Environmental Food Justice Conference Hosted in Oak Park

DSC_3471OAK PARK – They’ve planted the seeds, but aren’t satisfied with simply sitting back and watching them grow. The local organization, Freedom Farms is seeking to cultivate a movement, one that will lead to a healthier community.

Freedom Farms sponsored its Environmental Food Justice Conference last week. The event was held at the Guild Theater and included participation from a number of stakeholders including local farmers and representatives from government agencies.

“The vision for the first annual Environment and Food Justice Conference was to provide a safe environment for people of color to represent their perspectives and issues relating to environmental/food justice,” said Freedom Farms Program Manager Kory Clift, also known as Running Bear Stean-Mann.

The goal, he continued, was also to have academics, professionals and community activists that present solutions to make ‘system’ change.

Freedom Farms seeks to create a local, healthy, and sustainable food supply and a strong local farm economy. Members want children who know where their food comes from and how to grow and cook healthy food. In an effort to promote self-sufficiency, Freedom Farms has operated successful community gardens in Oak Park and South Sacramento and trains at-risk youth for “green” related jobs.

“The African American/ Black community is in tune with issues around ‘Food Justice’ but we don’t view it in such terminology,” Clift said.

“In the past four years the income gap between White and Black people has tripled. Food access will be a very important cultural tool for survival. We have men and women who have agricultural knowledge, we have professionals in position that could gather the many food-based community organizations to form a collective of urban farmers and we have youth with very few options and plenty of energy. It can be done, but the right people have to be in charge of the resources, planning and organizing using a intergenerational approach. Freedom Farms is creating such a model,” he added.

The Environmental and Food Justice Conference featured workshops and panel discussions. Adrian Woodfork of the California Department of Food and Agriculture presented the video, “Freedom Farms and Urban Agriculture.” Workshops were conducted by environmental justice facilitator David Williams and food justice facilitator Michael Viscuso.

The conference was highlighted by a panel discussion featuring environmental psychologist Jesus Hernandez, environmental lawyer Colin Bailey, Crystal Taylor of the Environmental Protection Agency, Chanowk Yisreal of Yisreal Family Farms, and area farmer Ronald Rutherford.

Freedom Farms continues to grow. Clift says the California Department of Food and Agriculture recently completed a profile on Freedom Farms which is a part of the California Grown Series. The California Endowment also supports the work it does with youth in the community to increase environmental advocacy and food access.

“It is a good time for our people to come out of the woodwork and get in the dirt literally,” Clift shared.

There are also plans to conduct a three-year Participatory-Action Research Project with youth in South Sacramento. Clift says the need is great.

“I have already lost three young men to drugs, violence and the environment because we can’t keep them involved long enough for them to see the greater opportunities in the green and sustainable world.”

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By Genoa Barrow
OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

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