Inspiring Youth To Build Justice, Health, And CommunityTue 19 Mar 2013
Story by Dave Madan and Signe Porteshawver
Farms are important places; they help us understand the key connections to others that help us survive. At theMOVE, a Boston nonprofit, we mobilize diverse urban youth to get out onto local farm workdays, inspiring them to change the way they eat, and to reshape their food system.
theMOVE organizes farm workdays for diverse urban youth and young adults across Metro Boston, to connect folks hands-on with fresh food, and with the labor and land that sustain us. We do this to expose the injustices embedded in our food system, and to inspire folks towards healthy, sustainable lifestyles, which promote relationships of respect with the people and places that produce our food.
theMOVE encourages our participants to understand that our personal health, our community’s health, and our natural environment’s health are interdependent. We shape ourselves and our surroundings by the food we choose to eat. On our trips, we discuss the impact of labor practices and growing methods on the food we consume. We show participants the reality for many farmers in this country. Most youth are shocked that the majority of money we spend on food goes to processors, distributors, and advertisers, leaving growers with only 4 cents out of every dollar.
Experiencing food at its origin offers a critical respect for the hard work it takes to grow food, putting that 4 cents into perspective. This runs contrary to much of human history, in which we’ve systematically devalued labor and used race as the primary determinant to decide who does it. For many low-income communities and people of color, farm labor is something we’ve been running away from for generations. But in part as a result of letting go of our food system, many in our communities have also ended up with destructive food options.
theMOVE believes that if we can re-connect with our food, and revalue labor that produces it, we can build a healthier, more just food system. theMOVE puts youth first in leading us there, by connecting them with where our food is grown, encouraging them to experience first-hand that this labor is indispensable.
The natural systems behind food production are also central to our discussions. On farms, we can see that sound ecology is essential for a safe supply of food and for building healthy communities. Students get dirty on our trips, accidentally touch bugs, notice the life in plants, and feel the hot sun beam upon them.
Most urban youth have limited access to fresh, local produce, much less the farms that produce it, and the impact of this connection is profound. After their farm workday with theMOVE, 90% of our participants say they look at food differently, and 75% say we changed the way they eat. Most importantly, we ask students to advocate for themselves and their communities. At a meeting with Governor Patrick on Food Day this past year, a student from one of our trips told the governor: “If we're going to keep getting fed, the farmers who do the hard work of growing food will need to get paid enough to take care of themselves too."
About the authors: Dave Madan founded theMOVE (getoutma.org) in 2010, and serves as its executive director. He grew up in an immigrant family in Cambridge MA, and was profoundly impacted by his first workday on a farm at the age of 17. Dave also serves as the vice-chair of the board of trustees of the UUSC (uusc.org), as a founding board member of the Urban Farming Institute. Signe Porteshawver is an aspiring farmer, food activist, and writer. Signe has been a part-time staff member of theMOVE (getoutma.org) for 3 years. She has worked as a grower at Drumlin Farm for two seasons and does food advocacy work during the winter. She blogs at TheVegTable (thevegtable.wordpress.com).
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