In honor of our first anniversary, the UC Food Observer selects a few posts that highlight individuals and organizations that are making a difference in their communities.
I met Jenga Mwendo through the Food and Society Fellows program, which was sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and hosted by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Her story is compelling: she returned to her native New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to help revitalize her community. Since 2007, she has worked to strengthen the Lower Ninth Ward community in New Orleans. She founded the Backyard Gardeners Network (BGN), a nonprofit organization. Its mission is to sustain and strengthen the historically self-sufficient and deeply rooted community by using local food growing traditions as a means of building community, revitalizing the neighborhood, preserving cultural heritage and improving human health. She told us this:
“Everything comes back to your food. Your food is your medicine: it can heal or hurt you.”
One of our favorite interviews was with Rick Nahmias and Jim Mangis of Food Forward, a gleaning organization based in Southern California. What an inspiration! Rick is a new friend; Jim has been a friend for a number of years, through community gardening and other civic kinds of work. We were stunned and deeply saddened to learn that Jim unexpectedly passed away over the weekend, at the age of 62. Our deepest sympathies to his family: Marion, Lauren, Denise and Jen. Jim was deeply dedicated to good food, food access, social justice and community. He told us this about his work with Food Forward:
“One of the many things I love about Food Forward is this ethos of dignity and the quality of the food. We use beautiful cases donated by International Paper (it’s the world’s largest paper manufacturer); but they also donate oranges from the trees on their site. It’s the notion of first fruits: the fruit we deliver to pantries is fresher than most of us could get at the store. It’s going right from the field or tree into the hands of those at the pantry. Each of these harvests becomes a community event in and of itself.
This food is a gift of respect to these families. Everybody deserves the best.”
Katie serves as the Midwest Regional Coordinator for the Real Food Challenge. The Real Food Challenge (RFC) is an organization that leverages the power of students and universities to create a “healthy, fair and green food system.” Campus food programs are big business and RFC’s primary campaign is to shift $1B of existing food budgets towards local food sources – what the organization defines as “real food” – by 2020. Katie told us this:
“Students are in a position to advocate and organize in unique ways, within the community of a university campus – and it would be a shame to not take advantage of these opportunities, or fail to build on the powerful history of student organizing and history of organizing for food and farm justice. So we have to organize. People want to see universities be accountable to their communities and the food system.”
Have a great day. We’ll see you tomorrow.