Dear friends and family,
If you are reading this letter, you can be sure that we have safely completed Part 1 of our IHP: Rethinking Food Security Program. As expected, our launch was incredible. We had great speakers, fieldtrips, and community building activities all in Berkeley, California.
Berkeley’s rich history in social activism and food justice created the ideal place for our introduction to RFS. We stayed at the YMCA, putting us right across the street from UC Berkeley’s campus and near a lively shopping and restaurant area. We had class at the YWCA, a fifteen-minute walk from our hostel. UC Berkeley’s campus was the starting location of the Free Speech Movement and continues to be an active campus. Oakland is the next town over, which has also been a hub for activism, including the rise of the Black Panther Party. Both of these areas’ history came up in our discussions and site visits. Additionally, Berkeley has a vibrant food scene, so we were able to enjoy meals at numerous, diverse restaurants and cafes. We were a short BART ride from San Francisco, which we all explored on our first weekend together. We also were centered near many farms, both big and small, which we got the chance to visit as well.
At Berkeley, we had the pleasure of meeting a variety of speakers that introduced us to a number of issues surrounding food justice around Berkeley and more broadly in the world. Soon after arriving in Berkeley, we met up with Max Cadji, a member of Phat Beetz institution in Berkeley who showed us around a few community gardens in Oakland and stated that these gardens were free to anyone at any time, to come and harvest however much they want. It was a surprising system as gardens were still full of vegetables and fruit as people took only as much as they wanted/needed.
As a guest lecturer, we had the pleasure to hear from Miguel Altieri, a world-renowned agroecologist, who introduced us to the principles of agroecology and as a Chilean citizen, told us stories of agricultural peasant movements in Latin America. Furthermore, we had a visit from Eric Holt-Gimenez, an executive director of Food First, who introduced us to the concept of political economy by retracing a short history of capitalism in light of rise of big agro-businesses.
The Rethinking Food Security organizing team made sure we were exposed to a variety of views throughout our time at Berkeley, which included a passionate lecture from David Zilberman, a professor of Agriculture at UC Berkeley, who was a very strong advocate for the promotion of GMO’s in ensuring poverty reduction and food security around the world. This lecture sparked a big discussion among us, students, as even though most of us disagreed with many of Zilberman’s ideas, we were yet very grateful for this exposure to such a contentious issue in food security discourse. Lastly, we had a big pleasure to meet Nikki Silvestri, a very passionate and inspiring speaker who joined us for a discussion of climate justice and carbon sequestration solutions. With her sheer honesty and good energy, she made a lasting impact on many of our group members who were inspired by her short visit to our classroom.
We also enjoyed a couple of great field trips to farmers’ markets and the Salinas Valley. At the Oakland Farmers’ Market, we enjoyed a variety of fresh plums, and saw many different kinds of vegetables that a few of us had never seen before, like bitter melon! To complete our assignment for our Environmental Science class, we compared the Oakland Farmers’ Market to the farmers’ market in Berkeley. We noticed differences not only in the demographics of the frequenters of the markets, but also in the prices, produce offered, and credentials of the farmers. For example, the Berkeley Farmers’ Market had many different kinds of organic peaches and nectarines for us to try and featured only organic farmers while the Oakland Farmers’ Market had a much wider variety of produce for much cheaper.
The other field trip we went on was to the Salinas Valley, one of the great agriculture-hubs of California. After a two-hour bus ride, we arrived at ALBA Farms, an organization that calls themselves an organic agriculture incubator. After completing ALBA’s course in organic agriculture, the students are offered a plot of land to work on for five years. This incentivizes them to continue producing organically and may help them enter the market independently in the future. From there, we had lunch at Gizdich Ranch, where we all pitched in to buy the most delicious pies we have ever tasted! The day ended with a visit to Blume Distillery, where biofuels are produced in a sustainable manner.
In addition to our initial dive into our study of food security, our time in Berkeley also meant the beginning of living, learning, and traveling together for four months! We call this crazy opportunity of spanning four continents together our learning community, and we participated in some community building activities to help lay a strong foundation for the months ahead. These included collaborating on what we wanted our community to look like, such as what values and behavior we’d like to live up to, getting to know the members within our community, and thinking about how our community would fit into the larger context of each new community we’d be a part of.
After all of the amazing experiences we’ve had in Berkley, all 17 of us along with Wangui and Katie are ready for the next leg of our adventure! On Saturday, September 3rd, we will fly out of San Francisco and head towards Tanzania. For our time in Tanzania we look forward to visiting ocean front fish markets in Dar es Salaam, interacting with the smallholder farmers that make up the majority of the country’s economy, and attending lectures from a variety of stakeholders in Tanzanian agriculture. We have a long semester ahead of us, but everyone is ready to get moving and continue learning! Tanzania here we come!
Wish us luck during our stay in Tanzania!
IHP Rethinking Food Security Group