Our Community Harvest
In our 6 week youth food justice summer camp, we engaged with 11 high school students in Camden and Pennsauken, NJ through a virtual and in-person hybridized COVID-19 responsive curriculum.
Students came out in rotations (4 at a time) to the farm weekly. Students expressed gratitude of being able to be at the farm- that they felt cooped up inside and that the farm was the only source of physical activity that they were able to do during the pandemic.
The program also served as a refuge for the students amidst the time of Black Uprising. We explored what was happening with police violence and where oppression and the industrial food system intersect. We dove into the work of questioning dominant narratives and inquiring about the counter narratives our community members carry through an oral hxstory project. Students interviewed their family members, neighbors, and collected over 90 food access surveys from other students and residents!
In our survey, we found the following key takeaways. The participants were between the ages of 13 to 58. Among those 100 participants, 62% were female, 32% were male, and 6% were either nonbinary or other. 37.4% were African American. 27.3% were Latinx, 19.2% were Asian, and 12.1% were of Mixed race. Most people 49% were from Pennsauken, 23% are from East Camden, 11% are from South Camden, 4% are from Downtown, 2% are from North Camden, and 2% are from elsewhere.
About 71 people affirmed that they think eating and cooking healthy food is important. However, people still face many obstacles. Of all the limitations to eating healthy food, participants responded that what limits them is 58.8% cost, 30.9% nutritional knowledge, 20.6% food and stores, 28.9% interest, and 19.6% time. While some may purchase their food from the stores, there are still some who receive food from the food pantry. About 28% of the recipients go 1-3 times per year. About 83% of the participants do not get all their food from the same store, however 17% of them do. Of the important factors that come with when picking a store, 79.8% said prices, 75.8% said quality, 30.3% said cultural foods, 28.3% said distance and 28.3% said convenience.
Participants were asked about what issues they would change if they were the mayor of Camden. About 86.8% responded school issues, 56% responded local government and politics, 54.9% responded community outreach, 54.6% responded community land issue, 2.2% responded drugs and drug activity. Some of the other issues they would change were shootings, unsafe community, putting safety first, violence, and the crime rates. 66% people agree that there is a need for a community garden in the neighborhood that they live in.
When asked if participants agreed with the statement: “I and my family members have faced difficulties or challenges due to COVID-19”, 41.9% agreed, 16.3% disagreed, and 41.8% remained neutral. People responded that some of the challenges they faced were 26.3% food access, 49.5% health, 54.7% finances, 52.6% work, 57.9% school, 25.3% transportation, and 29.5% safety.
The results reiterated for us the importance of our project goal: making fresh food affordable through EBT and creating a green space to be active and cultivate a community garden. After analyzing the results of these 90 interviews and conducting deeper in-depth interviews with family members and neighbors of the farm, students created a zine and mural capturing the results. Please view the zine here! Above is the photo of the mural that the students created. Student leader, Demitri Beltran and program coordinator, Monica Beltran, also spoke about their work this summer on a national webinar by Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference. See them speak about their work that is a part of VietLead’s OurRoots program on NESAWG’s Sankofa series here (Starting at minute 33:00).
About the Grantee
VietLead is a grassroots organization that strives to improve health, increase sovereignty, and develop Vietnamese leadership in solidarity through intergenerational farming; youth leadership; health navigation; policy advocacy; and civic engagement. Our Food Sovereignty and community garden program was built from seeing how food is an important part of how refugees practice self-determination.