2015 Food Justice Fair: A Collective Impact

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Tompkins Weekly 9-14-15

By Rev. Olivia Armstrong

It’s that special time of year; new beginnings, old endings, school starts and our little ones depart. On Sunday, Sept. 20, the first conscious effort (of my knowing) to bring three non-profit 501(c)(3)s in a collaborative effort as a team, to inform all communities of diverse backgrounds and to highlight the preliminary work being done in our community and afar.

At the Food Justice Fair they will share current information of our food system and about the Tompkins County Food Policy Council, which will star in January. This year’s keynote speaker at the Food Justice Fair is Natasha Bowen, author of a new book titled “The Color of Food” In her book Bowen documents interviews with Nubian (black) farmers throughout the United States, and reflects on why there weren’t more black farmers during her first learning farming experience at a farm in Upstate New York.

One of our own black farmers, Rafa Ponte, owner of Rocky Acres Community Farm in Freeville, met Bowen while they both were learning farming skills in Wassaic, NY. After seeing one of Bowen’s Youtube videos, I was intrigued by the way she was able to get the stories, in person and some first-time individuals were interviewed. Her book is a must read because these interviews weren’t sit down having coffee, tea or lemonade.

Better yet, come and her or ask her for specific details about how she had to do the interview. To me it was just as important, or more important, than the one-to-one process, journey.

As a beginner black small farmer myself, I related to a lot of the stories in her book. My plot is at the Ithaca Community Gardens, which I called the Rainbow Garden (see story: Reflection “Open Day” Aug. 31, 2015, www.hotpotatopress.org). I not only talked about growing my veggies, but the spiritual relationship the grower has with the “birth” of the crops.

I was in Detroit on personal assignment at the Hush House Leadership and Training Institute, and discussed this article with co-owners Professor Charles and Sandra Simmons. She informed me of their farming leadership program work in Belize (Central America), about their adopting a black single mother farmer with five children—four girls and one son away at school—and one grandchild.

I had a personal interview with Florence Garcia at her 50-acre farm in Belize that which she calls “The Securing For All”. The interview was 10 minutes, however, their problems are not much different than here in the U.S. Garcia is a widow who was married to the Minister of Agriculture, and while you may think that she’s set for life. That is not the case. Garica receives no benefits from her husband’s job and only receives a little SSI stipend for her youngest daughter.

She needs help, also, after two years of great floods because of climate change. She is offering students or anyone who would like to help to come down. She may be contacted through the Hush House International Leadership and Training Institute for Human Rights, Detroit Mich.

Rev. Olivia Armstrong is the Executive Director of the Rainbow Healing Dance Center.


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