“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King

Next week, we will celebrate the life and work of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. For many of us, it will be a day of service, reflection and activism.

In the course of my time as editor of the UC Food Observer, I’ve had an opportunity to speak with many individuals who are working to transform the food system. In this piece, I highlight a few of those individuals. They inspire me.

A talk with Shirley Sherrod

A highlight of my work at the UC Food Observer (and my career) was meeting with civil rights activist Shirley Sherrod. Sherrod is the former USDA Rural Development director for the state of Georgia.

In 1969, she and her husband, Charles Sherrod – a civil rights activist featured in the documentary “Eyes on the Prize” – were among those who founded New Communities, the nation’s first rural land trust. (New Communities provided the model for U.S. community land trusts). The Sherrods also co-founded the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education (SWGAP), a non-profit organization based in Albany, Georgia. They were among the class action plaintiffs in the civil suit Pigford v. Glickman. In 2010, Sherrod was wrongfully dismissed from her position at the USDA. She has written a highly praised biography of her life, “The Courage to Hope: How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear.”

Read the Q&A here.

Ricardo Salvador, scientist and food system activist

Dr. Salvador is a senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy organization. He is internationally recognized and respected for his dedication to advocating and working for a food system that is healthier and more just. I first met him when he was a program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Dr. Salvador had this to say about the food chain:

“For example, when we say we want ‘good value’ in our products — that term is a euphemistic part of our language — we usually mean that we want to squeeze every component of the food value chain as much as possible. I hope our work makes this tendency more visible and less tenable. Our food system can’t be just or sustainable if it is predicated on paying as little as we can to farmers, farm laborers and food chain workers, then devaluing the worth of soil, clean water, clean air and public health.”

Read the Q&A here.


Jenga Mwendo, Community Educator and Activist

I met Jenga Mwendo in a fellowship program. We both had a passion for the power of gardens to transform communities. 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 that operates community gardens and provides educational programs. Mwendo has become increasingly interested in food as medicine. She told me this:

“People are tired of being on medications. They are ready to understand that food is the foundation of health and wellness. We have an opportunity to live a full and whole life just by giving ourselves good food to eat. People often pay more attention to what gas they put in their car than what types of food they put in their bodies. We’re exploring what food is going to heal rather than hurt us. There has been more excitement about this than anything else we’ve done in the garden.”

Read the Q&A.

Hungry in the Delta

Here at the UC Food Observer, we’re big fans of the Southern Foodways Alliance and its Gravy podcast. The most recent Gravy episode explores the story of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, a group of doctors and medical professionals who began work in the Mississippi Delta during Freedom Summer. They were shocked by the hunger and malnutrition they encountered.

Ultimately, one of the group’s leaders, Dr. Jack Geiger, organized a community health care response. He and his team started a farm cooperative, provided nutrition education and even wrote “prescriptions” for food. Listen to the story here.


Have a great weekend.