2008 Sunday Sessions

September 21, 2008


Home Grown: Solution Building at the Roots

Asantewaa Gail Harris, Community Vision Council, Bushwick, NY


  • Bushwick is/was NYC’s “3rd Ward”
  • In all the major farmers’ market, there was not one black farmer.
  • I was able to be trained by Just Food as a demo chef for the market.
  • It’s important that we ask our elders for their solutions – recipes and remedies, healthy choices for longevity.
  • Land loss and loss of livelihood is a major problem for black farmers in this country.
  • Vision: Wellness. Began using Wellness Wednesdays for education on health issues
  • Started a petition to get the plight of black farmers to be a focus of the black caucus and in Congress so that the issue can be on the table
  • Commission on Sustainable Development: No black American farmers represented.
  • We need representation. Our work is intergenerational and multicultural. Sometimes we have to try new things. Sometimes we have to dance, do spoken word, read a book
  • Slides show kids getting involved, pictures from the market.
  • Here is something we could do differently: We could can train people in wellness, bring a farmers’ market to our community so that people can come together
  • Find a way of locking in the themes and celebration you want to share with your community.
  • We’ve got to find a way to reach our folks, which may mean utilizing evening time.
  • The United States is second only to South Africa in racism.
  • A woman offered her front yard for gardening; then other neighbors have also offered. Learning new skills and best practices to bring back to our communities.


What It Means to Be White: Working Towards Full Awareness of White Privilege in Community Food Security Work

Tera Couchman-Wick, Program Director, Village Gardens


  1. www.janusyouth.org
  2. www.combarriers.com

This workshop was designed as a one-hour session but was so rich and engaging almost the entire group opted to extend the discussion through the subsequent break and open session period.

Well-meaning people and non-profits often undermine the wealth of knowledge, skills, and leadership within low-income communities and communities of color by doing “for” or “to” them, rather than “with” them. What assumptions perpetuate this dynamic? How do we as individuals experience and perpetuate racism and white privilege (if we have it)? What are some of the cultural distinctions that sometimes come into play in cross-ethnic and cross-class interactions? How do we define and facilitate alternative models of shared growing and organizing?

What does it mean to be white? (collective brainstorm)

  • Sympathy in court rooms
  • Mobility and choice
  • Benefit of the doubt and second chances
  • Illusion of racial neutrality
  • Comfortable in white communities/dominant culture
  • Freedom to not think about race
  • Home language and accent generally accepted as national norm
  • Ability to speak authoritatively and be listened to and taken seriously (especially for white men)
  • Can see people of your race represented positively in mainstream media and politics
  • Option of choosing to enter/exit communities distinct from your own freely
  • Jealousy and envy of people who have rich cultural traditions and strong senses of ethnicity
  • Having the history of your ancestors/cultures of origin lying and cheating other peoples normalized and glorified in the dominant narrative
  • Self-consciousness and being viewed as soulless/arrogant/ignorant/insincere/heartless
  • Experiencing dichotomy of feeling both stiff and trying-too-hard when with folks of color
  • Experiencing disconnect from our cultural/European heritages
  • Feeling guilty about white privilege
  • Feeling hatred and embarrassment about other white people

The intersection of language, race, and class
Language and communication styles vary across race and class lines (which of course, are often blurred), but sometimes it helps to have a framework for thinking about some of the cultural patterns that play into or stifle inter-racial/class collaborative efforts.

Oral culture

  • Instinctive
  • Relationships are prioritized over punctuality
  • Repetitive story-telling
  • Spontaneity
  • Big picture
  • Emotional
  • Present-oriented
  • Physical

Print culture Print culture is learned and tends to help facilitate integration into the middle-class.

  • Linear
  • Time is prioritized
  • Analytic/abstract
  • Self-disciplined
  • Ability to delay gratification
  • Ability strategize

Often social change efforts benefit from a combination of both print and oral culture. At Green Gardens, anti-racism is embedded in the organization’s goals and structure. Organizational leadership is comprised of community leaders, who must have experience within the community and are paid, and invited staff, also paid, who are hired by the community leaders to assist with project coordination, fundraising, and other tasks as appropriate/requested.

Thoughts for moving forward:
President Roosevelt’s stated preference to “Speak softly and carry a big stick” aptly describes the implicit power of white privilege and offers a useful frame of reference. We can intentionally or unintentionally cause damage with that privilege and need to be mindful of the ways that it enters into our interactions and power dynamics.

Be mindful of power/knowledge hoarding and constantly strive for a partnership model. Middle-class white allies have potential to help hold spaces for low-income/communities of color to do their work. The skills, knowledge and vision are not the issue; many of the barriers have to do with access to power and resources.

Other recommended readings: Paulo Freire


People Win, Market Stays! – People’s Farmers’ Market Victory in Milwaukee’s Southside
: Matt Nelson and Iris Christian, Freedom Now! Collaborative

Notes: What has happened in the last 3 yrs in Milwaukee with the Mitchell Street Market: The market had been around for awhile and was always run by a nonprofit. The nonprofit organization got into a scandal with a city council member involving money laundering through the market. The nonprofit was dissolved, and the market was left hanging. The city provided a concrete area for the market to move to, but the farmers felt slighted by the forced move. Farmers decided to “squat” on the land they had been using for the market. They formed the Mitchell Street Farmers’ Market Coalition and began working with the Freedom Now! Collaborative. The city finally capitulated and gave a lease for the property and developers backed out of plans for the land. The Mitchell Street Farmers’ Market is now a farmer-directed market.

The Farmers’ Market is really about community. In three years’ time, the public demanded space, took that space, laid claim to that space, and won. The coalition that resulted was composed of farmers and members of the public interested in food security. There was a large, tri-lingual town hall meeting held, involving the resident community, market organizers, and farmers. Through this meeting, it became clear that a farmer has to have more than a one-year lease in order to successfully plan to bring things to market.


  • The Mitchell Street Market currently has a yearly lease. They would like permanent space.
  • Freedom Now! Collaborative would like to help develop a food justice center.
  • Looking to form a federation of farmers, supporting urban garden initiatives.
  • Everywhere in the country, there are pockets of people demanding freedom and justice. Self-organizing groups are changing the way power is held and understood.

Activity: What really is community organizing?

  • Comments people in the room gave regarding community organizing:
  • Community organizers have to be vulnerable.
  • We can’t overestimate the importance of courage.
  • Face-to-face communication is key.
  • Make truth-telling worthwhile – timing and method matter.


Earth Keepers Voices for Native America
Ben Yahola, Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative and Dona Yahola, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Native Americans have many religions and ceremonies based on corn and other agriculture, including the green corn ceremony and the buffalo dance.


  • 1879 – Standing Bear v. George Crook. Native Americans have rights, are considered people before the law.
  • 1924 – Native Americans granted voting rights.
  • 1934 – Indian Reorganization Act restores assets to Native tribes and provisions intended to give sound economic basis to tribes.
  • 1950’s-60’s – Indian Termination Policy – Attempt to assimilate Native Americans into the mainstream. Public Law 280 – Control of land taken back by the states.
  • 1975 – Indian Self-Determination Act
  • 1978 – American Indian Religious Freedom Act – Restores the right to conduct many religious ceremonies (i.e., peyote).
  • 1990 – Native American Graves Protection Act – Grants access to tribal burial grounds on federal lands.
  • 2005 – Keepseagle v. Johann – Alleges discrimination against Native Americans in favor of whites with regard to farm loan programs.

What is being done about food issues?

  • Sustainable Traditional Agriculture Renewal – Program to help tribes reconnect with ancient food production practices.
  • Redstick Vision Keepers – Program to emphasize native production of agriculture
  • Muscogee Food Sovereignty Initiative
  • Emphasize self-sustainability
  • Traditional gardens
  • 7th generation – protect common property for the use of future generations
  • Cultural and educational programs