Food Justice is a Passion and a Calling

Today marks the beginning of our Breaking Barriers Series.

The food policy industry is buzzing with professionals who care deeply about academia, food activism and reducing inequality. But in order to fully advance the food justice agenda, we must break down the barrier of seemingly exclusive language. How else can we possibly create the space to openly discuss shortcomings of the food system?

Today marks the beginning of our Breaking Barriers series, wherein we unpack the meaning of the biggest concepts motivating the leaders of the food justice movement. This month, we look at sustainable agriculture.

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

In the simplest terms, sustainable agriculture is an end-goal. By pursuing sustainable agriculture, we are working towards a food system that healthily feeds everyone, betters the environment, provides economic security for the farming industry, and benefits society. The entire concept is rooted in the basic premise of sustainability: “we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The U.S. Congress wrote sustainable agriculture into law in the 1990 Farm Bill under the following definition: “the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term—

  • satisfy human food and fiber needs;
  • enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
  • make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
  • sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
  • enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

Despite the 1990 Farm Bill, the work towards sustainable agriculture is nowhere near complete. Many communities have been excluded and underserved by the legislation.

How is it relevant to food justice?

Given that sustainable agriculture is aimed at satisfying nutritional needs while also enhancing the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole, sustainable agriculture and food justice are two inseparable outcomes. John Ikerd, a professor of Agricultural Economics at University of Missouri, suggests that food and farming systems which do not ensure equal access to safe, nutritious food are not sustainable because, “sustainability is a question of environmental integrity and economic viability, but sustainability is also a question of social justice.”

As a food justice-oriented organization, TFFJ integrates both sustainability and food justice by not only sourcing fresh produce to food desert communities, but by also teaching future generations about urban farming techniques, healthy lifestyles, and the basic principles of equitable food systems. As we’ve said before, our philosophy is simple: Give someone a meal and you feed him or her for a day. Teach young people to lead a healthy food movement and you can feed a community for a lifetime.

(This article was contributed by TFFJ Intern, Christina Saint-Louis)

Changemakers on the Move

What does social entrepreneurship mean to 6th and 7th graders? TFFJ students at the Urban Assembly Unison school have an answer to that. Over the past few weeks, they have supported each other’s passion for healthy food and change-driven entrepreneurshipand refuse to be quiet about it.Inspired by leading women in food justice advocacy such as Haile Thomas, Karen Washington, and Tanya Fields, the students set out in late January to plan a food market that would provide freshly grown produce, cooking demonstrations and recipe tastings to the Clinton Hill community. To do so, they branched into three committees: marketing, design, and management.

By flourishing in an environment of collective action, these girls have shown that they are here to engage in STEM concepts like hydroponic farming and become active changemakers in their community. Each day, they are challenging the “leaky pipeline” which experts such as Dr. Patty L. Fagin have described as “when girls start out as strong in math and science as boys, but lose interest along the way.” Perhaps the new pipeline is from farm to Forbes 30 under 30Partnering with Wellness in the Schools and the American Heart Association, our all-women mentor team guided the girls in crafting a market and community-wide event. It communicated a message of heart health at Family Fitness Fun Night, the school’s bi-annual, festive evening to encourage healthy lifestyles. In addition to being exposed to recipes made with produce grown by TFFJ teens (and the opportunity to purchase these items affordably at the student-run farmers’ market), attendees enjoyed various exercise sessions of yoga, pop pilates, zumba, basketball, and fitness challenges.

Let’s face it, if this is what social entrepreneurship looks like to middle schoolers, then the future leaders of our society will surely consist of confident, justice-oriented and business-minded individuals.



UA Unison School Farm Back in Action

Teens for Food Justice is backblog-post-1 in action at the Urban Assembly Unison School Farm in Brooklyn. During the first week, mentors and mentees alike were reminded that any fruitful farm starts with successful seeds and a healthy nutrient foundation. 

Our new mentor team and returning TFFJ teens, who helped build the Unison Farm last year, co-led a discussion with the new students on hydroponic farming and how we begin the life cycle of our plants by planting seeds in Rockwool. It was especially encouraging to see returning teens share their excitement for another year in the farm with our newest cohort.

blog-post-1-1Rockwool, a hydroponic growing medium, is made from melted Basalt rock that is spun into fibers (like making cotton candy from sugar) and pressed into bricks. To get a hands-on sense of this process, students were presented with a bit of a sticky situation: they compressed cotton candy into cubes similar to the Rockwool we use to grow crops in our farm.

Every program day begins with a healthy and balanced snack. The teens were eager to dig into appetizing, colorful salads and sandwiches prepared by our Program Mentor and Resident Chef, Azza Bushra. Each forkful featured hyper-locally grown fresh greens, tomatoes and cucumbers—produce harvested directly from the Unison Farm that day!

After a brief presentation on essential nutrients for hydroponic farming, the students formed groups and were challenged to apply what they had learned. Working in collaboration, the groups mixed their own nutrient solution, which feeds our plants and practiced balancing pH levels for optimum nutrient uptake. TFFJ teens are fast learners: after a few stirs and shakes, each 5-gallon bucket of solution was approved by our Hydroponics Manager, Harrison Hillier, and Farm Manager, Alyssa Vazquez, to be added to the systems at Unison Farm!blog-post-1-collage

As  we kick off another school year with some big projects ahead for our students, we’re confident that it will be an amazing journey. Our returning and new teens are already demonstrating their communication skills, patience, and scientific interest as they seed, transplant, and harvest.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat as we empower the Urban Assembly Unison School youth lead the fight for food justice in their community! We will be posting photos, video stories and quotes from our TFFJ program all year long, so stay tuned!

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