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How Soil Generation is cultivating food justice leaders of color in Philly

Fresh veggies. January 16, 2018 Category: FeatureFeaturedMediumMethod
Philadelphia has a hunger problem, as a fifth of residents are lacking enough food to live healthy, active lives.

Possible solutions run the gamut but one coalition of urban farmers and organizations, Soil Generation, is pushing for what co-organizer Kirtrina Baxter calls a “community-controlled” food system that could address more issues than just food insecurity in the region.

But Soil Generation, which prides itself on being a Black- and Brown-led coalition, is not fighting for a locally controlled food system, Baxter makes sure to emphasize — there’s a difference in how a community-controlled system addresses inequity.

Soil Generation was founded in 2013 as Healthy Foods Green Spaces, a coalition that grew from the efforts of a number of people and organizations that came together to stop a City Council zoning amendment that would have made it difficult for many existing gardens and farms in the Philly area to continue operating.

“What we really needed in this community was strong farmer voices and community voices to talk about what they need [when] it came to urban agriculture,” recalled Baxter, who is also a community organizer for the Public Interest Law Center’s Garden Justice Legal Initiative.

Today, Soil Generation is made up of more than 20 orgs and advocates, all working for urban agriculture-friendly policy within city government that would help communities grow their own food sources, especially among communities of color.

"I was really hungry for a space to collaborate with other Black and Brown growers, especially in the city."
Lan Dinh

For Lan Dinh, the farm projects director at VietLEAD and an active member of Soil Generation, the coalition also provided a much-needed space for urban growers to get together, talk about issues surrounding urban agriculture and learn from one another; Soil Generation hosts community meetings every second Tuesday of the month.

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“Before Soil Generation, folks just weren’t talking with each other,” Dinh said. “I was really hungry for a space to collaborate with other Black and Brown growers, especially in the city.”

“We’re all sharing our knowledge to create a larger base of knowledge to inform the issues in our community,” Baxter added.

The most salient issue for the group as a whole is likely public land — that is, making sure would-be growers find it accessible to start their own gardens in the city and making sure existing gardens are on protected land. An example of what could go wrong when land isn’t protected: North Philly Peace Park had difficulties in 2016 when developers and the Philadelphia Housing Authority took control of its garden and community space.

It’s the issue that brought the group together in the first place and since then, Soil Generation has been working to map out public lots available for use.

Soil Generation’s members are also hoping to expand its relationships and collaborations to other parts of the country — something that Jeannine Kayembe, co-executive director of Urban Creators, took part in firsthand in September when she and 13 other members traveled to Puerto Rico to partner with local food activist Tara Rodríguez Besosa in constructing community gardens in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

It’s these kinds of partnerships and collaborative work that Baxter hopes will highlight the need for Philly to become an urban agriculture-friendly city and stop thinking about a community-controlled food system as a radical idea.

“Soil Generation has positioned ourselves to take our rightful place in leadership,” Baxter said.

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