When eating the fruit, remember who planted the tree – meet Chika Kondo, Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools
Ăn quả nhớ kẻ trồng cây
cuando comes fruta, recuerda quien planto el árbol
when eating fruit, remember who planted the tree.
This is a Vietnamese proverb that we all say together to start every food justice collective meeting.
Before I was born, my grandparents lived in the home my parents reside in now. While they lived in California, my grandpa grew all kinds of fruits and vegetables: peaches, grapes, nectarines, green onions, bonsai trees, and a plethora of other edible things. I can’t remember eating all those yummy things but what I do recall is my parents slowly cutting down vines, trees, flowers, and bushes weekend by weekend because it was getting to be too overgrown and too many bees were swarming around all the young people my mom babysat for afterschool. I think it was also because our backyard didn’t fit in with the rest of my suburban neighborhood’s decor. Although my father continues to grow some things like Japanese eggplant and green onions for their miso soups, it will never be the kind luscious forest that my grandpa dedicated so much time and effort into. I never realized the importance of this small bit of my own history until I started to engage more with food justice and food sovereignty work.
It wasn’t until college that I became more aware about the importance of knowing where and how the food I ate came from. Before then, I always just tried to rush through school lunch so that I could avoid as much as possible all the comments and stares about the onigiris (Japanese rice balls) my mom packed me for the day. I started becoming involved in Berkeley’s Student Food Collective- a student run store on campus that sold local produce and alternatives to junk food. At the same I was also engaged in a students of color political coalition known as CalSERVE where I developed much of my analysis on race, class, and gender. It was the intersection of those two spheres that really catalyzed my interest in food racism and the food industrial complex and led me to write my senior thesis titled: The People’s Department vs. Last Plantation: an analysis of USDA’s discriminatory lending practices against minority farmers and its impact on the US food system. I never thought that particular year-long project would result in the organizing I do today with young people through the Food Justice Collective.
I moved to New Orleans 2 years ago to continue and extend the volunteer work I was doing while in school with Mack McClendon, a community leader and organizer in the Lower 9th Ward. He and I dedicated a lot of thought and effort into building solutions around the lack of food security in the neighborhood. Out of the 10 businesses that exist in the Lower 9th Ward, 7 of them are corner stores that do not supply any produce. I helped him to build gardens and start up a community market with local farmers and other prepared foods vendors. While Mack is not with us here any longer, he taught me a great deal in relationship building and community led and driven solutions.
Today I coordinate the Food Justice Collective, a collaborative pilot program between Rethink Kids New Orleans and VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative where young leaders use food as a way to uncover and reveal the real issues of white supremacy and racism that are at the root of why our people don’t have access to food nor the ability to own and control our own food systems. Our group is multi-racial (Black, Latin@, and Vietnamese) and multi-lingual (Vietnamese, Spanish, and English) and spans an age range of 13-23 years old. We focus on intersecting histories of oppression in relationship to land and ownership of food systems. We are aiming to build bridges of understanding of past experiences (i.e. intersecting the narrative of Black sharecroppers to migrant farm workers from the Bracero program to the narrative of Vietnamese refugees who retained their agricultural wisdom to build their own modes of survival) that influence our present situation in relation to food. In addition to uncovering untold histories through reflective dialogue and intergenerational dialogue with different elders and youth, the Food Justice Collective voted to operate as a farmers’ cooperative where they invested ½ of their stipend into the farm to purchase their own seeds and equipment to plant, grow, harvest, and distribute to local restaurants, cooperatives, and farmers’ markets through VEGGI’s networks.
The Food Justice Collective has helped me connect back to my own roots and history and really appreciate the agricultural knowledge embedded in my ancestry and to my grandpa who was growing his own food, but also inspired my continued organizing efforts to build alternative systems and combat the food system we face today that is killing people of color- particularly youth of color in New Orleans. Here is our platform on food justice:
Racism and corporate greed coming from big agriculture (ie Monsanto) and junk food companies are shortening the lives of young people especially youth of color. As a result of malnourishing school meals, food deserts, and lack of access to own our food systems, we don’t see culturally competent food, real food, nor fresh or healthy food in our diets.
- we want access to fresh, healthy, culturally reflective food in every community.
- we want gardens in every school and community run by community members that grows food that reflects the cultures we come from.