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by Ryan Kimura, Slow Food Chicago

The 2009 Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI) gathering held at the beginning of November brought together a diverse crowd—writers, teachers, urban farmers, ethnic group leaders, students, and activists. Together, we sought to find a common bond from which to work to dismantle racism and empower low-income communities and communities of color through sustainable agriculture.

At the gathering, we all had different backgrounds, cultural heritages, and talents. We recognized that that these aspects affect the way we work and talk with each other. The gathering was about learning how to forge relationships, especially across cultures, to present a united and committed front on the food issues that we care about. Ultimately, we are all tied together in our mission for a more delicious and just food system for all.

As a board member for the Slow Food Chicago chapter, I attended the gathering to learn how others have improved access to good food in low-income communities. For 2010, our chapter has been planning work in one particular “food desert” in the city, so it was stimulating to hear about similar projects and others’ experiences. Yet, the spiritual approach and racial undertones of the gathering shifted me out of my comfort zone. Social justice work is new to me, like it might be for other Slow Food members, and having honest conversations about the role and impact of race and income in food systems was challenging. I knew that I had a lot to learn and did a lot of listening.

I left the gathering with a few key takeaways that I will be bringing back to my community. Hopefully these lessons are valuable to you as Slow Food chapter leaders, volunteers and supporters.