By: Lizbeth Valdivia-Jauregui
The constant failure of the federal government to provide access to healthy affordable options to low-income communities forces the establishment of urban community gardens in areas that are needed the most. This form of collective resistance stems from a long history of food insecurity and poverty. In California, specifically the Inland Empire, vacant lots have been left behind with industrial waste that not only pollute our cities but contribute to respiratory illnesses, heart problems, and neurocognitive deficits. These vacant lots abandoned by the industrial sector must be turned into community gardens initiatives in order to provide autonomy and agency to these communities that have been robbed of their joy.
According to a 2021 report by Feeding America, 1 in 7 children in California face hunger which constitutes 11.1% of houses in the United States. The United States military defense budget is nearly 703.7 billion. It is preposterous that working class families which accumulate this country’s wealth through underpaid labor and exploitation go to bed hungry every night. This administration sets its priorities and interests as it decides to police other countries for their raw materials, cheap labor, and maintain docile colonies.
Food waste is rampant in a profit and materialistic economy. FoodPrint issue reports that, where 125 to 160 billion pounds of food goes to waste every year, 90% is edible and nutritious. Overproduction is one of the main reasons for the disposal of food which is a myth, there can be no such thing as scarcity of edible food when 13.8 million households in the United States suffer from food insecurity. The myth of scarcity in the food industry was created by the agribusiness capitalist class for the sake of maintaining control over our food systems. This domination is used to create the illusion that populations must depend on the government to produce and manufacture our interactions with the food value chain. There is enough food to feed everyone and taking ownership of the land and building collective consciousness around the corporate propaganda is a necessary step.
Utilizing food as an organizing strategy in low-income suburban areas arms communities with the tools to create alternate systems that do not rely on the agribusiness profit driven model.
Reclaiming the land and creating systems that are successful and not dependent on capitalism collectively strengthens and builds community self-determination. Once a community garden is able to feed communities in proximity to the land it quickly starts detaching from capitalist models of production, dignity is restored and a revolution of the soul emerges. Mental health is also directly tied to the connection with the land because it teaches the guerilla gardeners patience, presence, and the importance of communal effort that everyone brings to the space. Community consciousness is awakened and the community begins to grow and develop new ways of imagining systems focused on community care.
When the government promotes violence in the form of providing its cities with basic needs like nutrition, healthcare, and monetary assistance during a pandemic, it becomes a natural response and duty for communities to reclaim vacant lots that have been stripped of life for creating safe spaces that restore dignity. Community led gardens in Pomona have been able to provide pesticide-free weekly boxes to elders and families that have been impacted by the pandemic. Without the patience and dedication of each hand that went into crafting these boxes, it would not have been possible to continue forms of communal care which are rendered impossible by this capitalist system where everything is perceived as a monetary transaction.
Community grown pesticide-free produce boxes delivered weekly to low-income families in Pomona
When communities become empowered and recognize that violence is a symptom of poverty, the impossible becomes possible. Communities organize with the realization that strength lies in numbers. Communities become autonomous, begin to branch out, and create new ways of navigating oppressive food systems. Profit driven systems which would rather lose money than feed those that need a hot meal the most. May we continue to take over every vacant lot that has polluted our cities and restore life where it once lived, both in the land and in our souls!
Lizbeth Valdivia-Jauregui ‘23 is from Pomona, California. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering at community gardens and mediating to ground herself. She enjoys reading books about holistic healing and medicinal herbs.