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Dec
12
2013

The imbalance in economic power between Detroit’s mostly African American residents and the Chaldean and Arab merchants who own and operate most of the food stores, convenience stores, check cashing stores and gas stations in our community creates an environment ripe for abuse.  While there are some Chaldean and Arab merchants who are attempting to treat residents with respect, at far too many stores, clerks display an attitude of arrogance, often not even saying thank you to the customers who keep their businesses afloat.  Far too often Black youth are suspected of stealing, Black men are spoken to disrespectfully and Black women are hit on.  In some cases, women are propositioned, offered a few dollars to perform some sex act. Rather than engaging in real community partnership to contribute to the neighborhoods from which they extract wealth, many store owners build a small network of supporters by paying locals a few dollars to sweep up and take out boxes, or providing them...

Jul
03
2013

Let me be clear.  I am anti-capitalism.  It is a system that is by nature exploitive and unsustainable.  The system of unbridled global capital in which we currently live, would make Adam Smith cringe. The answers to many of the social problems that we face lie in capitalism giving way to a more equitable system of distributing resources that upholds the dignity of all human beings and respects nature. In the meantime, we are faced with the dilemma of how to develop our communities within a system that favors the rich, is racist, sexist and destroys the earth.Within this current system, the best option for building collective community ownership and empowerment is co-operatives.  Co-ops can take many forms including credit unions, sellers’ co-ops, producers’ co-ops, worker/owner co-ops and consumer co-ops.  The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network  (DBCFSN) is working diligently to open a consumer food co-op store, within the next 24 months, as a way of providing access...

Apr
15
2013

  The food movement is at a critical moment.  With the changing landscape created by the demise of the Community Food Security Coalition, many questions are being asked about the direction and leadership of the "good food revolution." Foremost among those questions is how do we create a movement that is led by African Americans, other People of Color and progressive whites and is committed to racial justice and democracy? The reality is that in order to ensure that we create a racially just movement in the United States for food security, food justice and food sovereignty, that movement must be lead by African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos/Latinas, Asian Americans and progressive whites committed to working on eliminating both systemic racism and their own personal racism. The system of white supremacy is pervasive in American society.  It results in inequities in education, the criminal justice system, wealth, health, and food access. There continues to be a wide gap...

Mar
17
2013

 Land, Food Security and Social Justice In 1888 my great-grandfather Sandy Odom was forced to leave his farm in Marion, Arkansas by an armed white mob.  What, you may ask, does this have to do with the current “good food revolution?  Plenty!One of the root causes of food insecurity throughout the world is dispossessing people of their lands, and thus their ability to feed and other wise provide for themselves.  The story of my great-grandfather is significant not because it is extraordinary, but because it is but one of dozens of documented instances in the 19th and 20th of Black being forced off of their lands in southern and Midwestern states.In November 1988, the American Missionary Society published an account of the incident. Excerpts appear below.THE CRITTENDEN COUNTY OUTRAGE.BY THE REV. B.A. IMES.“From the bluff at Memphis we look across the river, where along the western shore stretch the forests of Crittenden County, Arkansas, and Marion...

Dec
16
2012

Council member Ken Cockrel must be trippin’! On Tuesday, December 11, after he, along with Saunteel Jenkins, James Tate, Gary Brown, and Charles Pugh, voted to approve the ill-conceived Hantz land sale proposal, he was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying,  “a ‘no’ vote would have sent the message to the world that Detroit isn’t really serious about urban agriculture.”   The foremost advocates and practitioners of urban agriculture in Detroit opposed the Hantz proposal. It is groups like Feedom Freedom Growers, Earthworks Urban Farm, the Garden Resource Program and D-Town Farm that have informed the nation and the world that Detroiters are serious about urban agriculture. Councilman Gary Brown is trippin’ too! In the same article, referring to the vocal opponents of the land grab, he was quoted as saying  “very few of them talked about the Hantz Farms project. It was mostly about a dysfunctional city government that makes it hard for them to buy” land.   There have been many...

Nov
29
2012

 After a couple of years of Hantz Farms President Mike Score proposing a meeting between myself and John Hantz, and discussion on the terms of such a meeting, early this year, I agreed to meet with Mr. Hantz if Kathryn Underwood were present.  Kathryn is the city council’s representative on the Detroit Food Policy Council, is a planner with the City Planning Commission, and has led the urban ag workgroup that developed the proposed ordinance on urban agriculture in Detroit. Kathryn and I met with John Hantz and Mike Score at the Russell Street Deli one morning in late February.  I wanted the chance to look Hantz in the eyes, ask him questions directly, and not only hear, but feel his responses.  One of the things I asked him about was his statement that he is trying to create scarcity by purchasing City owned land.  He affirmed his previous statement that he is trying to create scarcity by  "removing the abundance" of unused land.  But then, to my surprise he shared that the idea...

Nov
02
2012

 
Detroit is an example of what happens to a city that suffers from disinvestment, unemployment, racial inequities, white flight, middle class Black flight, widespread poverty, drugs, poor schools, and shortsighted, sometimes corrupt political leadership.
 
A 50-year exodus out of Detroit shrunk the city’s population from 2,000,00 in 1950 to 713,000 in 2010 more than 80 % of whom are African-American.  The city lost 25% of its population between 2000- 2010.  At 143 square miles, the city’s geographic footprint has remained the same.  Almost a third of that footprint is vacant except for the rich and diverse eco-systems that are reasserting themselves.
 
Efforts at creating regional cooperation are often stymied by the considerable tensions and distrust between residents of the city of Detroit and the rest of the 5.2 million Detroit metropolitan area.  Sharp divisions in wealth exist between Detroiters and the residents of its northern suburbs some of...

Oct
13
2012

 
In the past few days I have received fliers or e-mails from a few food movement organizations that included references to Halloween-related events or activities that they were sponsoring. It caused me to reflect on how widely and deeply the customs, values and worldview of Europe have been imposed on people throughout the world.  And how those involved in forging social justice need to be aware of how that cultural dynamic impacts their work.
 
Long after European conquerors colonized, enslaved and wrestled the lands away from Africans and other people of color, their imprint is still firmly pressed into our cultures and minds.  In fact, it is this cultural imprint that solidifies the continued dominance of oppressed by oppressors.  A colonized mind can’t even conceive of a self-determined future, and certainly won’t wage a movement for self-empowerment. Imposing a Euro-centric lens through which we see ourselves and the world is a key element in maintaining...

Aug
11
2012

 
In the mid-1970s, I was a member of the Detroit-based Pan-African Congress, USA.  Inspired by the South African political party, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the PAC-USA asserted, that, “Land is the Basis of Power”.  Of course, this slogan echoed the words of Malcolm X and countless other Black activists before him.  It embodied the understanding that it is from the land that we get the food that sustains our lives.  It is from the land that we get the materials needed for housing, and clothing.  It is from the land that we get mineral resources that feed economies and generate wealth.  It is on the land that we build, grow and create community.  As we struggle to foster food security, food justice and food sovereignty the question of land, who “owns” it, who controls it, and who benefits from it, must be in the forefront of our discussions.
 
Many forces have shaped the past 700 years of human history, but none as profoundly as the global imperial expansion by...

May
31
2012

Over the past few years, I have attended several national, state and local good food conferences at which various non-profit organizations doing work in schools and/or community gardens in urban communities were featured in powerpoint presentations or slide shows.  Invariably, at least one of the images features a group of inner-city Black children posing in a garden or kitchen with one, two or three young white adults, standing with them, smiling broadly.   The Black children were, of course, receiving the “services” offered by the well-intentioned non-profits, and the white adults were, of course, providing them.
 
On the surface, it may seem noble and admirable that these young, often affluent, suburban whites have come into distressed neighborhoods to provide opportunities for “underprivileged,” “at-risk,” “minority” youth to plant gardens, learn about healthy foods and explore ways to prepare those foods.  But, digging a little deeper reveals a disturbing trend...

Apr
29
2012

 
 
 A few years ago, I went in a gas station near my house, to make a purchase.  At the conclusion of the transaction, I experienced what I had experienced many times in the past at small stores and gas stations throughout Detroit.  The clerk pushed my change through the slot beneath the bulletproof Plexiglas, then… Nothing! No “thank you”, “come again,” “have a good evening” or anything else that showed gratitude for my purchase, or even acknowledged my humanity. 
 
Although I had experienced that lack of respect many times before, on this particular occasion, I had had enough.  I angrily asked the clerk, “you don’t say thank you to your customers?” He replied with a string of profane words.  I responded in an equally profane manner.  I asked him for the owner’s name. Surprisingly, he gave it to me.  Still steaming from the initial disrespect, and the profane response of the clerk, I went home and wrote the “No Disrespect Pledge.”
 
The pledge...

Mar
19
2012

 
The current industrial food system that provides the vast majority of our food is not sustainable.  Currently food products in America travel an average of 1,500 from point of production to the consumer.  Transporting foods these great distances, using trucks, trains, ships and planes, contributes significantly to America’s carbon footprint, and in turn to global warming.  Transporting foods long distances requires that they be gassed, injected, or chemically preserved to maintain the appearance of freshness.
The current industrial food system relies on petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides which enter the ground water and wreck havoc with rivers and streams.  More than 150 dead zones exist along the costal United State where aquatic life can’t survive because the water has been deoxygenated.
Chicken has long been a favorite in the Black community, but the chickens we eat today are a long way from your grandmother’s “yardbird.”  Chickens raised in...

Dec
28
2011

It’s criminal that in the United States, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, more than 11,000 people in the State of Michigan, many of whom are women and children are currently facing a level of poverty and food insecurity like that of a developing country. The halt in cash benefits to Michigan’s most needy families must be opposed by all people of good conscience. 
“Why are people poor?” is the question asked by the New Orleans-based People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond when conducting trainings that examine power and race.  Clearly the answer to that question lies in the many years of systemic discrimination and the denial of dignity and human rights that many in America are forced to contend with.
Many of those recently cut off from cash benefits are the descendants of enslaved Africans upon whose backs America’s planters and industrialists accumulated wealth; African Americans who have historically faced discrimination and inequity in education,...

Oct
08
2011

Here is a great story by Malik Yakini that elaborates on some positive virtues entitled The Little Red Hen. Those of us involved in creating more food sovereign communities know that, although there is an abundance of work, the laborers are few.  This retelling of the classic tale of the Little Red Hen and her neighbors encourages us to practice self-determination and to continue to show love for those who have not yet embraced the work necessary to build 

Jan
08
2011

I was born in January of 1956 at Henry Ford Hospital on West Grand Blvd. in Detroit. My parents were postal workers at the old Roosevelt Annex near the long abandoned, Matty Maroun owned train station in southwest Detroit. They took me home from the hospital to a small apartment, now demolished, on Collingwood at 12th Street. After my mother, who breast fed me, went back to work, I was most often in the care of my maternal grandmother and grandfather who, like many Negros, had come north in the 1920s to industrial cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Gary. My grandfather, Jesse Odom, had been trained as a printer at Brinkley Academy, the school founded by his father Sandy Odom, who just a few years earlier had, like thousands of other southern Blacks had been run off his land and banished from his home in Monroe County Arkansas. My grandparents operated a printing shop on West Warren at Mayberry Grand. There house was upstairs from the printing shop. They worked hard....

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