It’s important that a group like ours (and, I would argue, all food movement organizations that are predominantly white, educated, or upper middle class) does not attempt to address race or class issues out of guilt. Instead, action can be built from the awareness that, as so beautifully stated by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.” Strategies and campaigns that move from this awareness will seek struggles that connect, reach accord where none was obvious, and will therefore be more likely to succeed. In addition to outward success, they will simultaneously build communities of compassion and thus “larger loyalties” that will serve justice over the long term.
UA is particularly well suited to spark these kinds of connections, since cities are where many communities intersect, by choice or by chance. Cities are less the “melting pots” that many would claim or desire, but still, they hold promise in allowing diverse communities easy physical, communicative access to each other. The dynamics of public spaces, political processes, and communities of interest that define urbanity can be called upon to push an integration of ideas, interests, and efforts to create a new, healthier, more just, and sustainable society.
To end on a concrete example: The SFUAA was recently approached by a newly-elected freshman state assemblyman, asking for a meeting to discuss potential legislative initiatives he might advance in support of urban agriculture. In discussions within the SFUAA, it was obvious that (while we do see some state-wide reforms that could aid UA work directly) we felt there were more pressing concerns facing our state, and more priority policy reforms that could aid UA indirectly (say, by raising state revenue levels in general, the kinds that might be put forth into resources for local UA projects) while also supporting the goals of other non-UA sectors whose values are in line with ours.
For example, I would like to see higher education funding levels restored if not expanded. With that expansion, often-discussed but never implemented “green job” training programs at our local community college are far more likely to get off the ground. This would result in more actual jobs for experienced UA educators, more training opportunities for UA practitioners, and a city-wide integration of ecoliteracy education and sustainability-related projects and initiatives.
Further, because community colleges are designed to be economically accessible to many, and have already entered into diverse communities of San Francisco, such a new program would reach more students than our UA community’s educational offerings tend to. This could have the effect of diversifying UA in San Francisco, and further connecting our work with the important struggles occurring beyond UA.
In the end, what matters is that we keep up a critical awareness of our work and its context. Urban agriculture may be great, and it is certainly worth the interest it has piqued. But how can that interest (and that potential greatness) be leveraged into something bigger? That, to me, is the 21st Century challenge—not only to urban agriculturists like myself, but to all communities with a stake in the better social and ecological world we are trying to bring about.