Author: Health equity and racial justice grow alongside the vegetables at Massachusetts urban farms
Book By Sara Shostak
Rutgers University Press
May 14 2021
Across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, urban farmers and gardeners are reclaiming cultural traditions linked to food, farming, and health; challenging systemic racism and injustice in the food system; demanding greater community control of resources in marginalized neighborhoods; and moving towards their visions of more equitable urban futures. As part of this urgent work, urban farmers and gardeners encounter and reckon with both the cultural meanings and material legacies of the past. Drawing on their narratives, Back to the Roots demonstrates that urban agriculture is a critical domain for explorations of, and challenges to, the long standing inequalities that shape both the materiality of cities and the bodies of their inhabitants.
Sara Shostak, author: I want to start by saying how much I learned from listening to urban farmers and gardeners across Massachusetts. I didn’t set out to write a book about memory, and what I heard and learned was how much memory is a part of urban farming, not because farms and gardens commemorate events, per se, but because they help to keep vital and important cultural traditions alive.
Those include cultural traditions linked to food — practices of cultivation, as well as practices of food preparation, cultural traditions around herbs and healing. I heard a lot about how important it was to reclaim knowledge that they remember their grandmothers or even their great-grandmothers having about how herbs can help keep us healthy.
And it also involves lifting up difficult histories and making them available for processes of consideration, processes of reparation. So even as gardeners are reclaiming these important traditions, they’re also critiquing the social processes and the injustices that over time have in some cases severed and in some cases disrupted those traditions.
Carrie Healy, NEPM: So you’re saying all of that is going on right here, around us. We’re standing in a high tunnel. That’s what’s happening here?
I think part of what’s so exciting and, to my mind, amazing, about urban farming is how much happens alongside growing food. So I really want to honor how much food is grown, right? Especially right here where we’re standing, the Worcester Regional Environmental Council, where we are, did an extraordinary, a breathtaking job of responding to the urgent needs for food that emerged in this community during the pandemic.
And, even as they grow all of this food, come up with ways to distribute it safely, to make healthy food accessible to low income families and individuals, there is a lot of work going on as well around developing youth as leaders who have important insights and things to say and things to do about the future of their cities.
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