Bay Area youth were drawn to Oakland this past weekend, for an interfaith service day focused on food justice.
Muslims, Jews, Christians, Humanists, Buddhists and Hindus grabbed shovels, shears and every tool necessary to tackle the compost pile, worm bins, and overgrown weeds behind the California Hotel.
The micro-farm where the youth gardened was created by the People’s Grocery. A quarter of the historic hotel’s parking lot is now a raised bed community garden, greenhouse, and bio-intensive farm.
It is one of many projects aimed at building a local food system to improve the health and economy of West Oakland.
Anyone driving through the urban city will notice the high number of liquor stores and lack of grocery markets.
Residents, who cannot afford to travel for produce, rely on mini marts for most of their food needs. With junk food across the aisles and insufficient fresh foods, West Oakland natives cannot get the necessary elements of a nutritious diet. The People’s Grocery is looking to change this reality.
Through urban agriculture programs, enterprise development and community education, the organization goes beyond charity, by seeking justice.
Greenhouse Coordinator, Max Kurtz – Cadji spoke to the interfaith group about food justice, saying it’s the notion that “food is a human right.”
So Kurtz-Cadji’s work in this particular garden is aimed at making sure more people have access to foods to live healthfully. By working alongside residents, the community will learn how to manage their own farms, and eventually no longer need the organization to help sustain the micro-farms.
The service day was coordinated by a variety of interfaith organizations active in California, including United Religions Initiative.
During the lunch break, URI’s Sarah Talcott led an interfaith dialogue that posed questions related to the day’s work: What traditions or practices around food does your religion promote? What does your faith say about justice?
With that prompt, one "sufi" participant spoke to the tradition of halal foods, whereas a Hindu man discussed the great importance of monitoring what goes into your body, as it becomes a part of you.
When touring the garden, Kurtz-Cadji spoke of how "diversity breeds success." He may have been speaking of a chicken’s diet, but it also fits the topics of interfaith co-operation and food justice.
While one organizations avenue to feeding the hungry, may involve food preparation, another may be to teach people how to grow their food. All are meeting the needs of the hungry, but from different approaches.
When it comes to interfaith co-operation, every religion that comes to the table is unique. Through collaboration and joint action with other traditions however, their impact on shared issues of concern can be multiplied.
Vanessa is a conflict analyst, interfaith-er and nonprofit professional.