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Introducing WI Youth of Color to Food Justice Movement

This summer, kids at the Mellowhood Foundation will grow and sell their own line of hot pickles. (Mellowhood Foundation)
This summer, kids at the Mellowhood Foundation will grow and sell their own line of hot pickles. (Mellowhood Foundation)
June 15, 2018

MADISON, Wis. – A program aimed at getting young people of color interested in food and agriculture is entering its second year with more knowledge on how to reach them. The Growing Urban Leaders in Food Systems or "GULFS" program is a curriculum in southern Wisconsin that helps kids in middle and high school see their communities through the lens of food justice.

Devon Hamilton, assistant policy director with Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, is one of the instructors. He says it's important to recruit people of color because often, it is their communities that are most affected by inequities in food systems, including which foods are eaten, how and where they're grown, and how food is wasted.

"I think there are a lot of great examples out there of people of color in the food justice movement who are using food as a way to empower and to engage folks on a whole bunch of different issues," says Hamilton.

Hamilton says the goal of the program is to connect food justice to larger ideas like racial justice. This summer, GULFS is providing support and context to a project in Madison with the Mellowhood Foundation, where young people are growing and selling hot pickles. The program began this week.

Michael Fields curriculum consultant Nicodemus Ford helped develop the GULFS curriculum. He says he draws on many elements to put kids at the center of agriculture, using ancestral and traditional ecological knowledge to teach about the history of food systems.

He also emphasizes the critical role agriculture plays for communities. Ford says for some lessons, the students hone their acting skills as they role-play.

"Everything from a dilemma of a local community garden producing food for a big conglomerate like Walmart to other dilemmas of understanding of genetically modified foods and having them role-play scenarios out from that," says Ford.

Ford says the hope is to make this an inter-generational movement, connecting young people with local community members who already have this understanding.

"They don't need to go to a farm that's somewhere off. Sometimes that knowledge is vested right there in the community. So that's what GULFS is going to do is act as the bridge. Connect young people with their elders or other folks in the community to see how food is grown,” says Ford. “And then through that, we hope that it's a symbiotic process."

Ford hopes some of the older people are inspired by the youth to join the new food justice movement.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WI