America's Food Debates Ignore Black Urban Farms

In a piece at Salon, Erika Nicole Kendall writes that America's food rhetoricians ignore what low-income communities are already doing to gain access to healthier food choices, including cultivating urban farms.

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America's food rhetoricians ignore what low-income African-American communities are already doing to gain access to healthier food choices, including cultivating urban farms, Erika Nicole Kendall writes at Salon. "When the grassroots efforts of hard working people have to be downplayed or outright ignored for you to make your point ... it's time to change your point," she writes.

On a fine, bright afternoon, a beautiful girl named Celeste with brown skin and a fluffy ponytail walked me through a farm in East New York, Brooklyn.

While it was obvious to me that she loved it like it was her own, it belonged to the United Community Center, a collective that provides everything from fitness classes to English-as-a-Second Language classes and daily day care. The Center is a saving grace for girls like Celeste. Each year, it takes 30 or so teens from ages 13 to 17 under its wing, teaches them everything from hand-made irrigation using leftover tools and materials, to hosting their own bee hive and collecting their own honey, to composting, to… well, you get the picture.

The Center seems like the kind of grassroots effort a lot of people who talk about the lack of healthy food in low-income communities would love to support. But some of its members say the organizations intended to help them the most are ignoring them. They say the NYC Greenmarket – the city's largest farmer's market supplier — doesn't make it out anywhere near East New York with a full market because of a common assumption about low-income Americans: They aren't interested in healthy food. They can't afford to be interested in it. They don't care.

But the people of East New York do care. And yet the never-ending debates around food politics — debates that often center on what's supposedly best for low-income communities — never seem to include their voices.

Celeste couldn't be more proud of her contribution to the garden, or the garden's contribution to the community. "People saw that there was a lot of violence on the streets, a lot of kids hanging around and doing bad stuff… they figured, 'All right, one in three people are obese and we need to do something about it.' …

Read Erika Nicole Kendall's entire piece at Salon.

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