Food justice…today and 50 years from now

January 13, 2013

Food Justice: KAM Isaiah Israel walks the walk.

It’s fashionable these days to talk a lot of smack about “urban agriculture,” “local food,” “sustainability” and more. But if you want to meet people who really walk the walk, you should set aside a few hours next weekend and pay a visit to KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Hyde Park. Of course, you’ll have to say hello to the Secret Service agents, who keep an eye on President Barack Obama’s Chicago home, which is right across the street. But I digress.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, January 18-20, KAMII presents its fourth annual MLK Food Justice and Sustainability Weekend Program, in celebration of the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. This year’s event is titled “Shmita: Food Security and Sustainable Design in the Sabbatical Year and Beyond” and it promises to be a dynamic and inspiring weekend. By the way, it is all free and open to the public.

The Saturday program should especially interesting, as it will be a hands-on Community Design Workshop. Expert growers and planners will, with input from the audience and community partners, lay out a half-acre urban farm for a South Side site, with the design goal being sustainable food security. The workshop leader will be Robert Nevel, architect and chair of KAM Isaiah Israel ‘s Social Justice Committee. Designers will be Kitt Healy, farmer relations and outreach coordinator for Green City Market and farm manager of the K.A.M. Food Justice and Sustainability Program; Mitch Yaciw, farm manager at Unity Gardens; Michael Thompson, farm manager of Chicago Honey Co-op; Ken Dunn, founder and director of Resource Center and Elan Margulies, director of Pushing the Envelope Farm.

What’s fascinating about the “South Side site” is that it is still undisclosed. Hmm. perhaps I can get a scoop on my radio show this morning. I’ll be joined by Robert Nevel, who has been on the program repeatedly, and congregation member Gloria Needlman, who last stopped by in 2010.

While the MLK weekend is great, remember what I said about the KAMII folks “walking the walk?” Really, the most impressive aspect of their social justice work is their garden and the gardens they have helped to build in the community. They started their own garden in 2009 and began donating the produce to area food shelters and hot meal programs. In 2011, they expanded to include a garden at Kenwood United Church of Christ.

In 2012, they reached out to the Church of St. Paul & the Redeemer on nearby Dorchester Avenue in their continuing mission to transform congregational lawns into food producing gardens. You can see the fruits of their labor on the left.

Here is some of the other work they do, from the KAMII website:

  • Three times a week during the growing season, workers from the congregation and the community tend and harvest KAMII’s three gardens–the Star Garden, the South 1080 (along Hyde Park Boulevard), and the Apple Tree Garden. Before the growing season, workers prepare the earth, plants seeds, tend seedlings indoors, and prepare for harvest.  After harvest, workers put the garden to bed and prepare for the next year.
  • With our White Rock Gleaning Program, the garden workers collect and distribute otherwise unharvested food from three community gardens.
  • Our Crop Mob Constructions transform congregational lawns into food producing gardens. With grant money from One Nation Chicago Fund at The Chicago Community Trust, we have constructed a 1,000 sq. ft. food-producing garden at Kenwood United Church of Christ, just outside the soup kitchen where we delivered much of our 2010 harvest.
  • In the summer of 2011, we began our Food Justice and Sustainability Young Leadership Summer Program, in which high school students from around the city gathered on Sundays to attend seminars about food justice and sustainable land use and urban farming, and to help tend our three gardens.
  • The bimah decorations for the High Holidays are harvested and arranged by members of the Social Justice Committee.  The flowers and produce come from our KAMII gardens that the committee tends.  All of the produce was donated to local soup kitchens after each service.

They are impressive, and it’s my honor to welcome them back to the show.

A 50 Year Plan for Surviving Climate Change

Sometimes a radio show segment is just so in tune with current events that you might think that I’m actually putting some thought into booking guests. No, really!

Take this past week:

All of that in ONE WEEK!!

That last bullet point in particular is a perfect lead in to my second hour guest, Blake Davis. He is Adjunct Professor of Sustainability and Urban Agriculture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. I first got to know him when he gave me a private tour of The Plant on Chicago’s south side, and then appeared on the show to talk about this remarkable look into the future of sustainable technology.

But about a month ago, show contributor Sarah Batka told me about a talk he had given at the Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago gathering in November called “A 50-year Survival Plan for Climate Change.” In fact, she couldn’t stop talking about it. So what could I do but invite him back to the show to talk about that very issue?

Here’s what Blake Davis himself has to say about it:

“Ordinary people want to know if they need to worry about climate change, yet.  What is the “canary in the coal mine” that will warn them that it is time to do something immediately.  Is it the melting of the arctic ice, a series of extremely hot summers or cold winters or an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes?  And the answer is….the collapse of the economy.

Nature has several hundred million years of experience in dealing with adversity, modern economies less than 300.  Our economy and our way of life is built on ever-increasing use of energy and an expansion of economic output of at least 2% a year…..forever.  Neither of these preconditions are possible as we approach the carrying-capacity of the earth.

The next 50 years will present insurmountable challenges for our society and culture.  Where we live, what we do for work and even how we raise our children will be radically different than they are now.  The government and business are committed to a course of action which will exacerbate the problem of climate change and cause tremendous blow-back for the average citizen.  Unless we want to participate in an elaborate “duck-and-cover” drill, we must all take immediate personal action to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.

A 50-year Survival Plan for Climate Change takes our current knowledge of climate change and forecasts what it will mean for average people over the next 50 years.  It will allow you and your community to start working on surviving the challenges of a less stable and less abundant future.”

Whoa. I’d tune in, if I were you.