It’s been a couple of weeks since General Assembly but I still have a couple more thoughts and stories to share, and then I’ll move on to my last month in Boston (which is still blowing my mind!)
Part of the deal in going to Detroit was that we would volunteer doing something food-justice related, similar to the experiences we have had here working in shelters, food pantries, farms, etc. We were looking forward to branching out of the New England food circle and see first-hand what’s going on in Detroit.
But first, some background. Boston is a really interesting place, for many reasons, especially because it is so young and culturally diverse. For example, when walking around Harvard Square or getting on the train in Cambridge it is normal to hear more languages I don’t understand than English. They are extremely liberal, progressive, eco- and bike-friendly, and a foodie town, which has been a fun change of pace from south Georgia. But somewhere in there they have concluded that they’re above any -isms, such as racism, classism, sexism, etc. Living in this post-racial society and thinking this kind of discrimination is other people’s problems only found in other places or in the past is just perpetuating the problems that are alive and well right here, build into the social fabric. However it is clear that in the U.S. race is a factor in hunger and poverty, and being aware of a problem doesn’t make it go away, but it’s the only way to start working on it.
- Latino households are more than twice as likely to be food insecure as white, non-Hispanic households and poverty rates for Hispanics are nearly triple that of non-Hispanic Whites (Feeding America).
- 14.5 percent of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table. More than 48 million Americans—including 15.9 million children—live in these households. Half of all American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before age 20; 90 percent of African-American children will enroll in SNAP before age 20 (Bread for the World).
- For African American seniors, the risk of hunger rate was 17.2% and the rates for Hispanic seniors were 18.2% compared to 15.2% nationally (National Foundation to End Senior Hunger).
- The 2010 poverty rate was 15.1 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 1997. The poverty rate for Hispanics was 26.6 percent, for Blacks 27.4 percent (World Hunger Education Service).
Detroit seemed to be much more aware of their problems, or at least the racism and classism was more visible. From the crumbling neighborhoods to the fact that we were usually the only white people on public transportation (when the bus actually showed up, which was rare) we knew this would be a different experience.
So in the middle of the week during GA the Boston YAVs took a break from committee meetings and Robert’s Rules of Order to do what we do best– volunteer and get our hands dirty. We showed up at Earthworks Urban Farm, who supplies fresh and local produce to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen; they help provide food for 28 meals a week at two shelters. We joined a group of about 12 people and walked a few blocks to one of their fields, in the middle of overgrown lots, burned outer shells of houses that had been abandoned a long time ago, and streets with more potholes than smooth asphalt.
We were, again, in the minority and strangers to the group, but that didn’t matter. They didn’t care that we were four privileged, college-educated, white kids with grand ideas of calling and purpose to change the world. Or even that we’ve dedicated our lives to learning and serving this year. They wanted to know if we could harvest kale and chard and put us to work.
Most of the farmers we have met and worked with so far were pretty independent and solitary, verging on socially awkward. These folks were anything but, and the community felt among the workers was apparent and infectious. We were chatting and laughing like old friends before we left.
My favorite moment was when a few other volunteers and I were harvesting sugar snap peas (and maybe snacking on a few.) Once we picked a handful of peas we would hand them over the row of plants to a man waiting who would then put them in the collection bucket. I thought this is the image of urban farming- young, white females working alongside a large, tattooed black man. Diversity in action! He then asked where we were from and we told him right now we’re from Boston. His immediate reaction-
“Boston?! They don’t like black people!”
We just stood there for a moment, eyes wide I’m sure. What is the politically correct response in this situation, to a complete stranger? Without really thinking I said “Yeah, and they don’t think they have a race problem.” He agreed “Yep, and that’s the worst kind” and that was that. We went on to talk about other things and he joked about Kentucky’s grass being blue.
Not only was it great to take a break from sitting in COBO, bur working with Earthworks gave us the opportunity to witness and add our small efforts to the beautiful rebuilding and growing of Detroit.
Fellow YAVs Kathleen, Audrey, and I in the midst of the pea plant jungle.