A significant but ignored threat to our national security is the poor quality of our food supply. We live in a society where quick and easy takes precedence over quality and, in this case, health. The situation is particularly dire in poor communities where access and finances limit healthy food choices.
Eugene Cooke left southern California for Atlanta. For the last ten years, Eugene Cooke and his program to expand urban farming have been addressing the problem food justice for the poor.
His organization, Grow Where You Are, is more than an urban farming program. It is a full service social enterprise. It lays out the problems with local food systems, mono-crops, and the food supply chain. It works with under-served communities to produce food abundance, job skills, and home and land ownership.
There are few things more powerful than having easy access to food you can trust – food you grow with your own hands.
Organic gardening, recycling, small business skills, renewable energy, and social justice are all natural topics in Eugene’s garden “classrooms.” HIs organization is providing food security and stability for under-served communities. It is showing how being environmentally responsible can also have a productive bottom-line.
His small farms range in size from a 1/4 acre to 2 acres. They’re run based on agro-ecological principles like permaculture. You’ll find row crops, edible flowers, orchards, vines, melon patches, and staple crops like garlic, peppers, and potatoes. They sell this food to some of the top food suppliers (like Whole Foods) and restaurants in Atlanta.
He is raising the consciousness and agency of marginalized people. This results in global stewards who:
Grow vegetable gardens and fruit trees instead of just buying organic groceries.
Don’t only recycle but buy less and process and produce more of their own needs.
Don’t wait for politicians to make things happen but who organize their neighbors to bring pressure where it’s needed.
Will learn to use less electricity and produce energy through wind, water and solar.
Know that voting once a year isn’t enough. They must meet regularly with elected officials to hold them accountable.
One of the biggest challenges to scaling the urban mini-farms is finding sufficient sources of funding. The farmers want to raise enough to feed themselves and their families. They also want to have surplus to sell to restaurants and stores. They want to have enough to take care of the less fortunate in their community.
These goals would be more easily achieved if the tax incentives and subsidies that are now provided to Big Agriculture, were available to the farmers of Grow Where You Are.
Eugene believes that raising awareness will mean that people from all segments will push for these changes. As he says:
We’re all fathers, wives, husbands, mothers, daughters, children; we’re all trying to make everything work for our family, so how do we do it collectively?