We sat down with Terra Madre 2008 delegate Jim Embry to discus his perspective on sustainability, movement building and networks, based on his work as a community organizer in Lexington, Kentucky.
Q: You have a long and strong history as an organizer, dating all the way back to the Civil Rights movement. Can you talk about any connections you see between that social movement and the emerging sustainable food movement?
I have been involved in probably every movement we’ve had in this country since my birth…and what I feel now is that the movement around sustainability encompasses all those other movements, because you can’t be sustainable if you’re abusing women, if you’re locking kids up in jail, if you are relying on fossil fuels for your energy. That gives me a much broader sense of what we call this effort to transform the country; everything has to be reinvented. So that’s what I have grown into, and I was helped along the way by a whole variety of individuals. Back in 2000 when I spent five years in Detroit, when I traveled around both nationally and internationally, my own understanding was enhanced around the need for a sacred earth connection and our integral role as members of the earth family.
Also, I came to realize that… the foundation of our civilization is food, food systems. Only by virtue of growing food can there be engineers, artists, and teachers. Only through food production can we have what we call human civilization. Also, the foundation of our sense of earth connection comes through food. Food is the foundation for how children can learn cooperation, civilization, tranquility, civility, cultural traditions and all that.
And also, being grounded in the civil rights movement, I have come to realize that what is killing black people is what we eat or don’t eat. It’s killing us physically—high rates of obesity and cancer, diabetes, etc—but also it is killing us psychologically. Earth connection gives you a sense of connection, tranquility and peace.
I feel that this whole sense of urban ag and gardening and outdoor classrooms, are a way to better restore the sense of the American dream that we thought would be there in the large industrial cities, but the large industrial cities are so detached from natural surroundings that it has added to our insanity.