Growing Green Awards: Renewing Equity and Opportunity in the Local Food System
The food we eat every day is intimately connected to our health and the health of the environment. Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) fifth annual Growing Green Awards celebrates the food producers, businesses, activists and bold thinkers who are making America’s food system healthier and more sustainable.
This year’s winners were selected from more than 200 nominees in the categories of food producer, business leader, food justice leader and young food leader by a panel of sustainable food and agriculture thought-leaders, including Michael Anthony, executive chef and partner at New York’s long-established and celebrated Gramercy Tavern; Gabe Brown, internationally-recognized soil health champion and 2012 Growing Green Award Food Producer winner; Marion Nestle, award-winning food policy author, professor and one of the nation’s most influential food thought-leaders; and Nell Newman, co-founder and president of Newman’s Own Organics.
This guest post originally appeared on OnEarth. It is one of four by the winners of NRDC’s fifth annual Growing Green Awards, which celebrate the farmers, business owners and bold thinkers who are making America’s food system healthier and more sustainable. See posts from all winners here.
Too often, the same people who work our fields during the day, planting and harvesting fresh produce, spend their evenings in line at the local food bank. As large, centralized corporate companies increasingly mechanize their production and conceal it behind closed doors, what actually happens in our food system is hidden from us. With each generation, our communities continue to be stripped of our farm land, cultural heritage, and know-how. In a dystopic future we can imagine an agricultural landscape that is forbidden from ordinary humans; merely because of their anthropogenic pollution. Will it all be fenced off and mechanized?
That scenario may just happen if harmful trends in industrial agriculture pervade, but it’s also exactly why the South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund (SCFHEF), a grassroots nonprofit based in Buttonwillow and Los Angeles, California, is working to build equity and opportunity. With the goal of creating self-reliant communities through sustainable, community-supported agriculture, SCFHEF is bringing back organically grown fruits and vegetables to the diets, lifestyles and livelihoods of Latinos and other low-resourced neighborhoods.
Like so many others in the South Central Farmers’ movement, I come from multiple generations of farmers. My grandfather is still alive, working the land in Jalisco, Mexico. I learned subsistence farming techniques and most importantly, an appreciation for the land and for growing our own food from my forebears.
As part of the Green Revolution, my dislocated family ended up in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Much like today, South Central L.A. was riddled with inequality back then. Following the 1992 Rodney King riots, the community battled over (and won) 14 contested acres of land on 41 Street and Alameda. With many families struggling to put food on the table each night, local residents transformed the land into a thriving community garden and popular neighborhood connector. My father, who had recently become disabled and could no longer work, visited the garden often, engaging with community leaders, helping to grow fresh, healthy food for our family and building a system to help those suffering from some of the worst poverty in the area.
But it was what happened next that spurred our tight-knit group of families to strive for even more. In 2003, we were given notice that the land on which the community garden sat was going to be sold. Without involving or consulting the community at all, the city quietly passed the land on to a self-interested developer who then refused to sell it back to us—even after we had raised $16.3 million in funds in an effort to buy it back. We fought for three years, ultimately realizing we had no choice but to move on when we were violently evicted in 2006. Bulldozers destroyed the gardens we had diligently grown and fought to save. Those of us who remained, began farming and immediately established a nonprofit so we could attract the resources we needed to create grassroots economic opportunities for our community.
In the politics of impossibility, you win by losing. We won by losing. And we continue to win, planting hope all along the way. Today, the South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund has a five-year track record of successfully addressing food access in communities of color and creating grassroots economic opportunities. Our worker-owned agricultural cooperative in Buttonwillow, California, has grown from 15 acres to more than 80 acres, so we can grow even more healthy and organic food. We’ve empowered would-be entrepreneurs to start their businesses through organic agriculture. We developed community gardens, where people can grow and sell their own organic food. And, in partnership with other organizations doing community economic development (such as the Center for Race Poverty and the Environment) and impacting investors (like the Northern California Slow Money Chapter), we conduct extensive educational outreach to teach young and old about healthy food choices and healthy lifestyles.
New Latino and minority farmers face a host of issues that hinder their chances for success. Threat of entry retaliations, pressure from land developers, language barriers, little access to credit, a lack of marketing skills, production management problems, government regulations and a lack of organization among farmers are only a few of these. In order to help individuals overcome these challenges, SCFHEF serves as a holding company, helping new farmers establish their farms, providing complete technical assistance and gradually transitioning them over to self-sustaining operations.
Some of SCFHEF’s other exciting projects include:
- Culturally-Sensitive Farmers' Markets: While our communities have a strong Mesoamerican heritage in growing and cooking food, the free market rarely provides culturally-sensitive, organic options. SCFHEF identifies farmers within Los Angeles County providing these culturally necessary food products, connects them with local farmers’ markets and engages individuals at the farmers’ markets to talk about food choices and preparations.
- Community-supported agriculture (CSA) in low-income urban areas: SCFHEF brings the farm to the table to encourage healthy diets and lifestyles among low-income communities in Los Angeles. Food gown on SCFHEF’s 85-acre farm is distributed through CSA packages to community centers, workplaces, and other convenient locations, where people can not only pick up fresh produce but also connect with others in their neighborhood around healthy eating options. We offer CSA shares on a sliding scale to those who self-certify as below the poverty line, as well as to students.
- Conservation of heirloom crop biodiversity: SCFHEF actively works to protect the stocks of heirloom land race varieties, which are plants that are native to North America and adapted over time to local conditions. Our conservation focus is native Mesoamerican fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs.
- Marketing and distribution channels as services: SCFHEF creates distribution and processing services for future Ag cooperative incubations. We understand that in today’s agricultural economics more than 50 percent of the ag dollar is in processing and alternative marketing channels. These channels will allow us to bring on new Ag Cooperatives and plug them into an existing distribution market for their products. With the help of Northern California Slow Money Impact Investors we have kicked off our new commercial kitchen that will offer co-processing, co-packaging, and distribution for existing and future Ag cooperatives.
We are truly humbled to receive the NRDC Growing Green Food Justice Award. With this recognition of our collective work, we’re expanding our efforts and encouraging others to engage in agricultural incubations, cooperative marketing services, technical training for new farmers and underserved communities, and community gardens. By creating new economic opportunities right in our own backyard, we hope to strengthen communities with access to fresh, healthy food, and help them reconnect to the priceless cultural heritage behind it.
Visit EcoWatch’s SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.