CNDLS Curriculum Enrichment Grant Supports SOCI 274: Environmental and Food Justice Movements Trip to “Dreaming Out Loud”

CNDLS is proud to support Georgetown University faculty in their efforts to facilitate learning inside and outside of the classroom. Launched under the auspices of the Georgetown Learning Initiative (GLI), Curriculum Enrich Grants (CEGs) support course-related activities that strengthen the intellectual climate around introductory level undergraduate courses. They help faculty and students gain access to the larger DC/MD/VA community, bringing the curricular and co-curricular together to give students a richer sense of the broader implications and applications of work in a particular discipline.

Yuki Kato (Sociology) is an urban sociologist whose current research focuses on the role that urban agriculture has played in the redevelopment of New Orleans over the decade following the 2005 flood. As a CEG grant recipient, Kato traveled with her SOCI 274 class to an urban farm in Southwest DC to explore community gardens and engage with local activists. Below, we’re featuring a blog guest authored by Kato about her experience.

If you’re interested in learning more about CEGs or are considering applying for a future grant, please visit our website.

___________________________________________________________

My class, SOCI 274: Environmental and Food Justice Movements, visited Dreaming Out Loud’s garden site in Southwest DC to see the concepts of environmental and food justice being put into practice in our own city. Dreaming Out Loud’s garden in Southwest is located at Blind Whino, a former church that had been converted to an event site. Based on the data presented in the maps at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Screen website, the area is notable for its proximity to Superfund sites along Anacostia River as well as for its higher rate of poverty, despite being just down the street from the US Capitol (See Figure 1).

Once we arrived at the site, we were greeted by Sumayyah Muhammad, who is the Garden Assistant for Dreaming Out Loud. Sumayyah lives in the neighborhood, and started working with Dreaming Out Loud as a volunteer in the garden. After becoming formally affiliated with the organization in the spring of this year, she has been expanding and experimenting with the garden. She spoke enthusiastically about her experiences of growing in the city, eating what she grows, working with others in the garden, and emphasized its personal, therapeutic effects while also providing her with some economic resources as well.

We were soon joined by Christopher Bradshaw, the Founder and the Executive Director of the organization, along with Starsha Valentine, Director of Operations and Resource Development at Dreaming Out Loud. Chris started the conversation by asking us to share our “food stories.” To get us thinking about the stories, he shared his own childhood memories of his grandfather who gardened as a leisure activity after full day of work, and how this shaped his early exposure to growing food and farming in the city. These personal stories helped us relate personally to the discussions to follow, while also framing the issues of food and environmental justice as something personal as well as political.

During the second half of the visit, the students and I were able to ask Chris, Starsha, and Sumayyah our own questions, including: can we scale up urban agriculture to feed the city? How do we involve younger people in environmental justice (EJ)/food justice efforts (FJ)? How do we fund these programs? What can we do as college students (who are also not of the community) to address EJ/FJ issues? Each of them provided very concrete and complex responses to our questions, but one that stood out to many of us was Starsha’s advice that one should always ask the community what they want and work with them, rather than for them.

Due to the distance between Georgetown University and the site, we were only able to spend a little over an hour out of the two-and-a-half-hour seminar time. That distance alone is a physical embodiment of the unequal distribution of the burdens of food and environmental injustices across the city, and a reminder that these issues are not only real, but not very far from where we are living and learning.

We spent the beginning of our next seminar time reflecting on our experiences at Dreaming Out Loud. It was clear that the visit left a seed of hope and reflection in both my students and myself, as we easily picked up on the conversation even though a week had passed. For some of us, meeting a person who was actually practicing what we had been learning in the classroom was an opportunity to see the applicability of the academic knowledge that sometimes could appear disconnected from “the real world,” especially when discussion gets too theoretical (e.g., how do we define justice?) and less about making concrete changes (i.e., what should we do?). For others, the words of wisdom from people who have been facing and overcoming challenges in the real world while pursuing environmental and food justice helped provided concrete ideas of how we may approach the issue in our own lives.

We extend our gratitude to Suyammah, Starsha, and Chris for taking time out of their busy schedule for our visit and sharing their experiences with us.