This past weekend, I witnessed hundreds of volunteers working in a very tangible way to take back the food system for a community. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” This was a stride. Two high schools in Richmond, Calif in the span of one weekend built urban school farms at their respective school sites. Supported by Urban Tilth http://www.urbantilth.org, those students, teachers, parents and community volunteers laid the infrastructure and built the capacity to grow significant amounts of local produce in Richmond.
These are farms that will not just change the physical environment of the schools and the community, but significantly change the way students think about food. This year, close to 30 students at Richmond High are enrolled in the second pilot year of an Urban Agriculture and Food Systems class, what we call Urban Ag Institutes, and those students will grow from seed thousands of pounds of produce, that will feed families from their high school. Last year, the program had a small but impressive 10 family CSA box (community supported agriculture) and this year with the expansion of the farm at the high school, they hope to do even more. Article on RHS program
Just as exciting, across town at Kennedy High School, an even larger farm with thirteen 100 ft. rows were put in behind the football field. Say bye-bye to the school garden and say hello to the school ‘farm!’ Imagine the depth of knowledge that will come as those students learn to manage a working urban farm. Growing seasons, soil, pests, nutrition, food systems, marketing, community food security, advocacy, organics, cooking, and permaculture are just some of the topics that we will engage with students in the program.
I interviewed Park Guthrie, the Urban Ag Club teacher at Kennedy (slated to become an official Urban Ag Institute in fall of 2010) and his words speak volumes. I wanted to know how he saw this program and these farms fitting into the food movement and the local food system of Richmond. With the interwovenness of the American food system, was this solving access issues, food security, or generating behavioral change? Park replied, “The truth is, I really think it all goes back to Wendell Berry. It’s the most direct way to address a relationship problem. It’s a relationship problem imbedded in so many facets of our culture. The alienation between food, nature, natural cycles and community health. I guess I feel like a production focused Urban Ag Institute Program solves that relationship problem. It puts those teenagers in a completely new relationship with food, land, community and a general sense of power. I think it does tangibly improve the Richmond food system, but maybe the most important way it affects the food system is in the relationship these teenagers have with food.” Read More >