Youth Fight for Food Justice
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Gabriela Centurion

Members of Growing Youth extend soil beds in community gardens at Alameda Point.

West End Watch

If you don’t have a car to make weekly grocery trips, and there’s no place to shop for fresh, healthy food closer than a very long walk or bus ride away, it’s hard to think about fighting for food justice; the struggle to put food on the table every day can be grueling.

But a handful of teens out at Alameda Point Collaborative (APC) have taken matters into their own hands, forming a group called Growing Youth that works to address issues of food justice at the local level. “Just like any other economic system, sometimes it serves people, sometimes it doesn’t. People starving around the country: that’s not a just food system; people getting sick from food laden with pesticides: that’s not a just food system,” said Growing Youth coordinator Kate Casale.

The food project began in fall 2005 when the youth of APC conducted a community food assessment that would tackle issues of food security, including topics of affordability, transportation, health and nutrition. What the teens found confirmed their suspicions: that healthy food was not readily available to the residents. With that information, the group went on to design a program to get fresh produce to APC’s families.

Growing Youth currently employs 12 residents ranging in ages 14 to 18. These teens work 15 to 20 hours a week and are responsible for sustaining the gardens.

The program is designed to provide teenagers with real-life job training, educating them on resume writing, computer literacy and financial literacy. Three-year employee Jerrard Harris notes the range of skills learned is not limited to gardening techniques but includes communication and leadership skills. Harris and the other youth attend staff meetings and conferences, visit other community-oriented groups, and also contribute ideas to major business decisions. In these settings, Casale hoped to teach the staff valuable lessons in marketing and commerce.

Growing Youth currently provides small community plots to residents of APC to manage their own vegetable gardens with helpful advice from the staff. Youth took the initiative to expand the project’s produce production by transforming an empty lot at Alameda Point into a one-acre farm, which currently has more than 80 olive and fruit trees.

After three years, Growing Youth has evolved into an integral facet of the APC, providing residents with fresh, organic produce from its 1 3/4 acres of land and educating them on the concepts involved when discussing food justice. APC residents at Alameda Point are limited in on-site access to fresh foods, with an infrequent bus route and no grocery store for miles.

Deliveries are typically made to between 6 and 15 families each week upon request. Casale hopes to develop a city-wide delivery system, charging families a minimal amount for produce. “We’re not trying to make money, but we are trying to make (enough) money to sustain the farm,” she said.

To further educate APC residents on food security and justice, Growing Youth hosts a monthly Family Health Night and bimonthly cooking classes. These classes aim to provide families and children with the knowledge and necessary tools to implement a nutritious and healthy diet.

Casale recently met with the Alameda Planning Department in hopes of establishing a community kitchen available to all APC residents. She optimistically plans for construction to begin in the fall with completion by Christmas. The kitchen would provide many new options for the project, like catering and creating frozen meal plans, she said.

In two weeks, Growing Youth will host the Summer Food Institute, paying teenagers $100 for a week-long camp. The Institute will educate campers on topics like health and hunger issues and provide hands-on gardening training.

To read a full summary on the findings and strategies of food security, visit the Growing Youth link at www.apcollaborative.org.

 

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