Shirley Sherrod to speak at Just Food, Just Communities event in Buffalo

Release Date: November 6, 2015 This content is archived.

“The food system does not work for low income consumers and small and medium sized farmers. ”
Samina Raja, associate professor of urban and regional planning
University at Buffalo
Shirley Sherrod.

Shirley Sherrod, civil rights movement and food justice leader

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Civil rights movement leader and food justice advocate Shirley Sherrod will be the keynote speaker for an event happening Nov. 10 on Buffalo’s East Side that is designed to engage the community in a conversation about food justice.

Just Food, Just Communities will run from 4-6:30 p.m. at King Urban Life Center Church, 938 Genesee St., Buffalo. The event, which is free and open to the public, is being organized by the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab (Food Lab) housed in the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning. Event co-organizers include Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo, Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP), Buffalo Public Schools and the UB Civic Engagement and Public Policy initiative.

Just Food, Just Communities will bring together community partners, scholars, students and residents to discuss the links between racial, economic and food injustices, and strategies to address them. The event will include a panel discussion featuring leaders who are transforming Buffalo’s food system from the ground up.

“The food system does not work for low-income consumers and small- and medium-sized farmers. Healthier food costs more to purchase, and low-income consumers live in neighborhoods where there is limited access to food,” says Samina Raja, associate professor of urban and regional planning and director of the Food Lab. “A disproportionate burden of poor food access is borne by people of color. Our lab is interested in ways that public policy can help create a more just food system for low-income communities of color and small- and medium-sized farms.”

Sherrod, who co-founded the New Communities Land Trust — a collective farm in Georgia that was owned and operated by black farmers in the 1970s and early ’80s — will discuss food as an economic driver. Her talk, titled “Building a Local Food Economy,” is scheduled to begin at 5:20 p.m.

“Her work is powerful in demonstrating that African-Americans are agents of change in the food system,” says Raja.

“We have a long way to go in becoming a truly just food community here in Buffalo,” adds Grassroots Gardens’ Executive Director Melissa Fratello.

“Many of our gardens are the only source for affordable vegetables in their communities, but community gardens do not produce at a large enough scale to meet this need. The system around this thing that we do, sometimes without thought, three times a day, is complex, highly regulated and flawed, but as awareness around food justice builds, I anticipate a sea change will occur in the way we grow, purchase and consume our food. Mrs. Sherrod is a powerful advocate for change in policy and practice for equitable food systems, and I'm eager to learn from her,” Fratello says.

While food insecurity is difficult to measure, Raja notes that the issue affects many people in Western New York. For example, 12 percent of the region’s households are enrolled in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and some 56,000 households in Erie and Niagara counties that lack a vehicle are farther than walking distance from a supermarket, according to Raja’s research.

Buffalo has a strong community of food advocacy organizations, including Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo, MAP and the Food Bank of WNY, all of which work with UB’s Food Lab to develop a food system that serves all constituents, Raja says.

“To build a just food system, we need to attend to food issues throughout Buffalo’s neighborhoods, not just in particular areas of revitalization,” says Subhashni Raj, a doctoral student in the UB Food Lab who helped organize this event. “More importantly, to move toward a food system that is equitable and just, we need to build connections and collaborate to leverage resources, knowledge and best practices. We are hoping this event serves as a catalyst for these connections and conversations.”

Along with its community partners, UB’s Food Lab has been working on food systems issues for more than a decade. In 2011, a community-university coalition organized the first-ever food policy summit in Buffalo, called the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities-Buffalo Partnership. The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities Coalition organized a second food policy summit in 2013 and formally announced the creation of a new food policy council in the region — one of only two in New York state.

This past summer, the Western New York Environmental Alliance sponsored the People’s Food Movement event, which was attended by more than 100 people. Event participants developed a list of priorities that were submitted to the Buffalo and Erie County Food Policy Council. They include the development of a healthy corner store program, implementing long-term leases for community gardens on publicly owned properties and ensuring that all farmers markets have EBT readers.

"Buffalo has great momentum right now for making change in our food system and we need to make sure that equity and justice are at the core of that change. Shirley Sherrod’s visit to Buffalo is indeed timely and will inspire our work to build food sovereignty in the region," says Diane Picard, executive director of Massachusetts Avenue Project.

For more information on Tuesday’s event, visit the Food Lab website.

The event is made possible with support of the Buffalo Public School District, and grants from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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