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Communities Take Food Justice Into Their Own Hands, One Plot at a Time

In some neighborhoods, home gardens are a way to improve food security, environmental responsibility and community engagement one plot at a time.
 
 
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Editor's Note: This is part of series, Facing the Climate Gap, which looks at grassroots efforts in California low-income communities of color to address climate change and promote climate justice. You can read the whole series here.

This article was published in collaboration with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

While in some neighborhoods, home gardens are a novelty that contributes to the local food movement; in others they are a way to improve food security, environmental responsibility and community engagement one plot at a time.

3.7 million Californians lack basic food security, which is defined as reliable access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. This is despite the fact that 400 agricultural goods and nearly half of all fruits, nuts and vegetables in the U.S. are grown in California.

The effects of climate change are expected to make access to food increasingly problematic. Crop and livestock production is expected to decrease as extreme weather causes decreased water supply and increased risk for disease and pest invasions. Global food prices have already risen in recent years due to climate change.

When Charles Mason, Jr. looked out at his Sacramento neighborhood, he realized there was an opportunity to meet the community’s needs for improved food access and environmental quality by planting home and community gardens. “Most people don’t think they know how to change such a huge thing. But to the contrary if everyone did one thing, you would start seeing a significant impact to mitigate the effects of climate change,” says Mason.

In 2009, Mason founded Ubuntu Green in the Oak Park neighborhood in Sacramento. Mason set forth to help “green” Oak Park and to educate and empower community members around issues of land use, environmental health justice, transportation, energy efficiency, and access to healthy food. Since then the non-profit has partnered with Sacramento Yard Farmer to create the Edible Garden Campaign, whose goal is to create at least 350 edible home gardens by 2013 to foster more healthy and sustainable eating while also reducing the community’s carbon footprint.

The campaign is based in low-income and communities of color in the Sacramento region where the effects of increased food prices and food scarcity is felt the greatest. In 2010, almost 15 percent of U.S. households experienced food insecurity. Within that demographic, it is African-Americans, Latinos, children and low-income and single parent households bear the brunt of this.

One of Mason’s primary goals has been making the issue of healthy, sustainable food and climate change relevant to the communities Ubuntu serves. This, he says begins by creating a conversation about the issues.

“People start talking about climate change, but unless it is making you sick and you know it is making you sick, [they think] what the hell does it have to do with me? And what can I do about it?” says Mason.

Ubuntu is an African humanist term that is defined by a sense of world community and accountability to one another. The Edible Garden Campaign was inspired by 350.org, a global organization dedicated to reducing carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The number 350 was chosen because some scientists conclude that we must reduce our current carbon level from 392 parts per million to 350.

Growing and consuming local and organic food is reported to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as it reduces vehicles miles traveled (and gas consumed) and provides alternatives to food produced with industrial-scale farm equipment and fertilizers that rely on fossil fuels and pollute our air and water.  It’s showing that another type of agriculture is possible even among those with the lowest of incomes.