by Hazel Horvath, DukeEngage Intern
Chickens clucked. A rooster crowed. The air was a fragrant mix between flowers and manure. These sights, sounds, and smells seem impossible to find in a city, but after just a twenty-minute ride on the 72 bus from OPAL’s offices, the members of the Youth Environmental Justice Alliance (YEJA)’s summer program ‘Serve the People’ (STP) were transported to Zenger Farms in the middle of East Portland.
Zenger Farms is an educational urban farm. It includes 19 acres to raise chickens and bees while growing a variety of different plants, depending on the season. This setting was the perfect stage for the STP members to learn more about the US food system.
The workshop began with a discussion about the food system; advanced topics seemed to be common knowledge for the youth. They easily covered the different stages of the food system and drew the story of one product through it. Even without any prior lecture, they already knew how each stage functioned. They pointed out the flaws in every step, especially pointing out the extractive nature of the system. One group (pictured at left) drew the path of beef through the food system, being careful to note the differences between the reality for cows of a life in cages and the marketing strategies showing them roaming in open fields.
The rest of the workshop included a role play of a World Trade Organization conference on genetically modified organisms. The group got very involved, committing to all of their parts in the discussion. They then discussed food security and how to reclaim the food system, using Zenger Farms as an example.
Throughout the workshop, the youth carried a lively discussion about the food system and its role in their lives. They were careful observers, asked lots of questions, and shared personal experiences.
This trip to Zenger Farms is just one of the many workshops STP participants have completed this summer. In this 6-week program, the youth are introduced to a number of topics, including Environmental Justice, Just Transition, Housing Justice, Gender Justice, and many more. STP gives a space for youth to have these conversations, while empowering them with the leadership skills to become advocates for justice in their community.
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