Urban Youth on Growing and Selling Good Food

| January 31, 2011 | 2 Comments

As food justice advocate Joy Moore pointed out to a room full of mostly white folks in food and farming: When you hear “urban” and “youth” in the same headline it’s never good news. It’s usually something negative associated with drugs, violence, and crime, right?

But at the annual EcoFarm Conference at Asilomar in Pacific Grove on Friday Moore, who teaches cooking and gardening to Berkeley youth, moderated a panel where young city dwellers received top billing to showcase some of the positive programs they’re helping to run in their communities.

Kim Allen of Berkeley Youth Alternatives and Tenise Murphy of Farm Fresh Choice spoke about the national grassroots network called Rooted in Community at the EcoFarm Conference on Friday. Photo by Sarah Henry

Kim Allen (L) of Berkeley Youth Alternatives and Tenise Murphy (R) of Farm Fresh Choice spoke about the national grassroots network called Rooted in Community at the EcoFarm Conference on Friday. Photo by Sarah Henry

So we meet Tenise Murphy, a farmers’ market coordinator for Farm Fresh Choice, a program of Berkeley’s Ecology Center, begun by Moore and other food activists, to get fresh, organic, sustainable, and affordable food to low-income residents.

We meet Jamila Chandler who walks us through a slideshow of the work done by Urban ReLeaf, a non-profit that has planted and maintains 8,500 trees along median strips and public sidewalks in otherwise barren neighborhoods in Oakland and Richmond.

Chandler gives a shout out to fellow panelist (and her mom) Kemba Shakur, a former corrections officer, who started Urban ReLeaf because she wanted to find ways to both beautify and improve the health and environment in blighted urban enclaves surrounded by freeways and pollution — as well as employ black youth after seeing so many of them in jail in her former job.

Jason Harvey and Paul Walker from Oakland Food Connection outlines all the ways their group promotes access to healthy food in their community. Photo by Anne Hamersky

Jason Harvey (L) and Paul Walker (R) from Oakland Food Connection outlines all the ways their group promotes access to healthy food in their community. Photo by Anne Hamersky

And we meet Paul Walker, the self-appointed smoothie maker who helps run the Purple Lawn Cafe in Oakland. Heads up: it’s not purple or a cafe but it is a mobile food booth serving hot, healthy, affordable eats in an an area not known for such offerings.

Walker works with ex-Air Force man Jason Harvey’s non-profit organization Oakland Food Connection, which builds school and community gardens in East Oakland and runs a farmers’ market every Saturday on MacArthur Boulevard in the Laurel District.

Harvey provides a personal perspective on African Americans’ roots in both farming and food production. Harvey was raised among elders who knew how to grow food and canned and preserved. And he notes that the Black Panther Party of the mid-1960s and early 70s introduced a free breakfast program for children, which helped spawn the federal government’s school breakfast program that continues to this day.

Fast forward a couple of decades and many urban, low-income communities of color are riddled with corner stores selling mostly junk food or liquor — and their residents are struggling with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, while also dealing with hunger and malnutrition.

Oakland Food Connection, working in collaboration with like-minded groups such as People’s Grocery, Mandela Marketplace, and City Slicker Farms, is part of a growing movement to bring good grub to so-called food deserts in East and West Oakland.

Rooted In CommunityMurphy is part of an umbrella organization known as Rooted in Community, a national grassroots network that seeks to encourage youth to take up leadership positions in food and farming in their neighborhoods. Kim Allen, the garden program manager for Berkeley Youth Alternatives, was on hand to spread the word about the worthy work of Rooted in Community.

There’s nothing like the enthusiasm, optimism, and idealism of the young to make a room full of adult conference attendees sit up and pay attention.

This is the second conference I’ve attended in the past few months where urban youth wowed the crowd.

In October last year the Community Food Security Coalition Food, Culture, Justice Conference held in New Orleans highlighted the food and farming work of youth in the town devastated by Hurricane Katrina. We took a tour of school gardens in various stages of development, including a local Edible Schoolyard affiliate where gumbo is on the menu and a line on the kitchen classroom wall marks how high the water rose during the storm.

At a panel discussion we met poised and articulate students from The Rethinkers, who pushed to improve lunch in cafeterias in several schools. And we also heard about a novel education experiment from youth living in the impoverished Lower Ninth Ward who are part of an inspired garden program run out of a former corner store known as Our School at Blair Grocery.

There, Nat Turner and his small team of staff work with youth in an alternative school setting to grow micro-greens that are snapped up by the town’s leading chefs, including John Besh, who owns culinary hot spots Luke, August, Domenica, and La Provence.

It’s not just Oakland, Berkeley, and New Orleans. Across the country — as the national membership of Rooted in Community reveals — innovative food and agriculture projects created for and run by the next generation of farmers are sprouting up all over.

And collectively they have a simple message they want to convey about what we eat: Everybody has a right to good food.


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Category: events, gardening and urban farming, kids and family, politics, activism, food safety, sustainability, environment, climate change

About the Author ()

Sarah Henry hails from Sydney, Australia, where she grew up eating lamingtons, Vegemite, and prawns (not shrimp) on the barbie (barbecue). Sarah has called the Bay Area home for the past two decades and remembers how delighted she was when a modest farmers' market sprouted in downtown San Francisco years ago. As a freelance writer Sarah has covered local food people, places, politics, culture, and news for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, California, San Francisco, Diablo, Edible East Bay, Edible Marin & Wine Country, and Berkeleyside. A contributor to the national food policy site Civil Eats, her stories have also appeared in The Atlantic, AFAR, Gilt Taste, Ladies' Home Journal, Grist, Shareable, and Eating Well. An epicurean tour guide for Edible Excursions, Sarah is the voice behind the blog Lettuce Eat Kale and tweets under that moniker too.
  • http://frugalkiwi.co.nz Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi

    How fascinating that the Black Panther Party spawned the government free breakfast program! Coming from the South, I know how much amazing food comes from the African-American community. I’m thrilled to see more people taking up that part of their heritage.

    After I moved Down Under, when ever I went to Sydney, I made a bee-line to Victor’s Soul Food Kitchen (sadly no longer open as far as I can tell) for some incredible food cooked up by a former dentist from Alabama turned chef, if my memory serves me correctly. Victor’s walls were lined with pictures of all the American musicians who’d come to Sydney and dropped by his place for some amazing Southern cooking.

  • http://lettuceeatkale.com/ Sarah Henry

    Seriously, Melanie? Since I grew up in Sydney I return every year for a visit and I’d never heard of Victor’s Soul Food Kitchen and I so hope I haven’t missed my chance to swing by. Thanks for the tip.