Greta Thunberg Won’t ‘Waste Time’ Talking To Trump


Greta Thunberg Explains Why She Won’t ‘Waste Time’ Talking To Trump.

How Trump Forced Reversal on Mining Project EPA Scientists Warn Could Destroy Alaskan Salmon Ecosystem

Common Dreams

‘Gold Over Life, Literally’: How Trump Forced Reversal on Mining Project EPA Scientists Warn Could Destroy Alaskan Salmon Ecosystem

“This is one of the world’s most beautiful places, with a thriving salmon run, and now we’ll get some…gold.”

By Jon Queally, staff writer      August 10, 2019
A salmon leaping rapids in Alaska. (Photo: arctic-tern/Getty Images)

A salmon leaping rapids in Alaska. “I was dumbfounded,” said one EPA insider after Trump officials reversed the agency’s opposition to the copper and gold mining project in Bristol Bay that scientists warn will devastate the salmon and the overall ecosystem. “We were basically told we weren’t going to examine anything. We were told to get out of the way and just make it happen.” (Photo: arctic-tern/Getty Images)

“Gold over life, literally.”

“If that mine gets put in, it would … completely devastate our region. It would not only kill our resources, but it would kill us culturally.” —Gayla Hoseth, Curyung Tribal Council/Bristol Bay Native Association That was the succinct and critical reaction of Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein to reporting on Friday that President Donald Trump had personally intervened—after a meeting with Alaska’s Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy on Air Force One in June—to withdraw the Environmental Protection Agency’s opposition to a gold mining project in the state that the federal government’s own scientists have acknowledged would destroy native fisheries and undermine the state’s fragile ecosystems.

Based on reporting by CNN that only emerged Friday evening, the key developments happened weeks ago after Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Dunleavy—who has supported the copper and gold Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay despite the opposition of conservationists, Indigenous groups, salmon fisheries experts, and others.

CNN reports:

In 2014, the project was halted because an EPA study found that it would cause “complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources” in some areas of Bristol Bay. The agency invoked a rarely used provision of the Clean Water Act that works like a veto, effectively banning mining on the site.

“If that mine gets put in, it would … completely devastate our region,” Gayla Hoseth, second chief of the Curyung Tribal Council and a Bristol Bay Native Association director, told CNN. “It would not only kill our resources, but it would kill us culturally.”

When the internal announcement was made by Trump political appointees that the agency was dropping its opposition, which came one day after the Trump-Dunleavy meeting, sources told CNN it came as a “total shock” to some of the top EPA scientists who were planning to oppose the project on environmental grounds. Sources for the story, the news outlet noted, “asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.”

According to CNN:

Four EPA sources with knowledge of the decision told CNN that senior agency officials in Washington summoned scientists and other staffers to an internal videoconference on June 27, the day after the Trump-Dunleavy meeting, to inform them of the agency’s reversal. The details of that meeting are not on any official EPA calendar and have not previously been reported.

Those sources said the decision disregards the standard assessment process under the Clean Water Act, cutting scientists out of the process.

The EPA’s new position on the project is the latest development in a decade-long battle that has pitted environmentalists, Alaskan Natives and the fishing industry against pro-mining interests in Alaska.

Responding to Klein’s tweet, fellow author and activist Bill McKibben—long a colleague of hers at—expressed similar contempt.

“This is one of the world’s most beautiful places, with a thriving salmon run, and now we’ll get some…gold,” McKibben tweeted. Trump, he added, is “President Midas.”

After being told that the decision was made, one EPA inside told CNN, “I was dumbfounded. We were basically told we weren’t going to examine anything. We were told to get out of the way and just make it happen.”

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What you should and should not flush down your toilets!

NowThis Politics

August 9, 2019

From fatbergs to microplastics, here’s why what you flush down the toilet matters — and why you should NEVER flush wet wipes 🚽(via NowThis Future)

What You Should & Should Not Flush Down the Toilet

From fatbergs to microplastics, here’s why what you flush down the toilet matters — and why you should NEVER flush wet wipes 🚽(via NowThis Future)

Posted by NowThis Politics on Thursday, August 8, 2019

One of the coldest places on Earth is melting away

CNN posted an episode of Go There.

August 8, 2019

More than 100 intense wildfires have ravaged the Arctic since June and scientists believe that climate change is one of the factors fueling the flames. We head into Siberia, one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth, where temperatures are significantly warmer than usual. While the surface of eastern Russia is on fire, its foundation is literally melting away.

One of the coldest places on Earth is melting away

More than 100 intense wildfires have ravaged the Arctic since June and scientists believe that climate change is one of the factors fueling the flames. We head into Siberia, one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth, where temperatures are significantly warmer than usual. While the surface of eastern Russia is on fire, its foundation is literally melting away.

Posted by CNN on Thursday, August 8, 2019

Now is a Moment of Reckoning for How We Use the Planet!!!

New Michael Moore-backed doc tackles alternative energy

Associated Press

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press       August 7, 2019 

Moscow has 12 million people, and no system to recycle.

Vice News

August 3, 2019

Moscow has 12 million people, and no system to recycle.

That’s created a garbage crisis not just for the city, but the entire country.

Moscow has No System to Recycle and it's Starting to Poison People

Moscow has 12 million people, and no system to recycle.That’s created a garbage crisis not just for the city, but the entire country.

Posted by VICE News on Friday, August 2, 2019

Ethiopia’s bid to plant four billion trees


Going green: Ethiopia’s bid to plant four billion trees

Robbie Corey – Boulet, AFP         July 30, 2019

With a Focus on Food Sovereignty, Rural Appalachian Ohio is Rebounding

Civil Eats

With a Focus on Food Sovereignty, Rural Appalachian Ohio is Rebounding

Communities are creating food access, markets, and opportunity in the southeastern Appalachian foothills.

By Nicole Rasul, Food Access – Rural America     July 30, 2019

On a warm summer morning in Stewart, Ohio, a school bus staffed by a handful of AmeriCorps service members and several people from the local school district descend on the lawn of a community resource center. The yellow bus has been retrofitted with shelves and coolers that house fresh eggs, produce, and pantry staples.

A woman named Tisha, a resident in her early 40’s who says that she lives “on top of the ridge” in nearby Guysville, and her nine-year-old daughter approach in a small red SUV. They get out, greet the staff heartily and embark the bus, selecting eggs, a slew of fresh produce, as well as crackers and a few other shelf-stable foods.

On the Summer Food Bus. (Photo credit: Federal Hocking Local Schools)On the Summer Food Bus. (Photo credit: Federal Hocking Local Schools)

“Vegetables are so expensive, I’d rather get them somewhere like this,” says Tisha, who visits the bus weekly. She asks for two boxes to be made up; one for her own family and another for a family who couldn’t make it over that morning, thanks to a broken-down car.

It is this marker of rural poverty—lack of or limited transportation—that led George Wood, the district’s superintendent, to conceive of the food bus model three years ago. In a massive rural district covering more than 190 square miles, food pantries serve as a lifeline to many of the families living in this part of the Appalachian foothills. But they haven’t always been easy to access. “Many people don’t have working cars and there’s no mass transit here,” says Wood.

Though summer lunch programs are staged at public libraries and town halls throughout the region, Wood knows that some families can’t access them frequently due to transportation struggles.

Stewart is in Athens County, which is statistically the most food insecure county in Ohio, with nearly 1 in 5 residents lacking sufficient access to nutritious and affordable food. For children, the rate is 24 percent, or nearly 1 in 4. (That’s compared to 1 in 8 people nationwide.)

In Athens County, the poverty rate is over 30 percent, the highest in the state. Ten other counties in Appalachian Ohio have poverty rates over 20 percent, making the region the poorest in Ohio.

Seventy-five percent of the nation’s food-insecure counties reside in rural settings. According to Feeding America, 2.4 million U.S. rural households lack sufficient access to nutritious and affordable food. Like Appalachian Ohio, many of these regions are rich in natural assets or farmland that benefit industrial powers elsewhere.

The school system’s Summer Food Bus offers groceries free to any resident in the district with children. On Tuesdays, the bus travels to three stops in the western part of the district and on Fridays, it visits three in the east. The goal is to ease residents’ transportation burdens by getting as close to them as possible. Jake Amlin, assistant superintendent for student services at the district and the on-the-ground leader of the effort, brings food directly to a few families’ homes each week.

The party atmosphere outside the Summer Food Bus. (Photo credit: Federal Hocking Local Schools)The party atmosphere outside the Summer Food Bus. (Photo credit: Federal Hocking Local Schools)

At each distribution site, the team puts up a tent, tables, and chairs and sets up a cornhole game, soccer balls, and hula hoops to help create a party atmosphere. “I want kids to want to come here,” Amlin says in reference to the games, art supplies, books, and staff ready to engage. “I think it will erode some of the stigma of going to get food if you’re coming to a party.” There are no limitations on how much food each family may take.

Appalachia in Need

Appalachian Ohio’s 32 counties—the state’s contribution to the central Appalachian corridor, a political, economic, and cultural hub that also includes parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina—are visually striking. On a warm summer day, deep green, hilly vistas with vast swaths of temperate forest consume the landscape.

A drive through the winding scenery takes one through not only thick forestland but also small market gardens, livestock operations, and rural homesteads. The industries of coal, timber, and more recently hydraulic fracturing, have defined the culture here.

“This part of the state has always been very different from the rest of Ohio,” says Leslie Schaller, director of programs at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), a community-based economic development organization serving Appalachian Ohio. “Part of it is geography; part of it is economic dependence on outside industry that came into the region and was extractive in every sense of the term.”

With the decline of American coal and a hemorrhaging of industrial employment in the region, the 20th century began a period of extensive emigration, with “hillbilly highways” carrying millions of souls in search of opportunity elsewhere. Some families stayed, as did their poverty, making the economic realities of a portion of today’s citizens a complicated force with a firm grip that is much more difficult to escape.

Route 33, a central corridor in the Ohio foothills, is dotted with billboard after billboard advertising drug addiction treatment services, a reminder of the rampant opioid addiction that has swept across America’s rural communities.

In the village of Coolville, Ohio, another stop on the Summer Food Bus route, a Main Street with a handful of relatively forlorn 19th-century structures demonstrates the village’s long-gone heyday as a gristmill town.

Shrivers Pharmacy Country Fresh Stop in Nelsonville, Ohio. (Photo credit: Rural Action)

Shrivers Pharmacy Country Fresh Stop in Nelsonville, Ohio. (Photo credit: Rural Action)

For the nearly 500 current residents, the nearest full-service grocers are roughly 20 miles away in the cities of Athens and Belpre. Though the dollar store and gas station sell some food, fresh produce is in rare supply, making programs like the Summer Food Bus a lifeline for many residents.

At the town’s health clinic, a group of AmeriCorps members man a small produce stand several times a week, part of Rural Action’s Country Fresh Stops program. Rural Action is a membership-based economic development nonprofit working in all of Ohio’s Appalachian counties. Country Fresh Stops provide fresh produce to nearly a dozen stores, convenience shops, gas stations, and roadside stands in towns and villages like Coolville that need it the most.

Signs of food need are prominent at the clinic: Next to the fresh produce pop-up sits a blessing box filled with pantry staples; at the entrance to the parking lot is a sign advertising the summer feeding program for county youth hosted at the Village Hall on Main Street.

According to Lori Boegershausen, one of the AmeriCorps members, nearly 50 percent of visitors rely on produce vouchers issued from the clinic nearby to purchase product. Offered through Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit, the program allows healthcare providers in underserved, low-income communities to prescribe fresh produce as part of a range of treatment plans.

Flora Vieland, a Coolville retiree who works part-time at the Village Hall, has a firsthand view of the dire food need in her community. She helps administer the summer feeding program and she has organized pop-up food pantries in the community.

Vieland is also a frequent visitor to the Country Fresh Stop at the clinic where she uses the vouchers. “I’m pre-diabetic,” she says explaining why a healthy diet is important. “It’s wonderful to see fresh produce available to people here. People here need stuff like that. I raised three kids by myself and I know the struggle.”

Rebuilding Robust Local Food Chains

On an early June day at the Chesterhill Produce Auction, operated by Rural Action on a winding country road in Morgan County, there’s a bustle of activity around rows of produce fresh from the field. Nearby, potted plants wait for their turn under the hum of the auctioneer. Launched in 2005, the auction (pictured at top) convenes several times a week from May to October.

Tom Redfern, Rural Action’s director of sustainable agriculture and forestry and organizer of the endeavor, points to several individuals in the crowd who are buying food for what he calls “demand networks,” or groups of consumers, businesses, and institutions that are at the heart of the farm-to-table movement in the region. It is these networks, he says, that have made the auction a success and which his team works tirelessly to cultivate. One example is Ohio University, whose Culinary Services program began buying produce at the auction for its 20,000 students in June.

Seated on folding chairs around rows of produce are Farm to School AmeriCorps members procuring for nearby K-12 institutions including the Summer Food Bus. Workers raise hands to bid on product for Country Fresh Stops, as do buyers for consumer produce clubs, restaurants, and food businesses in the region.

Unlike much of Ohio’s current farmland, where corn and soybeans consume large, flat parcels of earth, Appalachian Ohio is a rooted in small-scale, diversified agriculture on patches of land interspersed between forest. In Appalachia, the average farm operates on less than 200 acres, while nationally this figure skews toward more than 400.

Public and private organizations working in the region are increasingly eyeing the area’s rich terrain, traditional foodways, and native plant products as an economic development lever for citizens living there, all while taking into consideration the area’s unsavory extractive past to ensure that the power structures controlling and profiting from the land’s bounty are rooted in local ownership and economic networks.

ACEnet client Pork & Pickles working at the Athens Food Ventures Center. (Photo credit: ACEnet)

ACEnet client Pork & Pickles working at the Athens Food Ventures Center. (Photo credit: ACEnet)

At ACEnet’s Athens Business Incubator Campus, the sounds of a crew at work in a commercial kitchen echo in the building’s corridor. The kitchen is part of the organization’s Food Ventures Center, which helps local food entrepreneurs to bring artisan products to market. With a central kitchen, thermal processing room, and storage warehouse, the facility was one of the first of its kind in the U.S. when it launched in 1996.

In nearby Nelsonville, Ohio, ACEnet also runs a 94,000-square-foot Business Center and Food Hub. The local produce, eggs, and meat making its way into kitchens like these is increasingly sourced from the Chesterhill Produce Auction. Many of the products coming out of these spaces then make their way to a robust, nearly 50-year-old farmers’ market held twice a week in downtown Athens. Others can be found on the shelves of grocers and the menus of eateries around the state.

Back at the auction, all goods are logged by a clerk and displayed in aggregate on the space’s main floor. Bidders—consumers, representatives of local institutions, restaurants, and business—surround the bounty. An auctioneer and his team move swiftly through the options—palettes filled with cucumbers, cabbage, beans, and other freshly grown food—offering a sale to the highest bidder who pays at a booth in the back of the building. Almost any quantity is for sale, from a single pound or pint up to an entire day’s supply.

Nationally, produce auctions have grown in recent decades as a mechanism for small and medium-sized growers from rural communities to reach wholesale buyers. There is minimal transportation, packaging, and marketing costs for growers at auction compared to some other retail outlets. However, there are risks too: The auction is absolute—meaning the seller agrees to sell everything regardless of price and some weeks are better than others. Also, by participating, producers agree to pay a small commission for the auction’s operating budget—last year, it was 16 percent.

“Most produce auctions are in the millions [of dollars] because they have big communities they serve,” Redfern says about similar initiatives across Ohio and nearby states, many of which are centered in rural towns that lie between populous urban centers.

Redfern is a respected expert in the region. A graduate of nearby Hocking College and Ohio University, he’s devoted his career to agriculture and plant care, having spent the last 15 years at Rural Action and 20 years prior in the horticulture industry. Early in his career, he was a Peace Corps volunteer, helping to develop an agroforestry curriculum for a government agency in Kenya. On the board of several Ohio entities working to advance sustainable agriculture, Redfern has seen many a scenario for production in his state. However, in conversation, his optimism for the auction model is obvious and palpable.

Figures from Rural Action that plot the Chesterhill Produce Auction’s growth support Redfern’s confidence. In 2010, the auction netted $60,000 in sales; last year, that number rose to $305,000. In 2018, the auction included 190 sellers from Ohio as well as 6 counties in West Virginia. Redfern’s team reports that $1.7 million dollars have passed to the region’s farmers through the auction over the last 10 years.

“We’ve seen investment from some of our educational institutions that really want to make Farm to School work,” Schaller says later about growing institutional demand that is helping to grow the auction model.

Behind the scenes there is a complex, yet coordinated, web of actors devoted to making it “work” for these groups. In prep kitchens at the Southeast Ohio Foodbank & Regional Kitchen and Hocking College, product purchased at the auction is delivered by Rural Action for culinary students, national service members, and volunteers to process. When school is in session, the food makes its way to cafeterias for quick consumption. During the summer, it is frozen at ACEnet’s food center in Nelsonville for use later in the year. Many schools have also welcomed garden and nutrition programming to their curriculum from area nonprofits like Community Food Initiatives and Live Healthy Appalachia.

Community at the Heart of the Narrative

Some of the farmers at the Chesterhill Produce Auction come from nearby Amish communities. One Amish farmer, Ura Heshberger, lives across the road and says that he sells 95 percent of the produce he grows on his property at the auction. Last year, Heshberger notes, he earned $15,000 to $20,000 in sales here, which, along with woodworking and cattle, helped to support his large family. For Hershberger, the auction model is preferable to a farmers market, even though product nets a higher return at the latter. At the auction, Heshberger doesn’t have to account for the cost of marketing, getting to a city market, and managing leftover product. At Chesterhill, he says his only obligations are dropping off produce and collecting the money owed to him from the organizers.

“School Day” at the Chesterhill Produce Auction. (Photo credit: Community Food Initiatives)


“School Day” at the Chesterhill Produce Auction. Photo Credit: Community Food Initiatives.

The Chesterhill site also hosts monthly livestock and woodcraft events. There’s a cooling unit for storing produce and a freezer to hold meat offered in the onsite store. Children roam the market with food and drink in hand. Community potlucks are held several times every season.

Another Amish producer, Warren Fussner, says that before he retired, he consistently brought what he grew to auction. Now, he only occasionally brings extra crops from his home garden about six miles away. Today, he brought eggs and a few butchered broilers but mostly he’s there to socialize. “It’s a great benefit for the community,” he says.

Dave Fisher traveled to the auction on a warm summer afternoon from his commercial raspberry operation outside of Stockport, Ohio. After starting his berry farm 10 years ago, he was put on waiting lists for farmers’ markets in the region. He brought his product to auction in the meantime, and the influx of cash helped grow his fledgling business immensely. Although he mostly sells at farmers’ markets now due to the often-higher retail price, he attends the auction regularly to buy the other ingredients he uses in value-added products like jam.

Lori Gromen stands tall in the crowd, frequently raising her hand to engage with the auctioneer. Redfern points her out, noting she’s there to purchase a whole lot of fresh food for a buyer’s club from the city of Athens’ west side. Gromen has attended the auction on behalf of the club for five years, and today, she is buying food for 30 families affiliated with the group. At the day’s end, she loads a giant red pickup with an impressive bounty.

Another buyer, Becky Clark, is on the lookout for fresh food for her pickling company, as well as the food truck and a restaurant where she’s the executive chef. Clark says the auction allows her to buy local vegetables at near-wholesale prices. “We really want volume but to still be able to work with local farmers as much as possible,” Clark says.

Making a Profit on Traditional Appalachian Foodways

Like many farmers in Appalachia, Rick and Jan Felumlee began growing food in a commitment to self-sufficiency. But unlike most, they’ve been doing so inside their five-acre woods.

“The woods were what we had,” Rick says during a break in early summer harvesting on the property. The Felumlees started the fledgling forest farm in 2017, which is supplemented by Jan’s day job at a large insurance company in central Ohio.

“Once we started learning about the plants [such as ramps and ginseng] and their threatened status in the wild, their history in the region, and how they are harvested and used, we decided that we wanted to make the land that we have productive,” Felumlee says about his wooded property.

Wild Ramps bundled for sale at the farmers' market. (Photo credit: Mayapple Farms)Wild Ramps bundled for sale at the farmers’ market. (Photo credit: Mayapple Farms)

The Felumlee’s efforts are supported by Rural Action’s forestry program, which focuses on cultivating a sustainable approach to timber extraction practices—a longtime Appalachian industry. With partner organizations like United Plant Savers and the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition, Rural Action is increasingly working with landowners to identify and develop alternative income streams for the management of their properties. Forest farming is at the top of their list. The organization has distributed 800 pounds of seeds and bulbs that will allow farmers to grow ginseng and ramps in the region, adding nearly $1 million in potential income to woodland cultivators.

Ginseng, an ancient botanical with great demand in Asian medicine, features valuable roots with the potential to net hundreds of dollars per pound. This has resulted in extensive overharvesting of the wild variety in Appalachia. Like ginseng, ramps have grown wild in the Appalachian landscape for centuries. One of the first plants of spring, ramps are a vitamin-infused allium that are popular with consumers and chefs, and the plant has faced considerable stress in recent decades.

In addition to American ginseng, Felumlee cultivates goldenseal, black cohosh, blue cohosh, bloodroot, red trillium, and false unicorn under his trees’ canopy. He also harvests wild ramps and cultivates several varieties of mushrooms on the property, in addition to sun-loving produce.

According to Felumlee, by purposefully planting native, threatened plant populations, growers like him can ease market demand for the wild versions of these species. He is entranced by the knowledge of Appalachian growers and foragers generations before who understood the power native woodland crops hold in food and medicine, largely forgotten in recent history.

Other growers have taken note of the unusual things at Mayapple Farms’ farmers’ market stand, which Felumlee says he uses as an educational opportunity. “I tell conventional farmers that adopting forest farming on woodlots, which they generally consider unusable land, is a nice way to add a layer of diversity to their operation.”

Back at the Chesterhill Produce Auction, Tom Redfern points to a patch of rolling farmland with green crops sprouting from the soil, the site of a farm incubator for new and beginning farmers. With the buzz of the auction in the background and the freshly tended crops in the distance, it’s clear that this community is committed to rewriting Appalachian Ohio’s narrative with food sovereignty at the center.

“It’s about resiliency and local control,” Redfern says as the sun begins its slow descent on the ancient hills. “Through food we can address health, poverty, and economic empowerment.”

A New Crop of Food Justice Fellowships Seed Future Leaders

Castanea and Seeding Power fellows are addressing racial inequities within the food system.

By Elizabeth Hewitt, Food Justice      July 25, 2019

Since 2013, Mark Winston Griffith has been working to launch a food co-op in central Brooklyn. In a neighborhood where gentrification has squeezed to the margins the community that has been there for generations, Griffith and the Brooklyn Movement Center, where he works, envision a co-op as part of a broader effort for the local Black community to gain control over the neighborhood food system.


Over the course of planning, Griffith has considered local economic impacts, employment, pricing, and more. But after meeting in June with the rest of his cohort in the inaugural year of the food justice-focused Castanea Fellowship (pictured above), Griffith realized he’s been overlooking a key player: farmers.

Now, as he works to revamp the urban neighborhood’s food system, he’s planning to focus his energy on building relationships with food producers in the regions that surround the city. “We really have to have a deeper understanding of how our work is impacting farmers,” he said. “We have to contribute to making sure that they are making a healthy living.” He’s also starting to reconsider how pricing should work at the co-op, looking beyond how costs impact the local Brooklyn neighborhood to how they impact producers.

The two-year Castanea Fellowship, which launched this year with a cohort of 12 fellows, brings together leaders from across the country with a broad range of expertise and experiences, including indigenous agricultural practices, issues impacting farmers of color, inequity in urban food systems, health, and more.

In selecting fellows from a pool of 415 applicants, the program sought out people from diverse racial and geographic backgrounds on the “front lines” of the movement, according to executive director Farzana Serang. “We want folks who are leading the conversation about improving the food systems to be the ones who understand those issues the most,” Serang said.

The program provides each fellow with $40,000 in grant funds to be used toward a charitable purpose, plus transportation. When fully operational with two cohorts, the annual budget will be slightly over $1 million.

Castanea is part of a new crop of fellowships at the regional and national levels aiming not just to train the next generation of food leaders, but to foster connections among advocates working in different aspects of the food system. The idea is to create a more unified movement with a focus on pushing for greater racial equity.

Unifying the New York Food Movement

In New York, the newly launched Seeding Power Fellowship from Community Food Funders is striving to coalesce a unified food movement within the region. With a budget of roughly $230,000, the fellowship brings together food system leaders from Long Island, New York City, and the Hudson River Valley where, despite working in close quarters, advocates are often disconnected from each other even when they have shared goals, according to Adam Liebowitz, director of Community Food Funders.

“It creates a false impression of competition, or being at odds, or at the very least not being allies,” Liebowitz said.

Organizers at Seeding Power set out to unite people from different backgrounds to create a more comprehensive movement pushing for racial equity in New York. In order to leverage the power of the fellowship, the program limited applicants to people who are already established in their careers and in positions of leadership within their organization. The program’s 12 fellows, selected from a pool of 57 applicants, represent farmers, urban farmers’ markets, rural education initiatives, and more. Each fellow receives $5,000 for participation.

The Seeding Power fellowsThe Seeding Power fellows.

Sandra Jean-Louis, a Seeding Power fellow whose work with Public Health Solutions focuses on food security among older public housing residents, said uniting advocates from different corners of the food system creates more efficiency. Right now, organizations working toward the same public health goals can end up inadvertently competing with each other for resources. “We are running after the same dollars,” Jean-Louis said. If organizations could coordinate on grant applications with other like-minded groups, she said, it could amplify their efforts.

The fellows, who have so far gathered for two of the total of five retreats they’ll participate in over the course of the 18-month program, have already started finding new common ground.

Mohamed Attia, a Seeding Power fellow and co-director of The Street Vendor Project, was surprised to learn that access to driver’s licenses for immigrants, a hurdle for city street vendors, is also a major issue for rural farmworkers. New York state just passed a law expanding access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants last month.

Workers on farms, in restaurants, and at street vendor carts face similar “injustice and unfairness,” according to Attia, who worked as a food vendor in New York, first selling pretzels and hot dogs in Times Square and later running a halal cart. The program, he said, offers space for people from different backgrounds to connect around common issues.

“I’m sure there are hundreds or maybe thousands of organizations with food workers all across the nation. But imagine if all these people have one voice,” Attia said. “I think that would be super helpful and super powerful.”

A Focus on Racial Equity

Both the Castanea and Seeding Power fellowships identify addressing racial inequities within the food system as a central part of their mission, and both cohorts include a majority of people of color.

Shorlette Ammons, of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) at North Carolina State University and a Castanea fellow, said the diversity of the cohort sets the stage for the conversation to center on communities that have historically been marginalized.

Ammons, who grew up in a small town in eastern North Carolina and focuses on the experience of rural Black farming communities, says those perspectives are key for helping to build collective solutions, as are others represented in the group.

“I think we have a lot to learn from indigenous communities, [and] we have a lot to learn from Black country people and rural communities,” she said.

The members of the Castanea cohort are deeply connected to their cultural roots, noted Rowen White, a fellow who works with the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network. The diversity within the group encourages participants to draw on their backgrounds, she said, which stands out. “A lot of the times in professional spaces, people are asked to check a lot of things at the door.”

She added, “It just gives insight into where the food systems movement can go when we really allow ourselves to really be present with all of the ancestral wisdom and lineage and knowledge and power that comes with our cultural inheritance.”

A Cohort Approach to Food Justice Work

While fellowships tend to serve only small numbers of people, food policy experts say they can be effective ways to shape conversations over time.

For author and advocate Anna Lappé, her participation in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation-sponsored Food & Society/Food & Community fellowship programs, which operated from 2001 to 2013, helped her make connections and develop skills that are the foundation for her work with the food system. “New organizations have been born, lifelong relationships cultivated, and deep strategic thinking has come out of fellowships,” she explained by email to Civil Eats.

Now a member of Castanea’s steering committee, Lappé sees fellowships as “critical” to tackling the major issues connected to the food system. “I’ve always believed that the transformational work needed to address these food system-driven crises cannot be achieved in isolation,” Lappé said.

Food justice advocates are often focused on one aspect of the system, like improving nutrition or calling for the rights of laborers, according to Nick Freudenberg, professor of public health and director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute and a member of Seeding Power’s selection committee. The splintering of efforts within the sector, he said, has “compromised the effectiveness of the food movement and the food justice movement.” But by bringing people together, fellowships can overcome those barriers.

“Having more knowledgeable, skillful, strategic leadership in the food justice movement will increase its impact and move us towards having a healthier food system and reducing food insecurity, diet related diseases, unfairly paid food workers,” Freudenberg said.

Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University and the former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sees fellowships as valuable training ground for emerging leaders in the food system. Not only are farmers and ranchers aging, food policy experts in the federal government are also retiring, she said.

Programs that provide resources and time to people working in the food system help them prepare to take on bigger roles. Fellowships also provide valuable spaces where people can collaborate, exchange ideas, and find community.

“The work is hard, and sometimes the work can be lonely,” Merrigan said. “It’s really great to have a cohort approach to problem solving and food system work.”

Food Fellowships on the Rise

Fellowships are currently popular within the food sector—both Merrigan and Freudenberg are launching their own. Merrigan is helping establish a program for food policy leaders, and Freudenberg is creating one aimed at young adults.

Neither worry about duplicating efforts too much. Some programs coordinate with each other; for instance, leaders from Seeding Power, Castanea, and a third program, the HEAL Food Alliance, have been in contact about their efforts. However, Merrigan does caution that there could be limited financial resources to support programs.

But, while interest in food is at high right now, Merrigan doesn’t see a unified reform movement. “We have a long ways to go before it’s a sufficiently powerful social movement to transform the system, as many of these fellowship programs suggest is their aim,” she said.

For Griffith, who is working to open the neighborhood food co-op in Brooklyn, the fellowship is a launching pad. He feels the results of the Castanea Fellowship will play out over years and generations, as factors shaping the food system change. Griffith hopes participating in the fellowship will help Brooklyn Movement Center’s hyper-local work connect with efforts across the country to change food structures.

“At the end of the day, you know, your local community cannot be an island,” he said. “You have to fit into broader structures; you have to be able to change policies and the ways of doing business, across the board.”