Window on the Ecology Center

Taking a long weekend out of their busy schedules, four Farm Fresh Choice youth ambassadors represented the Ecology Center at the Rooted in Community conference in Portland, Maine. Nakia Dillard, Christian Ramirez, Kad Smith, and Shawn Stewart presented skits, toured gardens, and networked with youth from around the country over the first weekend in August.

Rooted in Community is a national grassroots network that empowers young people to work for food justice in their own communities, offering a space for youth from excluded communities to have a voice and influence on their own futures. Moving to a new city each year, RIC creates opportunities for youth to increase their skills by working at urban agriculture programs, preparing and eating fresh local foods, and engaging with their peers around food culture, social, and environmental justice issues. Attendees can explore new cities and schools and take time to enjoy natural areas.

The Ecology Center’s Farm Fresh Choice program, which brings nutrition education and fresh, local produce to underserved Berkeley residents, serves on the advisory council of RIC; this year, co-manager Gerardo Marin accompanied the four to the conference, which also included
farm trips on the outskirts of Boston.

Out of the many experiences at RIC, Nakia Dillard was impressed by the coordination of bike trips for a hundred riders to six garden work project sites. Dillard hadn’t ridden a bike in years and felt inspired and energized throughout the journey. She appreciated the blowing
wind, the burning sensations in her leg muscles, and remembers her joy as her comrades smiled back at her.

The group ran a skit, “Whose wealth is it, anyways?” which imagines strategy sessions in corporate food industry boardrooms as well as a game, Health Awareness Jeopardy, that increases awareness of predatory fast food marketing schemes, the detrimental impacts of the industrial food system, and in contrast, the value in sustainable agriculture. “Our participants gave us positive and constructive feedback,” says Dillard, “and that made us more aware of significant information about sustainable food systems that we want to incorporate into future workshops.”

Says Ramirez, “I was surprised to see so many youth my age teaching nutrition and creating fresh food access for folks like we do! It felt great to present to such a large group of leaders.” Ramirez says the few attendees who were a little rude at the start opened up and became more comfortable by the end of the conference.

Shawn Stewart says, “I had a great experience learning how to identify plants and picking weeds so that strawberries could grow in peace. It was fun to interact with so many people at once, and the group discussions around race and privilege brought us closer.”

Dillard says she enjoyed working on the farm—but perhaps the best was being able “to offer a gift through my poetry/spoken word at the open mic/dance party on the grass. I was approached the very next day by youth who hadn’t spoken to me before. They’d say, ‘Aren’t you the person who said that Afro poem?’ It felt empowering to know that my poetry touched many youth that night.”

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