Unique Initiatives Striving for Environmental Justice
Sunflowers at Veggielution
What is environmental justice?
Prior to this class, my response to this question would have been that environmental justice is providing justice for the environment. For example, one policy I would have considered to be “environmentally just” is called ‘spare the air’ which limits the number of days residents can burn wood fires to reduce the amount of pollutants emitted into the air. Through this class, however, my definition of environmental justice has changed quite significantly. So far we have examined environmental justice in food distribution, the tech industry, and housing availability. In studying these areas, my definition of environmental justice has broadened from something that only protects the environment to a basic human right that all people should have. We all require clean air, drinkable water and a safe place to live.
I see that here, in the Bay Area, there are many disparities between communities and their respective access to food. For example, there is a serious shortage of food available in West Oakland. Despite a population of 25,000 residents, West Oakland lacks a full service grocery store causing its residents to travel to nearby towns to buy their groceries. The fact that West Oakland does not have a full service grocery store while Palo Alto has about five shows that there is a lack of food justice in the city. Luckily, this problem is being addressed by the People’s Community Market which is working to start a local and affordable grocery store.
Similar to the lack of food distribution in West Oakland, some areas in San Jose also lack affordable fresh food. Veggielution, a six acre piece of land in urban San Jose, is working to solve this issue by selling fresh produce to locals for affordable prices. Three weeks ago our class visited and worked on the farm. While visiting Veggielution I was surprised by the apparent contrast between urban San Jose and the farm. Although the six acre plot complete with chickens, geese, ducks, and peacocks is located in an urban center and situated under a highway 280 off ramp, it is a working farm with crops, animals, and an orchard. Beyond its rows of crops and even a tractor, it is also a growing community center with many community programs. For example, Veggielution provides affordable cooking classes that cater to the cultures of people in its surrounding areas. I found it fascinating to learn about a unique initiative that not only improves its communities’ access to fresh produce but also teaches the community about sustainability and much more. It was also relaxing to get off campus and get my hands dirty in their apple orchard.
Overall, through this course I have expanded my definition of environmental justice and gained understanding about environmental injustices in the Bay Area. I also have learned about many creative ways organizations working to mitigate these injustices such as hosting community work days complete with a delicious lunch straight from the farm to the table. So far the organizations I’ve explored seem to be mitigating environmental injustices by educating the public about these issues and providing real solutions to these issues.