Travelogue for the Good News from Africa tour: First Leg, NYC

It is always instructive to see home through the eyes of a visitor. This is one of the positive outcomes from the North American tour of five cities on the food security and food sovereignty frontlines: New York City, Detroit, New Orleans and the nearby rural Mississippi community of Petal, and Sacramento.

Our goal is to spark intercultural learning between emerging food leaders of color in the USA with an important Ugandan food leader who works in 40 African countries. How similar are the challenges to deliver safe and affordable food here and there? Are there best practices to learn and share?

Sharing insights and images of the meetings via social media long the way, here is a glimpse of the first leg of the tour in New York City.

First stop on the tour was the Food and Finance High School in midtown Manhattan. Like many new niche public schools in NYC, it shares a large traditional school building with other schools. Mukiibi met with the entire junior class for a wide-ranging conversation that encompassed geography, biodiversity of bananas and the future – and the young students’ responsibility to shape it from the kitchen. Providing both conventional classroom instruction and hands-on contextual learning in the kitchen, the school’s intent is to spark student interest in lifelong careers in the culinary arts.

This was followed by an appearance on Erin Fairbanks’s Farm Report on Heritage Radio; pizza at iconic Bushwick pizzeria, Roberta’s; a quick visit to the Heritage Foods warehouse; a tour and tasting at Kelso Brewery; tap takeover at Berg’n Beer Hall with Kelso; dinner at the Pixie and the Scout with urban agriculture partners, like Just Food, Food Corps and the Black Urban Growers; tour of the Lower East Side Earth School; lunch with Bronx community agriculture leader Karen Washington; a radio interview with Bhavani Jaroff of iEat Green; and finally a lecture at New York University’s Food Studies Program — and to think, all of this in two days!

In these first impressions of the tour, one thing that is striking is the surprising juxtaposition between the benign and the political. Who doesn’t love gardens? Who disputes the compelling narrative of children learning food sources, science and a love for food via gardens? After all, the meteoric return of vegetable gardens in schools is a testament to this fact. And yet, whether exploring the growth and maintenance of community gardens, school gardens and micro-farms in Uganda, Kenya or South Africa or that of Manhattan, the tensions between land tenure, developers, and the forces of monoculture are paramount.

In other words, as Edward Mukiibi puts it: Gardens are political. They may start modest but from gardens grow new leaders who imagine a different world. This sentiment was evident in conversations with leaders, like Karen Washington, who sees a direct link between gardens providing sustenance and a pathway for grassroots leadership to gain a voice and a context for engaging with decision-makers at the top. Similarly, Earth School Principal Abbe Futterman recognizes the compelling power of a garden – in its case, a rooftop garden – to orient young kids to the physical reality around them.

At New York University, Professor Gustavo Setrini hosted a Friday evening event that began with Mukiibi’s presentation about the state of civil society in Uganda and in the 40 countries in which the Slow Food gardens are growing and ended with delicious glasses of Ferrari sparkling wines. And to think, the students opted to finish off the week with more learning, more discussion about food sovereignty, global food policies and food and drink is a testament to the power of global intercultural sharing.

Stay tuned for reports from Detroit.