Advocacy & Action: Reflections on our Final SoPL Session!

By Mina Seck, Community Food Manager, SPROUT NOLA, and Member of the “A Greener New Orleans” SoPL team

I’m extremely lucky to be a part of the A Greener New Orleans campaign, a coalition of growers, food access advocates, policy advisors, and community members who are advocating for a policy platform in New Orleans that changes growing food in our city from ‘allowed’ to encouraged

Over several years of organizing and research with growers in the New Orleans community, our coalition realized that almost every urban grower in our city was experiencing barriers to establishing and maintaining farms, such as lack of access to land, blight citation, and issues with water meter billing. With this in mind, we developed a 4 plank campaign to support urban growers and address these barriers. The planks include: 1) Growing Green and NORA lease changes, 2) an accessible process for getting agricultural water meters, and 3) altering the process for blight citation. Along with the tangible solutions for the first three planks, our team had a vision for a new role to support the city’s growers: an urban-ag liaison.  

I joined the Greener New Orleans coalition in February of 2022 as the campaign was  beginning its first action stage of reaching out to council members for support and base building for more community support. Joining a campaign at this stage was both thrilling and very scary. Not only had I’d never worked on a policy campaign before but entering the nonprofit world was brand new to me! Earlier this year I, along with my Sprout NOLA colleagues Terence Jackson and Devin Wright joined the HEAL Food Alliance School of Political Leadership (SoPL) to expand our political campaign experience. Over the past six months SoPL has proven to be imperative for me and helped shape how we looked at the campaign as a whole. I have many incredible elders and ‘yelders’ in my community that I’m lucky to learn from, but the SoPL experience helped shape my entire perspective on policy and how I’d like to engage with it. 

In June, our full School of Political Leadership crew got the chance to travel to DC for our final (and first!) in person session. Meeting everyone in the fellowship in person was such an incredible experience. After months of learning together and getting to know one another it was really cool to finally be together! It was the culmination of all of our hard work: not only did we get a chance to present our final campaign strategies to each other, we also met with our state representatives and lobbied for the campaigns we’d spent so much time fleshing out. DC was a surreal experience for me, mostly because I’d never imagined my career to take me to the hill to lobby! Being with my fellow SoPL cohort was so inspiring and a beautiful reminder of why I’m lucky to do this work. 

The main thing that stood out to me, and was important to watch happen in all of our campaigns, was how we all pivoted after starting SoPL. Coming in with these amazing ideas and seeing how what we learned from our sessions like power mapping, campaign strategy, and communications, made our campaigns better. My team, for example, realized that our primary and secondary targets needed to change. Prioritizing councilmembers was important, but over the course of the fellowship we realized that they were secondary, not primary targets. Their support was important, go us for getting Resolution No. R-23-244 passed, but switching our energy and focus allowed us to see results in our campaign. 

The SoPL experience makes me so excited to continue working on policy in Louisiana!  Devin and Terence, my SoPL teammates, are incredible forces and I’m stoked to keep learning from them and advocating for farmers and food justice. We’re beyond lucky to have so many members of our community working together on our campaign, but this experience and my team has energized me in an unexpected way. Staying in touch with the other teams and the HEAL network will keep that spirit alive for a long time and I can’t wait for the future.

About Mina

Mina was born and raised in Pennsylvania, getting her bachelor’s degree in communications in Philadelphia. Growing up she always had a passion for cooking and fresh foods from the farmer’s market. After school, she continued waitressing and her yearning to become a cook grew deeper. She traveled to France and Spain to work on farms to learn more about growing food and biodynamic farming.

When she returned to Philly she worked as the head dinner cook at a small cafe with a kitchen garden. After a year she moved to New Orleans and really dug into the culinary world. She worked at Commander’s Palace, Angeline, and Carmo among other restaurants before starting her own pop-up/catering company, BeetsNThyme.

Through BeetsNThyme she developed great relationships with local farmers, makers, and fishermen. This deepened her love and knowledge for local foods and their importance to community. In her spare time, she is also an avid home gardener.