinner with a stranger or not, which would you rather have a short video story like one of these or her/his resume to help you decide?

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