The Alliance was invited to an event at Wesleyan University on April 29th. This free day-long event was intended to connect young people working in CT’s food justice efforts to each other, to adults working in the field, and to career opportunities they may not realize they are preparing for. Hosted by the College for the Environment at Wesleyan, this event featured a panel discussion, workshops, and round-table discussions for everyone to share and learn more about the work happening in CT. Urban Ag, community gardening, and other efforts to localize the food system were all welcome topics for discussion, along with legislation being proposed (and its impacts), organizing under way (and who’s involved/who’s left out), and the future of the food movement in general. Transportation funds were offered as a part of our NRCS project, but Wesleyan staff wanted to do their part to ensure that young people could attend the day without worries.
Some of the workshops included discussions with the CT Food System Alliance about how people in the room experience the food system and what changes they wanted to see. Others opened up conversations with the worker-owners of Semilla Tortillaria, a cooperative food business in New Haven focused on solidarity, empowering the community, and reconnecting with traditional Native corn, processed using traditional practices (nixtamalization opens up the nutrients in corn, making them more bio-available for human digestive systems, making these tortillas more nutritious than what most residents of the States are accustomed to), and power building in community organizing. Each workshop room was packed, and participants talked about their experiences together for most of the day.
The panel discussion was mighty, connecting the issues in our food system and urban agriculture to other systems where inequity ruins lives. The education system, the prison system, and land access and ownership as a means of population control were all laid on the table. People talked about the challenges they see and face, the policies they advocate for (touching everything from education funding, to police in schools vs. counselors, to healthcare access, to wage theft, even to school meals), and the work they do to make this world a better one to live in. One major piece that emerged as one needing attention was the USDA definition of “farmer”, who that leaves out, and what their denial means in terms of their ability to access resources they need to succeed. Official statistics indicate that fewer than 2% of “farmers” in the state are Black or brown. However, looking around that room, the vast majority of people growing food, feeding their communities, and teaching the next generation how to be self-reliant were all people of color. Why are they not counted?
Now that we are wrapping up our final workshops for this year and are finalizing the interviews after each, attention turns to the summer. We are working on gathering youth input on what they want the summer event to look like, as well as what they want the Alliance to look like next year. Youth leadership, voice, and will are at the heart of what the Alliance stands for. Every chance we can create for them to determine the path alongside us is one we will jump on. Let’s hope for a good growing season!