This Essay was written in 2011 during my course on Food Sovereignty, and Chicano studies. The professor, Devon Pena is a prominent figure in food activism. With his guidance, myself and two other students wrote a piece to be published on his blog. It was a collaborative piece, I took personal responsability for Part 3: Food Sovereignty and Schoolyard gardens. We supported each other through the idea compilation, and editing processes. The article was also published on New. Clear. Visions. a different blog. I am just including Part 3, because it is such a long article. However, the web addresses below can take you to the full length article.
*Devon Pena’s blog: http://ejfood.blogspot.com/
*Clear Visions Blog: http://www.newclearvision.com/
Youth Gardening in Schools:
A Pathway to Academic Success?
Tessa James, Kalyn Janae Marab, and Sabine Parrish
Part 1- The Garden Listens…
Part 2 – White Privilege and the Politics of Schoolyard Gardens All of this goes to show that while…
Part 3 – Food Sovereignty and Schoolyard Gardens
We believe that those who are opposed to and those who advocate for school gardens are equally motivated by a desire to promote social justice and education. What is interesting is that they are taking opposite approaches. One of Flanagan’s main arguments is that children of immigrant farm workers are being re-enslaved to the land through these new programs. She speaks to the parents’ attempts to alleviate their children from the burden of laborious, unrewarding farm work in this new movement of gardens in schools that pushes them back to the land-based jobs that have largely oppressed their ancestors.
This argument displays the imbalances in our society as well the socially constructed and misconstrued ideas of oppression, success, and education. The anti-school garden arguments have value in the overall movement of discourse. Rather than responding to these viewpoints by simply denouncing opposing opinions, it is valuable for a constructive discourse to emerge. Marsh Guerrero, the executive director of the Berkeley Edible Schoolyard responded to Caitlin Flanagan’s article in a different article entitled “School Gardener’s Strike Back.” Her response was, “There are a lot of crackpots who don’t understand what we do.” This is too flippant a response for a movement seeking to be taken seriously.
How is Guerrero’s reaction helping to foster the movement? This rhetoric only gives the crackpots [sic] one more reason to rise up and challenge school gardens. How can we take Flanagan’s article and make something positive out of it? This is a question we should be addressing.
School gardens have been established in people of color and low income communities and in middle-to-School gardens have been established in people of color and low income communities and in middle-to-upper-class predominantly white communities. In these conrtrasting environments, students are facing different issues and these gardens can respond to the specific place-based needs of each place.
Flanagan claims that education with textbooks and standardized testing is helping kids to, “attain… cultural achievements…that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt.” First of all, to discredit the essential human profession of growing our food as a “daily scrabble to wrest sustenance” is insulting to a number of people and cultures; especially to many of the immigrant families with histories of family farming that she is so valiantly trying to defend.
Flanagan’s statement is, unfortunately, a reflection of how many people view farm work in our society. Our country has a collective memory of farm work as slave work. It is misconstrued as a job that requires very little skill or education. If our country had a deeper collective memory it would know that, historically, the cultivation of our food is an honorable and essential profession that ought to be highly regarded. The knowledge of indigenous cultural methods, sustainable practices, and organic farming are seeing a revival in new forms like the Permaculture concept, going off-the-grid, small family organic farms, and urban farms; all of these are gaining popularity.
Recognizing the deep roots of these movements in indigenous methods and practices can teach our country’s children a deeper history. Learning about native cultures from American soil and the rest of the world begins with the cultivation of food. This could demonstrate intercultural recognition and the value of social equality can be promoted through something as simple as a school garden.
Beyond cultivating traditions, the botany and agroecology of the food crops and their origins can instill in children a respect for diverse cultural heritages. In turn, this could rework the condescending view towards those who work with the land.
In any given predominantly white community, with very little racial diversity, children can be at risk of internalizing the values of white supremacy, lacking an understanding of the rich diversity that lives beyond their neighborhoods or county lines.
All youth are at risk of not knowing where their food comes from and this only furthers the current disconnect people have in relation to the cultivation and consumption of food. Changing our food system rests in the hands of current and future generations and the decisions they make about what they value. If we can internalize values of respect for the land, each other, and the people who grow food, how could we not seize that opportunity?
In racially diverse or low-income communities there can be an even deeper connection between the cultivation of food and the ability for all children to connect with their personal cultural heritage. Immigrants often cannot educate their own children on native farming practices. The capitalist economy places overwhelming pressure on the working class so they may not feel they are of value anymore. Is this not a threat to preserving our cultural diversity and diverse national history while restoring our capacity for economic solidarity and autonomy?
A common and unfortunate view is that farm work is slave work and is oppressive. School gardens, as I have discussed, can help us move away from this mindset. In Seattle an organization called “Clean Greens Farm” is addressing this issue. Clean Greens is an organization started by three predominantly African American churches in the Central District. They partnered with local farmers on a piece of land in Duvall, northeast of Seattle. Reverend Robert Jeffrey, who was one of the organizers of this project, has an inspiring and insightful set of messages in a short film about Clean Greens.
Reverend Robert Jeffrey says that prior to his experience with the Clean Greens project, “his sense of community was very racially driven, it was about helping African American people.” He admits that “it was very contextual, very narrow; this experience has opened my eyes to the universality of benevolence and how much people care.”
The Reverend sees Clean Greens as more than just a farming project. He believes that “Finding common ground, in things that we can do together…[is] a historical problem in our community. A large part of the people have a collective memory of their ancestors in the south, and the horrors that they faced. Unfortunately that memory is tied to the land.”
He goes on to share his views that, “…you cannot continue to allow your appreciation of the earth to be handicapped or imprisoned by the memory of how you were treated because this will continue to give birth to generations that have disdain for the earth.” He challenges the inner city African American community to address this psychological mindset, because the earth is not the enemy, it is the answer.
Can this common ground of coming to the land to cultivate food break down our racially and socially segregated society? It has already started to do so in small but significant ways. This will only spread and is part of the birth of a major social movement unfolding right before our eyes.
There will always be critics. But it is how those critiques are handled and received that will keep us from finding yet another thing to disagree upon and another reason for our society to justify continued segregation and social class inequalities. This view was not likely the intent of Flanagan’s article but in the end it does display a perversion of values in American culture. Addressing these values of farm work, racial equality, and collective memory are essential to moving forward with school gardens as a united whole, as a human race.
By Kalyn Marab
CHSTU 498 with Devon Pena
This Is from a blog entry over last summer. It is one of my favorite memories, and writings from these last few years.
Farm to Forage
We slid down the hill switch backing to the beach. It was low tide and the waves would soon come crashing back in to cover up the tide pools. With a five gallon plastic bucket hanging from each arm we scurried across the rocky reef pausing to steady ourselves with each crashing wave that ran up above our ankles. I scanned the rocks for big juicy mussels and apologetically ripped them from their friends, and clunked them into the bucket. Racing the now incoming tide and working in between crashing waves we filled our buckets with enough for dinner. As I turned to leave my friend behind me nearly got swept off the reef, losing his sandal and almost his bucket. There was a moment of hesitation as he gauged the frigid water and the importance of that sandal. I could tell he decided it was worth it, and left his remaining shoe and bucket sitting on the reef and prepared to go into the frothy waves to save his sandal. I ran back to help him and held his things as he jumped in. With the reunited sandals in hand we agreed this was nature saying we’d overstayed our welcome on the reef. We turned back to the beach and rock hopped back to solid ground. I wandered around for a few collecting beach glass and some trash then we climbed the cliffs back to the farm.
This was our mussel forage mission last night, which ended in a delicious feast (all manners aside) We dipped the shelled mussels in a butter green chile sauce and giggled about their suggestive shape. With dirt still caked well above my ankles, and still wet from ocean spray, I smiled from all the love around me. The healthy meal we enjoyed free of the commodification, and seasoned with adventure.
I came here to learn to grow food, to learn about permaculture and the ins and outs of farming. What has caught me by surprise this last month has been my growing interest in foraging. I now know enough wild greens and flowers in the area to make a mean salad, I know which seaweeds I can snack on during beach walks, and when and where to find mussels. It is rewarding to cultivate a garden from seed to harvest, to tend and till the land for your food. It isn’t easy and requires a relationship with the earth that can only be taught through experience. Though the rush I’ve found in foraging for food is something I haven’t gotten from growing it. Finding food in the natural environment has awakened a more primal, more excited counterpart inside of me. Permaculture intends to reunite the human element with the wild, and natural elements. Where we can nurture a mutually beneficial relationship with the land. Modernization has created a new form of foraging, in urban centers. Dipping into the waste stream that comes out of most all businesses is a way to tap into our foraging roots, and to enjoy food that would otherwise have gone to waste.
Maybe this can get you thinking about ways to get food if you didn’t have a grocery store at your immediate disposal. Or money for that matter. I am finding comfort, and empowerment in being aware of the wild abundance of food all around me. It is knowledge that could be intensively useful someday, but also is making it possible to lighten my dependence on the larger system, and enrich my life in a way I didn’t expect.