The Garden of Environmental Justice

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The Garden of Environmental Justice brings together elements that I believe are important, and in some cases, necessary, to advancing the environmental justice movement. These aspects of environmental justice have come up in many of the topics covered in class from gentrification to food deserts to toxic waste/chemical facilities.

  • Understanding and Recognizing Privilege
  • Inclusivity and Diversity
  • Community Input and Engagement
  • Grassroots Organization and Community Mobilization
  • Youth Power
  • Education and Raising Awareness
  • Corporate and Government Accountability
  • Allies and Supporting Organizations

Food deserts and insecurity

Technology /engineering field, being conscious of who my work affects and whether they are truly beneficial/useful for the communities/audience that uses/consumes them

Greenwashing

What have you learned about different communication approaches regarding issues of environmental justice? (You can reflect on the narratives used by our guides at Veggielution and Chinatown Alleyway Tours, perspectives on how different forms of media approach EJ issues differently, as well as the course readings and your own experiences.) ! How might your experience in this class shape your understanding of the particular fields you plan to enter? What new goals can you now set for yourself as a student, activist, young adult, prospective employee as a result of what you have learned in this class?

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Unique Initiatives Striving for Environmental Justice

Unique Initiatives Striving for Environmental Justice

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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.

Veggielution Trip

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Highway 280 crosses above the Veggielution orchard

Last weekend our class volunteered at Veggielution’s Saturday workday. Veggielution is a beautiful six acre community farm located in East San Jose. This was my first experience on a farm and I was not quite sure what to expect. The beginning of our workday consisted of an hour long tour of the farm. My first reaction to the farm was shock – the farm was larger than I expected. It was very surprising to me that a farm this big could be located in the middle of an urban area. During the farm tour we learned about the many different programs and events Veggielution hosts. For example, they hosts “Veggielution Kitchen,” which is a cooking class that teaches participants on how to prepare healthy dinners using the farm’s produce. The farm offered so many different ways for the community to get involved!

Following the farm tour we pulled weeds in the orchard. In the short two and a half hours we pulled weeds, we were able to transform the area. Beforehand, it was impossible to walk through the area and by the time the workday was over we were able to walk through much of it and see all the fruit trees! I felt accomplished each time I successfully pulled out a stubborn weed and enjoyed seeing the end product of our efforts.

Veggielution aims to distribute 70% of their produce at lost cost or for free to the local communities. Knowing that I was able to contribute to the farm and the local community despite the little knowledge I have about farming was very rewarding. Regardless of your farming experience I recommend taking the time to volunteer at Veggielution!  Community farms are a wonderful way to connect to people within the community while making a meaningful contribution to the local community.

Cultivating Change

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Veggielution Work Day

A bright stretch of farmland with hand-painted signs welcoming you in is not the first thing you would expect straight off the highway on the east side of San Jose, but that is exactly what you will encounter on South King Road. As an urban farm with a mission to “connect people through food and farming,” Veggielution seeks to preserve the agricultural history of the Santa Clara Valley.

During our class tour, the farm manager discussed how Veggielution has come to understand the importance of getting community input for a community space like an urban farm. In consideration of their Spanish-speaking local community, cooking classes hosted at Veggielution are conducted in Spanish with English translation available, rather than the other way around. The farm also has a program in place to hire and train members of the community about food-based entrepreneurship. It is also planning to start field trips to the farm for local middle schoolers.

I saw a connection between my Veggielution experience and readings about urban hazardous waste in the Bay Area through the engagement of the youth in a community, the generation with the means to build on the progress made before them. Whereas Veggielution grapples with its role in engaging and educating the youth who come to the farm, young activists in the EPA Youth United For Community Action (YUCA) organization are the ones taking it upon themselves to educate their community, as well as those from elsewhere, about environmental justice.

This goes back to a question that has come up during our weekly discussions: what is the most effective way to bring about change in a community? At the heart of it all, local grassroots efforts that are conscious of the needs of the community or come from within the community itself have consistently seemed to be the most impactful.

Gardens and Growth

carrots“When you teach someone to grow a vegetable, you teach them to grow and change in life, and teach them to transform themselves as well as the land.” ­–Wanda Stewart, Director of People’s Grocery

The first time I stepped onto the Stanford Farm and walked through the neat rows of crops, I was captivated. There was something magical about such an open place in contrast with the buildings and construction work I usually pass on my rounds around campus. I felt distinctly present in the moment and grounded to the Earth. I was reminded that I was part of a larger world beyond my school life.

When I help out at the Stanford Farm today, I always find something very satisfying about digging and pulling at weeds until they finally give way. Even though my immediate actions are small, I know that the work I do will likely have a bigger significance down the line. With that personal experience, the stories of other community gardens in the Bay Area and how they impacted their visitors really resonated with me.

In East San Jose, a school garden serves as a respite from the struggles of the surrounding community, as well as a validation of cultural experiences that are often trivialized by those with more wealth and power. Similarly, the community gardens run by the People’s Grocery in West Oakland are not only a means to address the lack of nutritious, fresh produce in the midst of a food desert, but also a place for members of the community to come together to learn and grow and share their culture.

All of this leads me to believe that community gardens can perhaps be an effective place for building empathy and a better understanding of people with different experiences and backgrounds, as gardens have a special way of impacting people no matter their circumstances or location in the world. They remind us that, in the end, we all depend on the Earth; we are all a part of it and have the power to impact it in our own way.

References

3 Food Initiatives That Could Transform West Oakland’s Food Desert

The Garden Teacher- Part 1

 

Food Insecurity and West Oakland

Welcome to West Oakland

Oakland, CA (11/7/10) Mob HQ

I’m from Monterey Bay Area, which isn’t quite the same thing as the San Francisco Bay Area, but it’s pretty close and I’m familiar with the vicinity. I’ve known that West Oakland was a low-income area without a lot of resources – the average income in West Oakland is $20,000 less than the rest of Oakland – but I never realized that such a large portion of its residents live in what qualifies as a food desert. A food desert is a place without adequate access to food, usually do to a lack of grocery stores or the like in impoverished areas. That this is allowed to continue in an area that is one of the wealthiest in the country is absurd. The People’s Community Market strikes me as a great way to combat this and further the fight against food insecurity in the region.

A resource created by people in a community – to specifically serve the needs of that community – is one of the best possible ways to combat community problems that I can think of. There are often problems with well-meant interventions conducted by outsiders, due to a lack of understanding of the culture and people in that community.

For instance, when designing a store in a lower-income community, an owner may try to make the store appear as nice and high quality as possible. Some people, however, are likely to be discouraged by an expensive-looking store, even if the items inside are not costly. They may chose to not even go inside, impairing the stores ability to serve the community and stay afloat. This kind of design failure happens when someone with good intentions is not familiar with the people they are trying to help or does not do their research properly.

This means that interventions from within the community are the best way to combat issues because of their intimate knowledge of the people and customs. For instance, the creator of Peoples Community Market was doubtful of another, much more large-scale investor’s plan for a massive grocery store in Jack London mall because of its out of the way location and the fact that it doesn’t account for the very limited time many people in Oakland have to get food.

I’m hopeful about the potential for the People’s Community Market to help the residents of West Oakland and bring some much-needed resources to the food desert there.