Fighting Poverty with Passion
What is food security for an urban working class population? The Latino Farmers Cooperative has struggled with its identity for some time now. With the addition of OpNOLA, a program its people desperately needed, the staff and board again are struggling with identity. A new program causes us to question priorities. Is it still worthwhile to be committed to food security? This question is especially important in an urban setting and serving a population that requires so much assistance with education and social services. I have little doubt that the majority of food poundage that we are connected to providing would be in the assistance we provide in filling out SNAP applications. Or possibly it is our distribution of over 8000 lbs of food dispensed through our bancos de comida programs. But neither of these programs make farmers of those we serve. And many folks have expressed that avoiding agricultural work is the exact reason many of our people left their homes and came to the urban setting.
This reality takes us to two questions, how do we serve without assuming, but listening; and what is food security for people who don’t want to farm (my first question)? I could philosophize with the first question, but I actually think this unnecessary. Our incorporation of social services and education have come from listening and serving. From my perspective these meet important needs; done, handled, good. But food security is still a real concern. Our 8000 lbs all disappeared within a handful of hours of us opening our doors each time. Then, as in many questions, we must turn to a question of how. How do we, in this nearly food desert environment, support food security? Food banks and SNAP assistance are great in my opinion, though they will always make dependents of our participants; dependent on 2nd harvest’s generosity and the government’s assistance.
So then again to the “how”, how to empower, how to ensure. Our members don’t want the work of gardens and farms, don’t want to partake in the hours and hours required to set up an urban ag system. But would we be good stewards if we let them become merely dependent? I say no, but what work must we do then to ensure improvement and security? I think that our current work must be to secure a superior source. 2nd harvest and the government will never care or be personally focused on our people like we are. We must create and maintain other sources to draw from and we must sell that food as well, much to our chagrin. Ideally, this will allow a healthy cheap source of food. A source a later community can depend on as they see fit. And if later community opinions change about autonomy and participation, then at least this staff and time will have left good soil and ripe fruit.