Greetings from Camden!
One of the great gifts of working with CFET is the opportunity to meet some of Camden’s amazing young people. CFET sponsors the Junior Farmer Program which hires up to 15 young adults of Camden to work in the Center’s gardens and receive training in everything from what heirloom seeds to purchase to the best methods of planting, from learning the differences between weeds and vegetables to harvesting those vegetables, from the nutritional value of the various vegetables to the preparation of meals, from designing a farmers market to its execution. It is impressive what the Junior Farmers are taught and what they accomplish. This coming Saturday, August 24th, CFET is holding its first annual Community Lunch from 11:30AM to 1PM. It will be held at the Emerald Street Garden (entrance is at 412 Jasper St). At this Lunch the Junior Farmers will present a bit of what they’ve learned, including a wonderful meal made from the produce they’ve tended through the summer. This is the last official event of the summer, so we hope you can join us. If you can, please rsvp to Ari at firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday, the 20th of August so that proper plans can be made for the celebration.
In addition to all that was going on in Waterfront South at the gardens, Ari took three of the Junior Farmers to a very special event that took place in Los Angeles, CA at the end of July. Marisely, Gloria and Selena participated in the annual conference hosted by Rooted in Community, a non-profit whose mission is to empower young people to grow into leadership in their communities. This year’s conference focused on food security and on the notion of food sovereignty. It is not just about having enough food, it is also about having more adequate control over the source of food. Participants in the conference came from all over the United States. The youngest participant was 12 years old, but all the participants were in their teens.
When these three young women came back, they sat down with the other Junior Farmers, Ari, and some of the volunteers at our August 3rd work day, to share their experiences. A significant part of the five day conference was to go on field trips throughout Los Angeles, visiting various sites that are engaged in social entrepreneurial ventures. Selena visited a 14 acre empty lot that has sat empty for many years, though a local group had tried, unsuccessfully, to purchase the land for a community garden. At the time, the owner said he wanted to develop the land, but that was more than five years ago now, and the land is still empty, aching from not being used in the meantime to grow food for the community and offer job training opportunities for residents. Marisely visited two community gardens, one at Venice HS and one in Englewood. She got to work at each of them, putting to use what she had learned with Ari in Waterfront South. Gloria visited China Town, Home Boy Industries and a homelessness advocacy agency. Commenting on her field trips, she said : “The other young people I was with were shocked by what they saw; I was not. I live in Camden and I see this all the time!”
When asked what they enjoyed the most of their time in Los Angeles all three said: Protesting! The conference organizers want to teach the participants, through action, that they can be agents of change. The object of their protest was a local Wendy’s restaurant. The young people protested in unity with the tomato farmers of the region who were demanding a 1 cent per pound rise in the cost of the tomatoes that Wendy’s restaurants buy from them. This demand has been resisted by Wendy’s, so the protesters let the people at this particular Wendy’s know what they thought of that resistance. The Camden youth noted that the group was quite into the protest, so much so that they actually blocked the entrances to the property, something they explicitly did not want to do, and so the group had to be corralled in by their leaders. However, the experience certainly did energize Gloria, Marisely and Selena!
In response to a question about what stood out for them in what they learned, each had a different answer. Gloria learned what food justice is, and what land grabbing is. She loved learning about these ideas that made sense of her every day experience, and helped her to identify ways in which she could act in her local community. By the way, Gloria explained that “land grabbing” is when land is privatized and no longer serves the common good of the local community, such as the example of the 14 acre piece of land that remains unused even though it could have provided fresh food to many struggling families in South Central LA. Selena said that she learned the most from the people she met. There were many opportunities to simply sit with people her age, from around the country, to share their experiences of life. She participated in a Poetry Workshop, and people got very emotional as they shared their work. It was powerful! Marisely loved learning about the theme of the conference, and how she can act to make a difference in her community.
Each group at the conference was charged with identifying a research question that would engage them in the months immediately following the conference. These three young women decided to pursue this question: What is the level of access to fresh food in Waterfront South? They are going to visit the local bodegas and small corner stores, ascertain how much fresh produce is available, and perhaps build partnerships between CFET and these stores, to begin supplying fresh produce for sale! We’ll see how their research goes.
They are an impressive group of young women. It was clear from their excitement, the shine in their eyes, and the times when they seemed to almost trip over their tongues, that they had an amazing experience at the Rooted In Community conference. I, for one, am grateful to Ari Rosenberg for suggesting the idea to travel to Los Angeles and for chaperoning the young women so successfully. Through a combination of grants and generous contributions from our supporters, CFET was able to send these four people.
CFET’s mission is to educate people about our collective responsibility to the health and beauty of the environment. We do that through our retreat program, but we also do it through our garden operations, our native plant nursery and the Junior Farmer program. It would be foolish to think that our responsibility to the environmental did not include a responsibility to those who live on this planet, particularly those who have often received the brunt of our economic and political choices as a nation. By growing fresh produce, providing young people an opportunity to develop an array of skills, and by understanding that sustainable living includes just relations among all people, CFET furthers its vision of a world in which all of us walk more gently on this good Earth, and in peace and harmony with our neighbors.
Thank you Ari. Thank you Gloria, Selena and Marisely. Thank you to all of you who have supported this work and will continue to support this work. It is a “Great Work” as Thomas Berry said, to reimagine our relationship to nature and to each other. I am glad you are engaged in this great work with us.
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
President, Board of Trustees