How do we start a food democracy (now)?


The Nation Food for All

The Nation Food for All


Are we preaching to the choir? Who is listening? When are we going to start taking action to make this food democracy happen? I am confronted with questions like these when I talk to fellow food justice activists, urban and rural farmers, and other friends. I mean they get, they just do. For a long time, I just thought it was all pretty simple – buy farm, fresh food, then cook it up, and eat it, enjoy it with friends. Be healthy. What else is there to say?

Then, I started to encounter people who were not of this mindset, meaning they shopped at grocery stores, didn’t think about whether or not a tomato, pepper, strawberries were in season. Or to take this conversation further – they didn’t think about whether or not the cow that their steak, hamburgers came from was raised on pasture and ate grass like nature intended it to do. Or whether or not the cow that their milk was coming from was raised on pasture and ate grass. I mean these are questions you must face when shopping at a grocery store because a grocery store is like a confusing maze of abundant looking aisles upon aisles of . . . food? Or is it? Are those aisles really filled with what we could call food?

Yes, I know that Michael Pollan has written In Defense of Food and that Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis moved to Iowa to grow corn for their documentary King Corn. Okay, these texts and pictures definitely got the ball rolling and the conversation moving. The White House has planted an organic garden on it’s front lawn partly due to the fact that Roger Doiron from Kitchen Gardeners International and Daniel Simon Bowman, who drove the White House Organic school bus cross country, campaigned to make this garden happen. The Nation’s latest issue “Food for All: How to Grow Democracy” offers up many articles by many food activists including: Dan Barber (chef/owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Blue Hill in the city), Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, author/journalist Michael Pollan, Anna Lappe, LaDonna Redmond – many of whom attended the Brooklyn Food Conference this past spring. Change is happening; change is evident. Now what? What’s next? How many more books, movies can we read, see?

If you are like me (and you live in Brooklyn, a city, in an apartment), perhaps you have some herbs growing in pots on your door-stoop, fire escape, backyard, community garden, urban farm. So I can feed myself some herbs, great. But, what I am doing to educate my community about why & how to eat farm, fresh food? Why it’s important to talk to our farmers? Why it feels good to get your hands dirty and plant, weed, compost – I could go on.

Gardening, farming is about community. Eating is about community. Sharing. What could be better than sitting down at a table with you neighbors? Family? Friends?

What I want to know is – where is the action, the movement in all of this? Is it the Slow Food movement? Is it the victory garden resurgence? What is it? Where is it? Are Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Dan Barber community gardeners? Do they go out and work with their hands? Well, I know Michael Pollan is a gardener, Alice Waters has made major changes in the Berkeley school system’s cafeteria menus and her book Edible Schoolyard details growing the garden at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, and Dan Barber’s restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns works with the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Who am I leaving out? Will Allen.

In 1993, “Will Allen was a farmer with land” and “Growing Power was an organization with teens who needed a place to work.” (Growing Power). Wow. I am in awe of Will Allen and all that he has accomplished in such a short time. This fall marks the 2nd annual Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative gathering in Milwaukee, WI from October 30 – November 1. This year’s gathering focuses on Food and Spirit: Building Cross Cultural Understanding for Systems Change.

In my opinion, this is the movement. Join the movement, join this movement. Find other to join with you. Grow. Farm. Garden. Eat. Teach. Share. Come to Milwaukee in October. Help us grow food and justice for all. Write me and tell me what you are doing. What else you know. I will write more in the coming months about upcoming plans for farming at a community farm up in Wassaic, New York with farmer Ben Schwartz. I will write more about my work with the Food Security Roundtable. Next year will be an exciting one, but this fall I have plans to attend the Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative gathering, as well as planning a film screening at City College in Harlem on October 2nd, and assisting with a food shipment donated to Mothers on the Move. All of this as well as working at farmers’ markets in Brooklyn and Manhattan four days out of the week.

I will keep you posted on all of the exciting goings-on . . . keep me posted on food & farming events that you would like me to share. I look forward to hearing from you!

3 Responses to “How do we start a food democracy (now)?”

  1. Stacey Murphy (BK Farmyards) Says:

    There are many ways in Brooklyn to get connected to the food movement. We are just starting to build a decentralized urban farm in Brooklyn.
    We will be speaking at the Solar Power Film Series September 18th showing ‘The Garden’

    There are many other ways to get involved: there were Eat-Ins at schools all over NYC yesterday hosted by SlowFoodNYC.
    Neighborhood meetings have taken root all over Brooklyn after the Brooklyn Food Conference.
    Would love to hear more about what you do.
    Eat well,
    Stacey Murphy

  2. Jana Barracks Says:

    Did you see the article in “The Nation” by Dave Murphy of “Food Democracy Now!”? The org is helping to shape food policy–really worth checking out! He’s also showing up in “Huff Post” and the “New York Times”. You ask where the movement is in all of this? I think that you’re going to see a lot more of Murphy and “Food Democracy Now!” in the near future.

  3. Renee Says:

    I definitley think there is a movement, but it is slow, especially in dense urban areas. Did you see the article in Time magazine the other week regarding where your food comes from and how mass production of meats and vegetables is ruining the environment in large areas (beyond just the cattle farms in question) ? Articles such as these plants seeds in the minds of the readers and maybe, just maybe, the next time they are at the supermarket they will take into account where the hamburger came from and what the cow ate. Another account on how communities are becoming more aware of how the origin of the food we eat is this . It is disheartening to realize that the majority of people don’t think about what we eat, but slowly (I think) people are becoming more and more aware.

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