Current Book Project

Beyond Access: Food Justice and Urban Agriculture in Brooklyn (Rutgers University Press)

New York City is seen as a mecca for an alternative food movement (AFM) that supports family farms, realizes environmental sustainability and counters diet-related disease through farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, community gardens, and rooftop farms.  At the same time, the AFM, academic literature, and public policy has generally been reproductive of white-privilege, ignoring food justice movements in low income and communities of color, movements that must grapple with institutional racism and classism, planned underdevelopment, and environmental injustice.  This research rectifies these omissions through documenting the efforts and struggles of East New York Farms! a longstanding food justice organization in East New York, Brooklyn.

Through working with ENYF!, this research engages with five important aspects of the food justice movement:

– It shifts focus from the mere measurement of food deserts (where they exist, how many people are affected, and how people are affected) to investigating the political and economic roots of food deserts and how food access is raced and classed based on a long history of public and private disinvestment in black communities, including redlining, urban renewal, and planned shrinkage.  Addressing this institutional racism is central to combating food injustice.

– It emphasizes the importance of the role of the state and food assistance programs in making farmers markets in low-income communities a win-win for farmers and consumers.  In doing so, it makes a case for the alternative food movement to move away from its secessionist and market-oriented politics to engage in a confrontational politics that engages with the state and works to save and expand food assistance programs in the face of an onslaught by conservatives and Republicans.

– It documents a struggle between community gardeners and city hall over the future of ENY.  Since the 1970s, city hall has attacked the built environment and people of East New York through planned shrinkage, broken windows, and zero tolerance policies in order to facilitate “redevelopment”, whereas community members have fought to remain in place while revitalizing ENY through a vibrant community gardening movement.  In documenting these two different visions for East New York, it emphasizes that the struggle for food justice is a struggle over access to and control over land and community development in the face of a growth machine politics that seeks the displacement of East New Yorkers.

– It documents two opposing ways of closing the food gap in low-income communities, one is a Michelle Obama/Wal-Mart alliance that emphasizes supply-side economics and cheap food prices, the other is a “Good Food, Good Jobs” (GFGJ) discourse that emphasizes demand-side economics, unionization, and living wages.  In juxtaposing these two ways of closing the food gap, it is shown that the Obama/Wal-Mart alliance merely focuses on the symptoms of food deserts whereas the GFGJ discourse addresses the root causes of food deserts, and that the GFGJ discourse needs to win the food gap debate if policies are going to focus on reducing poverty, inequality, and bad jobs.

– Finally, it discusses the conflicts that emerge between the aspirations of ENYF! and the structures that institutional funders place on them and social change nonprofits in general, specifically how the existing practices of liberal and corporate funders hampers the pursuit of food justice.  In discussing these  barriers, the book makes a call for a transformation in how institutional funders structure their programs so that food justice organizations like ENYF! can focus on addressing inequalities rather than chasing grant money year after year.

 

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