During my sabbatical travels we were able to visit Nuestras Raices in Holyoke, Massachusetts the weekend of their FEEST (June 5, 2010). I learned of this organization in Patricia Klindienst’s book, The Earth Knows my Name, which I often include in my English curriculum. When we arrived in Holyoke on Friday, it was hot and humid. My husband and I easily found the downtown offices of Nuestras Raices on High Street, and waited only a few minutes before we were welcomed into a pleasantly cool office on the second floor by Maria Salgado. We spoke with her about the history of the organization, and then with Diego Angarita, Food Systems Organizer, joined us.
Diego is an inspired activist who was inspired by his professors at Hampshire College to see food in a new way. His professors at Hampshire College inspired him to explore race relations between blacks and Latinos, to look at social issues from new perspectives. He got a job right out of school with Food and Fitness in Holyoke and he recently joined NR. Maria called him the youth guru of Nuestras Raices. His expertise is in youth leadership training that encompass a four intensive weeks. He begins with a food systems map and asks his students questions like Who picks the food? Where is it stored? How does the food get to your plate? What resources are used to get this food to you?
Diego recommended Allen Goodman (Hampshire) as one of the most inspiring professors, and an excellent speaker on food systems. Organizations he thinks are doing excellent work with food systems education include HOPE Collaborative in Oakland and Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), which is a community-based organization dedicated to creating a healthy, sustainable, and culturally-vital community on the Tohono O’odham Nation.
When he was in college, Diego wanted to figure out what was keeping minorities and immigrants disenfranchised. He discovered a basic flaw in how minorities were being looked at. The outsider’s look at them didn’t build on their culture and their strengths; it ignored those strengths. It was a big moment for him, an epiphany, which he described articulately. He realized that the only way to solve social problems for the disenfranchised was through helping them toward self-determination. Food, he saw, was the answer, a common denominator that could help him work to address social issues of disenfranchisement, and related health issues. He expressed his belief in the potential of gardens and food to build strong leaders within Holyoke communities, and his work with youth programs is a testament to his success.
That afternoon we took a driving tour of several gardens. Our able guide was Ramiro Davaro, membership coordinator. He’s the liaison with leaders at the various Nuestras Raices gardens and farms. A graduate of Univ. of Massachusetts in Hospitality Studies, he clearly has found his niche as a community organizer. Fluent in Spanish, having spent ages 8-12 in Argentina, his gregarious personality and ability to solve problems are assets to the organization.
Many pictures of the various Nuestras Raices gardens and La Finca, the farm, are available at their web site: http://nuestras-raices.org
On Saturday, June 5, we attended ExtravaGREENza at La Finca. Several Youth Groups from around Holyoke got together representing Green initiatives, and to share their recent activities.
Though it threatened to rain, and protective tents were set up for each youth group, the event was not rained out. The FEEST (Food Empowerment Education Sustainability Team) was a great event, one that other groups should consider. Diego told me this was inspired by the work of a Seattle group in Youngstown.
Five groups were formed and each was assigned a dish to prepare from the fresh local produce beautifully laid out on the tables: fruit kabobs, soup, salad, stir fry, or a beverage. A local chef was available to advise the young cooks about ingredients, seasoning, and alternatives for preparation.
The focus on producing rather than simply consuming food made this an active and exciting experience. Judges tasted each dish and the winner was the delicious salad concocted by EcoAliens. Another group prepared the fruit kabob, deliciousness on the plate.
Bikes, light bulbs and natural cleaning solutions were all raffled off during the day, with many participants winning something. Each club member received a great tee shirt, designed by the youth.