Iris, an aspiring high school student from New York City, took an educational course designed to prepare students in public schools for college. In the study, she went to the Park Slope Food Coop, which is among the oldest member-owned companies in the United States. Members work in monthly shifts to gain access to low-cost, healthy, ethically sourced food and products. Students who took part in the class named Community Roots — investigated the bigger political, social, and historical implications of food and space while also studying food-related activities.
When Iris informed her family about her experiences, “They said, ‘ That’s white people’s food!‘” she remembered. Her family was at her home on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and had never heard of the food cooperative. They also knew, based on their memories, that racism and white privilege determine what food options are available to those.
Callaloo is a type of amaranth that is used in Caribbean food and is one of the various greens Community Roots students have grown. (Shutterstock)
Iris joined the co-op, intrigued by its new consumer-oriented model. By joining the co-op, Iris and her family could access affordable food items and nutritious food items. It was the first of several steps Iris made to become an active advocate for immigrants and women’s concerns.
Iris later earned an undergrad degree that focused on critical Black feminist studies. She also earned a law degree that focused on the rights of immigrants and environmentalists.
The course is growing in Brooklyn.
Community Roots students are planting seeds in the Brooklyn school garden. (Pieranna Pieroni) (Author provided)
The course Iris teaches, Community Roots, is focused on the intersection of the two worlds of ecology and justice. The system is a part of College Now, a free college program for students in transition that is in collaboration with Brooklyn College, the City University of New York, and the New York City Department of Education. Jennifer, One of the story’s authors, coaches Pieranna, who is the other writer and director of the program College Now at Brooklyn College.
Community Roots uses the entire city as a learning environment. It believes in the importance of learning in places as crucial to education and research. Urban gardening is an entry point to learn about the land and its relationships in addition to consumer culture, food, and social activism.
Read more: How to teach kids where food comes from – get them gardening.
The food justice emphasis of Community Roots emerged from an experience of conflict between a university and a community garden. Pieranna was a member of the thriving community garden that was located on the periphery of the campus where she was working. She invited local high school students who were enrolled in College Now courses during the year to participate in unstructured gardening in the summer.
With the growing interest from students, Pieranna formalized the activity as a service-learning program, and the number of gardeners increased. The turning point in the development of the course occurred when the college’s choice to remove the garden to make room for the parking area was met with resistance from supporters of community-based greening. As the issue of sustainability became more prevalent in public debates in the city and the city, the absurdity of a city college degrading the community garden to build the parking lot caught the attention of many.
In the end, the garden was removed and then re-established as a smaller garden for the college located on land, which was bordered by the expanded parking lot. For a number of years, Community Roots had no access to the park. However, the lessons we learned about the power of displacement and power in relation to the history of gentrification and colonization affected the direction of the program.
Fortunately, New York City has a flourishing system of communal gardens along with school gardens. The course also tapped into other urban gardens and food-related associations like The Park Slope Food Coop, of which Jennifer and Pieranna are both members. Pieranna and Jennifer are members.
Planting seeds for change
Raven, an undergraduate student who grew up on Coney Island, recalls a class in Community Roots class from Brazilian educator and theorist Paulo Freire‘s book Pedagogy for the Oppressed. Freire introduced a method of teaching known as problem-posing. Teachers and students learn and train together. The main subjects they study are themselves, one another, and the concepts and questions that shape their reality and their relationships.
Tomatoes and chard are being harvested in a garden. (Pieranna Pieroni) Author supplied
Pedagogy for the Oppressed caused Raven to think about the experiences she learned in high school. It was what Freire refers to as the model of education that is based on banking, which is a single-way method of learning that teaches knowledge into the student’s brain. Raven captioned her cartoon about her early high school experiences: