Seeds to Plant in May: Seasonal/Regional Recommendations for Cultivating Food Justice

When I began this blog, I thought that making the “bigger-picture” connections among grassroots social justice organizing, local governance-reform movements, and efforts to promote healthy, fresh food access in San Diego County was low-hanging fruit, because so many San Diegans located across a wide political spectrum have become “conscientious eaters.”  But as we wipe the stars from our eyes after visits last month from such renowned dignitaries as Michelle Obama and Rag Patel, the task of fixing our regional food system remains enormous. 

And Van Jones is offering a free lecture at UCSD tonight.  We know that the former Green Jobs Czar is celebrated by the NAACP and others as a national hero, because he framed the complex issues of environmental degradation, urban poverty, civil rights and jobs so elegantly and succinctly.  Now his coinage, the “Green Collar Economy,” simultaneously organizes a multi-issue campaign uniting several powerful, grassroots movements as it also refers to a national policy model informing how block grants of “American Recovery Act” monies will be allocated over the next several years. Like slicing a loaf of bread, or peeling an onion, the San Diego Food Justice movement needs a similar, simplifying logic that will make food policy a staple on every policy table this political season.   

How do we shrink the frame of crystal-clear, big-picture analyses pitting local farmers and seed-banking indigenous grandmothers against ‘Big Ag’ and Monsanto to better see our own particular food policy change opportunities here in San Diego, California’s second largest agricultural county?  Is food policy change becoming a justice-based, rights movement here in San Diego?  What is the best way to effect change?

San Diego is ripe for change.  An increasing number of San Diegans are ready to actively engage our region’s most pressing fiscal, environmental, and health issues by visiting local planning groups and City Council committee meetings, writing letters and even marching in the streets.   ‘Tis the season to make note of precisely where and when food policy issues do and do not connect with the other issues that San Diegans care most about right now. 

What to Plant in May – Putting Food (Justice) on the 2011 Policy Table

A recent message from Mother Earth news with regionally-appropriate gardening recommendations, entitled “What to Plant in May,” got me thinking about planning strategically for the fall harvest.  (Perhaps it’s convenient that the political calendar mirrors the farmer’s almanac.) 

If we are looking toward the fall, let’s say November, spring is the time to plant seeds for future food policy advocacy work.  With the June 8th primaries just 29 days away and the deadline to register for initiatives for the November midterm elections coming up on June 24th, local candidates for city council and county supervisors and the school board will be out in the community asking for support, and community groups will be debating various approaches to government reform.  Now is the time to begin educating ourselves and our future leaders about comprehensive food policy.  San Diegans must act quickly to connect food justice issues to other primary, regional concerns.

THE PLATFORM – In 2009, a countywide policy conversation about the food shed identified ten promising areas of local policy change and attached a collective objective for the year 2010—that is, to advocate policy change that would allow 1 in 10 San Diegans to consume locally-grown produce.  This group has become affectionately known as the “1 in 10 Coalition.”  (See the whole platform.)  

Several of the “1 in 10” platform policy change areas have obvious linkages to other grassroots mobilizations, current governance matters, and regional “hot-button” issues, but others still beg to be framed.  Among other things, “1 in 10” has bitten off re-envisioning the urban landscape to include community gardens and urban farms, prioritizing water for food, and ensuring that everyone—school children, low to moderate-income families in park-deficient communities, and seniors in nursing homes—has access to healthy food and to the knowledge and resources they need to make empowered food choices. 

Community Garden Permits – The San Diego Department of Development’s sluggish pace of streamlining the community garden permit process inspired advocates to work with community planning groups to identify how the visionary language expressed in the City’s General Plan “encouraging” the establishment of community gardens actually might be implemented.   The good news is that a pilot community garden project is emerging to work with cities, planning groups, and parks throughout the county to establish gardens and support them through a regional Community Garden Network.  The rub is that planning processes are ponderously slow by design, and cities and parks have less money than ever to create new programs, so advocates must offer creative solutions that utilize volunteers, and either garner funds from nonprofit foundations or link to national initiatives, such as the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign.  (Would a stronger Mayor help or hinder these efforts?  See Prop D.)

EBT at Farmer’s Markets – As food policy advocates seek to ensure that every neighborhood has grocery stores and farmers’ markets equipped to accept EBT, strong alliances might be forged with groups pressuring the County to enroll low-income families in the Food Stamp (SNAP) program—rather than sending the money back to the federal government!  The labor-driven effort to use term limits to mitigate the unresponsiveness of County Supervisors might provide another fertile, if less direct, linkage.  (See Prop B in your City of San Diego ballot.)

The Political Season/Regional Policy Climate:  Linking to Other Homegrown Mobilizations

A range of issues are inspiring San Diegans to forgo a day at the beach or planting tomatoes.    

 Immigration – In addition to heightening the urgency of immigration reform, recent openly discriminatory legislation passed by our neighbor-state, Arizona, brought thousands of San Diegans out in the streets for a national day of action May 1 championing American civil liberties.   Increasingly, “foodies” understand that the industrial food system—that is, agricultural policy riding trade policy such as NAFTA—puts Mexican small-scale farmers out of business and pushes workers over the border where they earn paltry wages and have few rights, but is immigration a local food policy issue?

Several agencies in San Diego run programs that link advocacy for immigrant communities and food security or the environment, such as the IRC’s New Roots Farm and EHC’s “Justainability” Campaign, which has transformed its successful work eliminating toxins from underserved neighborhoods into a full-scale local, Green Jobs effort; however, local food policy has yet to create the necessary linkages to connect to the most powerful immigrant mobilizations, which are about justice and rights

The California State Budget Crisis – If you’ve checked out any recent posts at our sister blog What’s Gov’, then you are aware that the May Revise is a few days away.  Here I simply state that the arrival of the Governor’s revision of the budget this Friday certainly touches on many issues that foodies care about, and local actions offer opportunities to observe carefully what other San Diegans care about and identify potential policy connections.  Check these out. 

May 8Educate for the Future.  1500 parents, teachers, students and concerned citizens rallied in Balboa Park to oppose the budget cuts to education.   

May 14 – The May Revise – The Governor’s office downtown will draw a host of advocates, consumers and workers on Friday, who will take a stand for the Children, Seniors, People with Disabilities, Low Income Families, HHS Workers & Recent Immigrants who will lose life sustaining services and jobs if the Governor’s budget passes. 

May 12: Stand for Children Day—600 parents from around California will rally, march and meet with legislators in Sacramento to advocate for the rights of children and low-income families. 

May 26Education for All & People United for Justice (the Fair Budget Priorities Coalition) will meet at Horton Plaza, local San Diegans will discuss the impacts of the budget cuts and offer possible revenue solutions.

May 29 – Learn about Prop B– Term Limits for the County Board of Supervisors.  Is this a great way to bring necessary change to our county or are term limits a bad idea for our democracy? Join in discussion about the problems and possible solutions for our county government.  Also, the San Diego City Clerk will be sharing the details of the process that the city will employ to select the city’s redistricting commission this July and the details citizens interested in being on or observing the commission need to know.   (12:00 – 2:00 PM @ Mission Valley Library)

Upcoming Post:  The June 8th Ballot, What’s in it for Us? 

References & Notes

1. See Tim Wise, Going beyond Immigration Policy. 4/5/10 

2. If you are interested in contributing to the shape that food policy change work takes in our region, take the San Diego Healthy Foodshed Survey.

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