Building Food Sovereignty in NYC

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What is Food Sovereignty?

In short, food sovereignty is about direct, democratic control of our food systems: producers and consumers of food coming together, outside of the market, to ensure that there is food for all, produced through ecological and sustainable methods.


"Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation. It offers a strategy to resist and dismantle the current corporate trade and food regime, and directions for food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems determined by local producers and users. Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal - fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability. Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just incomes to all peoples as well as the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. It ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food. Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social and economic classes and generations." - Declaration of Nyéléni


"Food Sovereignty is about systemic change – about human beings having direct, democratic control over the most important elements of their society – how we feed and nourish ourselves, how we use and maintain the land, water and other resources around us for the benefit of current and future generations, and how we interact with other groups, peoples and cultures... Often Food Sovereignty means building a new reality - new systems of producing, exchanging and consuming, - together, from the ground up, while challenging the existing structures of corporate power and control." - Via Campesina

Ideas for Building Food Sovereignty in NYC

Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and Food Co-Ops

A great source for discovering CSAs and food co-ops in your area is the SolidarityNYC website at http://solidaritynyc.org/

Community Gardens

You can find existing community gardens in your area through the GreenThumb Garden Map at https://www.grownyc.org/gardens/our-community-gardens

Community gardening has a rich and radical history in New York City. For decades, communities abandoned and devastated by both the state and capital - almost always communities of color - have used community gardening as a way to reclaim land, build community, and promote sovereignty by providing themselves and their neighbors with healthy food. To quote La Familia Verde, a coalition of community gardens in the Bronx:

“La Familia Verde is a part of a community gardening tradition in New York City that dates back over 25 years, when city residents first began taking control of abandoned lots left by the economic and social devastation of the inner cities. Since that time, community gardens have played an important role in helping to revitalize some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. The gardens are not only pleasing to look at; they serve as education, cultural and social resource centers in traditionally underserved communities.”

You can learn more about La Familia Verde here: http://www.lafamiliaverde.org/about-us.html

But community gardens are not inherently radical projects, and they can serve reactionary ends as well. Particularly in wealthy white communities, they can be private, inaccessible spaces, and many are actively hostile to the homeless. Some gardens are largely aesthetic, catering to the vanity of petite-bourgeois of wealthy residents. They may not be particularly ecological - the focus might be on attractive plants that aren't necessarily suited for the local climate and ecosystem.

And within the context of an ongoing housing crisis, community gardens can become tools of gentrification. This article delves into that issue: https://citylimits.org/2019/05/09/opinion-elizabeth-street-garden-fans-must-acknowledge-the-housing-crisis/

Community gardens are also limited in scale and scope - most gardens are focused on maintaining their limited space, not expanding and expropriating more land from corporations and the state to put to productive, communal uses.

Some gardens have been essentially co-opted by the city government and are used simply as rhetorical points to show how supposedly "green" the city is, even as city government fails to take the actual necessary action needed to combat climate change and ecological collapse.

Still, when done right, community gardens have real potential. They can reclaim wasteful urban space, transforming it into productive land and communally cultivating and distributing food. They can be spaces that actively grow community and food sovereignty. But they must be done within an explicitly radical, communal, and anti-capitalist framework; they must be truly rooted in their communities, and responsive to local needs. Some community gardens rooted in a radical analysis are:

Smiling Hogshead Ranch - http://www.smilinghogsheadranch.org/

Bushwick City Farm - https://bushwickcityfarm.wordpress.com/

La Familia Verde - http://www.lafamiliaverde.org

Farmers Markets

You can find farmers markets in NYC through the GrowNYC website at https://www.grownyc.org/gardens/our-community-gardens

Optimistic Imaginings

While it's important to understand the limits and weaknesses of specific tactics, a focus only on limitations can lead to discouragement and disengagement. Along with acknowledging what may go wrong, we should also be thinking about what might go right. We need to collectively build a positive image of the future we wish to see; this image serves as a source of inspiration and motivation, and as a guideline to help us know in which directions need to work in the present moment.

So, what might it look like if the ideas above are implemented successfully?

Links and Resources