By Bea Fry, Development Steward, and & Jazmin Martinez, Co-Operations Steward (Advocates for Urban Agriculture) and members of the Together Honoring Earth’s Mycelia (T.H.E.M.) SoPL team
Together Honoring Earth’s Mycelia (T.H.E.M) joined the School of Political Leadership (SoPL) as a team of four: Bea, Jazmin, Ren, & Viviana after undergoing – and still actively in the middle of – a major organizational transformation at our place of work, Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA). It was a transformation out of necessity and responsibility to center those directly affected by racism and violence while at the same time cultivate hope and healing in the food system. This shift required one full calendar year of intentional restructuring, necessary conversations, making strategic pivots throughout our work, and putting into practice what we learned.
Our current AUA team has the unique opportunity – as queer people, farmers, activists, and organizers of color – to shape the trajectory of Urban Agriculture in Chicago through our advocacy and organizing campaigns, and engage in partnerships we have honed over the lifetime of our organization. Our team applied to HEAL’s SoPL program confident that with the robust knowledge the program and HEAL leadership provides, AUA will successfully implement the first of many campaigns in care of, and love for, our growers. Through peer learning experiences, opportunities to learn from experts in their field (like Nina Smith, one of session five’s wonderful guest facilitators), and the loving guidance from the HEAL team, we are learning new communication tools to execute successful organizing campaigns alongside the earth stewards in our network of solidarity and resistance.
Ultimately, we engage in this work because we believe simply and truthfully that “In order to free ourselves, we must feed ourselves.” This powerful statement by Soul Fire Farm is at the center of understanding that in order to have a just and dignified food system we need to start centering the people who directly feed us.
The fifth SoPL session, all about communications and public policy advocacy, was overflowing with an abundance of knowledge and information sharing between our wonderful guest facilitators, Nina Smith of PoliSol Public Affairs, Inc. and Eloni Porcher and Zeenab Aneez, from the HEAL Communications team. During the first day, Nina walked us through something each AUA staff member has expressed trepidation around: how to engage with our targets through one-on-one conversations and interviews. The beautiful thing about working in a field you are passionate about is that you have so much you could say. The downside when doing interviews, is there is only so much time to say it. Nina supported the three SoPL cohort teams by providing communications strategies to hone in on and fine tune our campaign message, making sure we are understood for exactly what it is we want to say. One of these strategies Nina provided was the four C’s:
- (C)ome prepared
- (C)oncisely deliver your message
- (C)ontextualize the conversation: Story Telling
- (C)ontrol the Interview
Nina, Eloni and Zeenab reminded us that we are the experts in our work, we are at the forefront and can speak best to the issue at hand.
Through the School of Political Leadership, T.H.E.M has been provided access to a political education-focused language which describes a truth many of us have collectively experienced: that BIPOC farmers are best positioned to design and lead solutions which transform our food system, with a critical analysis of its intersection with other community concerns, such as racial equity, immigrant workers rights, and climate justice.
The privilege of engaging in a transformational peer learning experience, which centers those most affected by injustice and who are at the forefront of movement work, served to re-ignite the belief that it is crucial to have spaces which reflect community needs, cultivate lasting relationships, is a base for building mutually beneficial strategy, and overall, generates hope for a different kind of food future.
Through this process, T.H.E.M has strengthened the understanding that solidarity throughout the different sectors which make up the transition back toward a more sustainable, regenerative, and care focused food system is key to real change. Practicing solidarity during the course of this program, with other cohort members from WWJ and Urban Tilth, cannot possibly be quantified; We built strong relationships that will continue past the end of the program, and T.H.E.M team members look forward to envisioning and building with these wonderful fellow organizers.
About the Authors
Bea is a land steward residing in Chicago who imagines a more resilient food system built upon land rematriation, justice, and reparation. Their background includes research on violations of the Human Right to Adequate Food and Nutrition for transgender people of color, student organizing, and most recently with their position at Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA), development in support of urban agriculture in Chicago. Bea is passionate about serving as a resource and connector, contributing to a food future which provides the opportunity for those most affected by injustice to finally find rest.
Jazmin is a farmer from La Villita/Little Village neighborhood in Chicago and is an owner-worker of Catatumbo Cooperative Farm currently located in South Chicago. They have previous experience working in social services providing crisis and trauma-informed support and connecting individuals and families to resources. Additionally, their background involves organizing within the immigrant rights movement. Through their work, they saw a need to create economic opportunities for historically excluded communities and was drawn to urban farming, particularly within a worker-cooperative model. Their work is grounded in reverence for the land and hands that feed and nourish us. Jazmin is committed to connecting urban agriculture with broader social justice movements to envision and create other possible worlds.