“Hey! What are you doing now? Are you staying in Columbia?” are two questions I get about every other day. I typically answer “Enjoying America!” and “Yes-I might even die here!” But by “What are you doing” I think people typically mean ‘Where are you working’. I’m so thankful to be working partially with a group called The Midlands Local Food Collaborative. I’ve been working on the project for about two months and am totally loving getting to visit lots of farms and build relationships with other food systems stakeholders around the SC Midlands! The group did a post when I joined the team, and I’ve posted it here for ya :)!
Why were you interested in working with Midlands Local Food Collaborative as a community organizer?
I just got back from living in China for a year. The pollution was horrible. It made me want to be even more in-tune with where my stuff comes from, whether it be food or tennis shoes or electronics (everything really). Is what I’m wearing and consuming farmed and crafted justly, not abusing the grower or worker or the land? Before China I’d spent some time in politics, working for an urban agriculture nonprofit, and WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and learned how knowing your farmer is better for the land, local economic development, community health, and works to prevent injustice across the board. Coming back from China I was looking to work in the sweet spot where the three fields of urban agriculture, nonprofit leadership, and public policy come together, something that would help move the ball forward in regards to food and farming culture in SC. I love working the grassroots and coalition building and am excited about The Midlands Local Food Collaborative and its efforts to bring everyone to the table (no pun intended) when it comes to supporting local farmers, increasing demand for local food, overcoming barriers to fresh food access, and creating sustainable food systems change in the Midlands.
Why do you think community organizing is important in order to build the capacity of the local food movement in the Midlands?
Movements of any kind don’t just spontaneously combust. It’s important to have organizers who are tasked with connecting key stakeholders and activists, identifying and training potential community members who want to take leadership roles, and empower them to bring others on board as we shift how food is viewed, grown, purchased, and consumed in the Midlands. There are some really quality organizations and individuals in the Midlands right now working on projects that fit under the “Local Food” umbrella. We’ll have more power to make change together than if we’re splintered, all doing potentially overlapping projects separately.
What are some of your past experiences that you think will help you in doing this work here?
Two years working in politics gave me experience when it comes to working the grassroots, coalition building, working with press, and wearing many different hats on any given day, but grassroots organizing to combat homelessness and poverty was really where my heart was. I did a year through a Campus Compact grant coordinating Community Service for students and faculty at Columbia College and partnered with The Square Foot Gardening Foundation on several projects in Columbia where I experienced how access to fresh food is key when it comes to addressing homelessness and poverty. That year as a representative of Columbia College I also got to be a part of Organizing for Health’s community organizing initiatives in the 29203 area code. I went on to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and work for The Square Foot Gardening Foundation in California. I experienced how farmers make decisions about growing food ethically, how to market organic farming so that it might be the cultural norm, and how farmers translate and navigate government policies relating to food. After that I moved to Shanghai, China for a year to volunteer with The Nest for Nonprofits and Social Enterprise, where some of our social enterprises were working on environmental and urban gardening education initiatives.
What do you hope to accomplish in doing this work?
Ultimately, create more consumer demand and support for local food in the SC Midlands and equip farmers (veteran and beginning) with the networks and systems they need to meet this demand.
Story submitted by Carrie Draper, Policy & Community Outreach Director at the USC Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities. Support for Katie’s position is provided by the Center through the COPASCities Project.