Beginning in 2015 with our very own Spartans at UNCG, the Local FoodStorm Conference was created with the vision of raising awareness about food injustices occurring in the Greensboro community. The tradition has been kept alive and passed to the Guilford College Food Justice Club, which held the conference on Saturday for its second year in a row, inviting people of all backgrounds for a first-hand glance into the world of the food injustices that surround us.
In 2015, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) released a report that ranked the Greensboro and High Point area as first in the nation in food hardship, with a staggering 27.9 percent of individuals experiencing food hardship.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “food hardship,” refers to an inability to access food due to financial circumstances, lack of transportation to a nearby grocery store or other conditions that prevent people from eating nutritious foods.
Four years later, food hardship hasn’t improved drastically in our town, but the efforts to start diminishing it have, and many of those making these efforts were attended the conference. Students and faculty from local universities, including Spartans from the Food Recovery Network at UNCG, as well as business owners and members of the Greensboro community all joined together for a day of workshops and speakers that focused on a variety of issues concerning the availability of food.
The conference began with keynote speaker, Shorlette Ammons, an NC State University Extension Associate, with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. Giving insight into her personal experience with food throughout her lifetime – from learning to grow produce and sharing homegrown meals with her family – she noted how impersonal food has become in society.
“We take our food, where it comes from and how it gets here, for granted,” said Ammons. With the globalization of the agriculture industry, she’s not wrong; food has become incredibly impersonal in today’s society, to the point that many are growing up without knowing where fruits and vegetables come from before reaching the grocery store.
Gearing the audience’s mind to think more about the diligent, unseen faces of America’s food supply, Ammons concluded her welcome and the first set of workshops began.
In one of the workshops, NC A&T horticulture students, Ashley Brinkley, Baker Zitawi, and James Martin held a presentation of the “Aggie Support of Greensboro’s Food and Education Initiatives.” The three shared their experiences working with the Urban Food Platform, an on-campus project to establish gardens at A&T.
The three showed a slideshow that displayed pictures full of students and volunteers alike building gardens and growing produce on campus, creating a more hands-on educational experience in agriculture for students to learn from.
Gardens are used for various research projects and events, including “Adopt-A-Pot,” where members of the university and the surrounding community can adopt a plant to be taken care of by a student. The platform has also branched out to surrounding elementary schools, beginning initiatives to teach children about gardening and its benefits; Zitawi said, “It reminds me a lot of when I was younger… opening them up to that experience at an early age, it makes them realize you can produce your own food, that it doesn’t have to come from a grocery store.” Taking their class knowledge, students and faculty are teaching agriculture and its health benefits to create a better appreciation in the community for our food sources.
The second set of workshops kicked off after lunch, with Sunflower Center founder, Fahiym Hanna, presenting “Bring People Back to the Land.”
The Sunflower Center, a community garden in the Glenwood neighborhood of Greensboro, was created by Hanna with the design in mind to connect people back to the land. Speaking about today’s cultural disconnect to farmers, he said, “When we are disconnected to the land, we’re less empathetic for those who are connected to the land.”
Hanna went on to talk the healing power of gardening, and that the act can recreate a bond to land that he believes most people have lost.
At the last set of workshops, homesteader, Chantel Johnson, presented “What If My Ancestors Received 40 Acres and a Mule? My Journey to Food Sovereignty and Sustainable Living.” Revealing her personal history of hardship and how that brought her to live off the land, Johnson gave us an inside look on her life living self-sufficiently.
With solar panels and a tiny house, Johnson has moved all over North Carolina to go back to the basics. She described her initial difficulty learning to raise animals and plants after growing up as a city girl in Chicago, and used herself as an example that anyone can live off the land if they dedicate themselves to the principle.
Workshop attendants then gathered back to share their experiences, inspirations and new insights from all of the different workshops. Although food hardship in Guilford County is far from over, it is clear that its residents are working hard to make a difference.