Environmental justice is a phrase that points out that sadly, those who are poor and politically weak tend to bear the most adverse impacts of environmental inequalities.[i] My work with Common Good City Farm has been working to alleviate one type of environmental assault, food deserts. Food deserts are areas where residents don’t have access to full scale grocery stores. The problem in D.C. is so adverse that residents in ward 8 only have three full scale grocery stores for 69,047 residents. [ii] When confronted with this information, I instantly felt a moral obligation to act. This semester, I wanted to work with an urban farm for two reasons, first, I wanted to feel as if I was an active agent for positive change, and secondly, I wanted to expand my understandings of agriculture and farm management.
I am an undergraduate student majoring in environmental studies and minoring in international relations. I decided to supplement the work done in my environmental sustainability and global health class by working with the urban farm Common Good City Farm. Common Good is dedicated to increasing the presence of small scale sustainable agriculture in an urban setting. They believe that their work can foster a healthy vibrant community through the provision of fresh produce to residents. They have been around since 2007, and in this time, they have provided over 10 tons of food for the community. They have done this with the help of over 3,000 volunteers, and 4,500 students in educational programs. Their work is targeted towards public health and food policy. The work done through the farm addresses sustainability, public health, nutrition, and food justice.
Each day that I volunteer my duties include preparing the beds for harvest, as well was sowing seeds in the beds. I work with other volunteers and the farm manager to ensure that all beds are the correct size without any weeds, and we work together to germinate seeds and plant various types of greens such as collards, and kale. The past few weeks have taught me a lot more than I originally expected. The process of farming has made me more connected to the methods of creating and growing food, and from this I have gained a greater appreciation and awareness of food production in general. I have a greater appreciation for those who spend their days doing manual labor on farms, because I can now understand all the effort and management it takes to bring food to my plate each day. I feel as if I have gained a well needed practical understanding of food deserts, food policy, and farm management.
One major takeaway from this experience would be that as environmentalists, we need to be more attuned to the communities needs throughout the process of combating environmental inequalities. Within these pasts few weeks the farm has been vandalized three different times, and from discussions with the farm manager, I can understand that this resentment comes from the fact that the community hasn’t been involved with common good in any collaborative manner. Though they have been in the location for 10 years now, community members still view common good as outsiders. This lesson in community dynamics has greatly affected my ideas and perceptions about environmental justice. I am grateful to have had the chance to work with Common good over the semester, and I leave knowing I have gained invaluable experiential knowledge and I can apply this to my studies and jobs in the future.
[i] Paul Wapner and Richard Matthew (2009), “The Humanity of Global Environmental Ethics,” Journal of Environment and Development, Vol. 18, no. 2, May.