Youth for Healthy Schools

Returning to our Roots: Rethinkers explore history, food, and racial justice


Last week, the Detroit Food Policy Council graciously invited our Food Justice Collective from Rethink Kids New Orleans to key note speak at their conference. Juan Fortanel proudly repped our collective (a multi-racial (Black, Latin@, and Vietnamese) group of youth farmers and organizers studying how history, racism, and economics impacts our food system). He shared with the people of Detroit his own personal roots where his parents were migrant orange pickers and distributors in Florida and connected his own history to why it’s important to know the true history of your people. When the history of people of color is constantly re-written in text books and even erased, you are not able to truly sustain yourself because if you don’t know your roots then you can’t truly understand how you got to where you are and why. The Food Justice Collective uses history as a way to understand how racism and food are connected and why we choose to build our own food systems via cooperative economics to really feed our families, communities, and schools.

Juan ended his speech with “Why should orange pickers get exploited and kept in poverty but grocery store chains and executives make a killing off sales? Or why don’t farm workers get to own the land that they work on even though they have the most knowledge on how plants and crops grows? These are the kinds of questions we must start dealing with, if we are ever going to move towards justice being served. This is the kind of reclaim/redefine and rebuilding work I am invested in and what our group from New Orleans wants to share and build together with you all up here in Detroit. Imagine if each neighborhood suffering from food deserts and food racism had dope groups of young people working with their elders, schools, and community members to turn blighted land into farms and gardens that actually fed us real and fresh food- then WE WOULD be the ones in control of our own health and wealth for our families and communities!”

Juan and I met some amazing organizers in Detroit and thank all of them: Boggs Center, Earthworks, Uprooting Racism Planting Justice, Detroit Food Policy Council, and Freedom Growers for connecting and building with us. Detroit and New Orleans share similar struggles especially around food, land, education, and gentrification and we hope to continue to build and be in solidarity with another. At the conference they announced their recent report from the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative that stated “The city’s food system including supply from local farms and market gardens, processing, distribution and market demand currently produces $3.6 billion in revenue and directly employs more than 36,000 people.” Detroiters believe in their local food system as a system that works for people and not profits. We as the Food Justice Collective are working to create similar local systems so that the young people and the people of New Orleans will be able access to fresh, healthy, culturally reflective food in every neighborhood and have gardens in every school and community run by community embers that grows food that reflects the cultures we come from.


“We’re the leaders we’ve been waiting for” – Grace Lee Boggs

-Article written by Chika Kondo, FCYO fellow: Rethink Kids New Orleans Schools

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