This spotlight is a feature in a series of the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program (CFP). Grantees are doing some of the most innovative and collaborative projects to change local and regional food systems. WhyHunger’s Food Security Learning Center — also funded by a CFP grant — is profiling these organizations through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real flavor of what the projects look like and how they’re accomplishing their goals. Up today: Ingersoll Gardens and the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project in Brooklyn, NY. Story, pictures and video by David Hanson.

ingersoll gardensA half-century of the American urban narrative has unfolded in the Brooklyn neighborhood below Edna Grant’s apartment. She moved into Ingersoll Houses 55 years ago so through her window she’s seen the tale of post World War boom, then the manufacturing collapse of the 70s, a few decades of unemployment and crime, then the revitalization, and now the gentrification. But Ms. Grant’s house always stayed clean.

“I’m a captain of this building,” she says. “Me and the co-captain keep it clean and we don’t let people hang out in the hallways.”

Ms. Grant had a career as a book binder. Books for courts, schools, libraries, even cruise ships. She has an easy laugh and a playfully self-deprecating sense of humor. She uses a walker to get around and needs to sit and rest after a while. Ms. Grant raised five kids, four of them adopted from her daughter after she passed away. The train used to run from across the street to the rest of the city. Ms. Grant has been planted here in this corner of Brooklyn, a witness, participant, and place-maker of her community. It’s no surprise that the community food movement of the 2000s found her, like someone seeking shade might spot a sprawling, welcoming tree.

ingersoll gardens

The Ingersoll Houses went up in 1944 during the war-time boom days. The Brooklyn Navy Yard had attracted a skilled-labor population to the area with over 70,000 jobs. Ingersoll and nearby Walt Whitman apartment complexes housed many Yard sailors and employees. Encouraged by Walt Whitman, Brooklyn built its first park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Now Brooklyn’s iconic Fort Greene Park ends across Myrtle Avenue from Ingersoll Houses.

A decade after Ms. Grant moved in, however, the bloom had faded from Myrtle Avenue. The Navy Yard shut down in the 1970s along with the elevated subway track. Like much of metro New York at that time, the neighborhood fell into financial and social decline.

Read the full profile at Community Voicesa WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

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kuna yala

Our hostel on the island of Corazón de Jesús in Kuna Yala.

We woke up early with the sun. The rain storm from the night before that had startled us at first with its ferocity, then lulled us back to sleep with its steady downpour on the tin roof, had subsided. With no running water and our boat waiting just a few feet away, our morning routine was cut down to the essentials. We shared a quick breakfast of coffee, bread and meat with our hosts on the small island of Corazón de Jesús in Kuna Yala, the territory of the indigenous Kuna people that stretches across 365 islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama. As we ate, Taina Hedman prepared us for the day’s journey.

kuna yala

Taina Hedman, a leader of the Kuna Youth Movement or MJK (Movimiento de La Juventud Kuna)

Taina is a leader of the Kuna Youth Movement or MJK (Movimiento de La Juventud Kuna) and an activist representing the rights and interests of the Kuna and other indigenous peoples on the national, regional and global stage. She explained that we would travel 20 minutes by motorized boat – a trip that takes 1 hour by canoe, the usual mode of transportation for the Kuna people – to the mouth of a river on the mainland coast, where we would journey up the river another 15 minutes or so and disembark at an unmarked trail head. As we set out to make the trip, Taina explained that she, along with 14 other women, make this journey nearly every day to work on the Proyecto de Mujeres, or the Women’s Project, using agroecological methods to farm a hectare of land deep in the jungle. The women’s goal is to use this communal land to grow crops to feed themselves, their children and their community. Their sites were set not only on self-sufficiency and food security, but on food sovereignty – the right of peoples, communities and countries to define their own policies regarding their seeds, agriculture, labor, food and land.

[read entire article…]

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food justice voicesLeaders from three dynamic grassroots organizations, convened in Detroit to initiate a conversation and develop action around collective leadership by people of color in the food justice movement.

In the latest addition to WhyHunger’s Food Justice Voices series, Malik Yakini, Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, D’Artagnan Scorza, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Social Justice Learning Institute, and Nikki Silvestri, Social Innovation Strategist and former Executive Director of People’s Grocery, discuss the complexities of the role of African-Americans in the food movement, leadership dynamics, their hopes for the future of the food movement, and why they are trying to “work themselves out of a job” to indicate true reform.

“It’s not really revolutionary to wake up in 20 years and continue addressing the same problem over and over again…the revolutionary thing to do is to make sure that I help usher in the revolution so that what I’m doing is no longer needed.”― Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza

Lifting up some of the unspoken dynamics at play and supporting the healing of the communities where they work, this conversation offers a window into the minds of these dynamic community leaders who approach the work with love and honesty.

Download and read the full conversation at “Chant Down Babylon: Building Relationship, Leadership, and Power in the Food Justice Movement.”

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This post originally appeared on Hungerthon.com. You can still be a part of the Hungerthon campaign by purchasing one of the meaningful gifts or donating today.

elijah's promiseNew Brunswick, New Jersey is the home of Rutgers University, one of the top 100 higher education institutions in the world. It is also home to high poverty rates, with 31 percent of the city’s population of 55,000 living in poverty and over 40 percent experiencing some food insecurity. In 1989, three local churches came together to respond to the community’s need for food assistance with a soup kitchen called Elijah’s Promise. Today, while Elijah’s Promise still provides food to the community, their focus is on using food as a tool for change. With community food security as their goal, the organization fights to end hunger through promoting good food for all, providing education and job training for the food industry, and creating social enterprise food businesses that help build a better world.

Part culinary school, part soup kitchen, part catering company, part grocery, part pay-what-you-can café, Elijah’s Promise is 100 percent focused on the community.

elijah's promiseLast year, WhyHunger provided direct support to Elijah’s Promise, helping to strengthen their Sustainable Healthy Kitchen initiative, a community center and soup kitchen that serves over 100,000 meals each year, sourcing local produce when available. The initiative also includes a food program for people living with HIV/AIDS in the surrounding community. Because of the recent recession and cuts to the food assistance programs SNAP and WIC, demand for their soup kitchen services has increased.

elijah's promise

Chef Pam Johnson (left) gives a tour to WhyHunger’s Suzanne Babb (center).

On a recent visit to Elijah’s Promise, WhyHunger staff had the pleasure of meeting Chef Pam Johnson. Chef Pam was a guest at the Elijah’s Promise soup kitchen long before getting her job as Head Chef. A teenage mom, Pam struggled with drug addiction and homelessness in her youth and relied on the Elijah’s Promise soup kitchen to get by. After going through the difficult process of recovery, she enrolled in the Elijah’s Promise culinary school, which prepared her with profiessional training to work as a cook. After a few years of working in the industry, Pam returned to accept her current job as Head Chef.

While giving a tour of the kitchen to WhyHunger’s Suzanne Babb, Pam explained her approach to engaging with the 300-350 people that visit each day, “We are going to treat them with dignity and serve them with dignity because that is what people deserve.”

Continue reading on Hungerthon.com.

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