THE BLOG
07/02/2010 01:54 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Food Sovereignty Chronicles III

Growing Outside the Box
My (grown) children were in Detroit, making it a family affair. Daughter Evarosa took a tour of Detroit's urban gardens and provided me with this account:

"The cross-streets of Temple Avenue and Rosa Parks Drive in the Upper Cork neighborhood, Detroit is host to a couple of wood-paneled two-story homes, a few abandoned buildings (one of which whose grey-brick walkway is currently lined by tents of people attending the USSF), empty lots covered in green grass and an acre of farmland, Brother Nature Garden. Brother Nature is run by Greg, a school-teacher who last year switched careers to become a full-time farmer selling his produce through a CSA (on an installment-based payment system), a pick-your-own program, to restaurants and at farmer's markets. Mostly specializing in salad greens, his raised beds are currently in various stages of early summer prolific growth; some were covered seedlings with squash vines dripping down the sides of the bed, some had grown tall and already gone to seed. Greg started this gardening in his backyard and asked his neighbors every time he has wanted to expand his plot. He has friendly relations with the city-but doesn't ask permission to expand from them-usually he just informs them after the fact if necessary. As he walked us through the path dividing the dozen or so raised beds, three greenhouses and his current "weed invasion forest," he explained that since the first wave of white flight in the 70's houses in this neighborhood have been abandoned or burnt down (sometimes a better return from insurance than what a sale would have given) to the extent that only 15% of buildings and population is left of what used to be a neighborhood high in density. A developer is suspected of the last wave of burnings just a few years ago (he received contracts to build in the same spaces just burnt). The neighbors enjoy the open space as it gives their children better and safer roaming area than the streets and the garden provides healthy and affordable produce (last year's harvest continued until December). Greg asked at one point how many people were from Oakland (there was substantial cheer throughout the 50 or so person crowd), he smiled and talked a little about the similarities between Detroit and Oakland. He emphasized the actual physical difficulty needed to remediate land that used to have pavement on it, the sensationalization of the urban farm movement (saying that his small plot could not keep up with demand and if Detroit actually wants a self-sustaining food system it would take a lot more of the population farming to actually work). In closing he stopped on top of bed that had just been turned next to a row of spinach that had gone to seed. He had chopped some of this spinach halfway up the stem, the stocks piled loosely on a seeding tray at the base of a large tree-covered in foot and hand holds for climbing- Greg handed us each a stem to take home to dry and plant in our own garden, his dirt covered hands passing knowledge and nourishment to hands coming from all over the nation."

Evarosa's piece is just one of many, many stories of networking and good will from Detroit, that turned out to be a perfect venue--in all of its complexity--for the budding U.S. Food Justice/Food Sovereignty movement. This movement includes not just small farmers but workers, consumers and organizations fighting to end hunger and injustice in the U.S.

I think that the words of Rosalinda Guillén, farmworker and director of Community to Community Development, a women-led, food justice organization, best sum up the spirit of the Forum. I asked Rosalinda to describe the difference between "food justice" and "food sovereignty"? She called it a progression of learning about, "How food intersects every single issue... From the lack of food, to the health issues of too much of the wrong food, to [the rights of] food production workers." For Guillén, the activities and demands of food justice advocates are defined by a corporate-dominated system that decides whether or not these rights will be respected. "It's like being in a soft metal box and you keep banging your head against it, making little dents." Food sovereignty, however, is when "We think and act outside their box, recognizing our power to meet our own needs in the food system." But for Rosalinda, the point of both Food justice and Food Sovereignty has to be about "How are we as humans going to feed ourselves in a way that doesn't hurt people or the land."

With the Detroit USSF the U.S. food movement is growing its way "out of the box"!