Nardal Stroud, how do you come to this work? What are you doing to address the question of food justice?
Food justice and knowledge of home grown foods are important to me. I've worked on a 3.5 mile stretch of Plymouth Avenue from the Mississippi River Road Parkway to the Wirth Parkway creating as many small sustainable gardens as possible. I put in over two-hundred hours a year to make sure our young people look at urban farming as a gateway for entrepreneurship.
I teach gardening, recognition of weeds, keeping living areas clean. I teach entrepreneurship, financial stability and how to become independent and create a job in their own neighborhood. I continue to do this work because I believe in our children.
What's your background? Where are you from?
I was born and raised in North Minneapolis. Everybody laughs at me because I was born into a very large family of thirteen. I was the youngest girl and out of all of us I'm the only one that stayed in North Minneapolis. At one time I did think I needed to get out of here, but at the same time something said this is your home. And I always wanted to be home and I always wanted to be around my home. So I stayed. I stayed and I fought and I became an entrepreneur myself. I've ran my own business for thirty-five years.
What was the business?
I owned Scene by Scene, a dry-cleaning store. And being a single mother, it was very hard. Shortly after my mother died I had to close that store due to lack of support. But I didn't give up. I continued to work. I continued to find prosperity. I continued to believe in the children.
My mother and father were very great people. My mother was a homemaker and entrepreneur as well. My father was a truck driver. He is the son of two farmers. They came from Mississippi and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, then to Minnesota.
LaDonna you've worked in the agriculture and food policy area. How do these personal stories end up influencing policy? How should we organize our minds and our families and communities so that our experience and our needs end up directing food policy for the community, for the nation, and ultimately for the planet?
Well you know the personal is political. I mean we do not live in bubbles and in this country, public policy has impacted our lives tremendously. Many times we don't really feel like we can or should have a role. But I come to my work through personal experience. It was trying to feed my son on the Westside of Chicago and not being able to find that food that I really needed for him to survive based on his food allergies, that pushed me into the work.
Looking around me, I realized that I might have all the resources in the world: I was married, I have a college education, I have a car, but my next door neighbor doesn't. My responsibility is to make sure not just that my family eats but that my community eats. So for me that personal story is what motivates me.
I do this work because I love my children. Of course I also love the children in the broader sense of the word. So I know that to whatever degree my family is sustainable, it will be depended upon the sustainability of my community. So these personal stories really are the way to connect to the public policy issues.
For example in many neighborhoods in the country, the lack of grocery stores or limited retail access to healthy food can help us understand how the food system is really off track. And it's not just off track in our community, it's off track in everybody's community. So if you're listening to this broadcast and you think that this is really not my problem because I can go to the Whole Foods or the Co-Op and get my food, no. This is your problem too, because we only have about a day of food in the entire food system. If the system does collapse, nobody is going to eat. Those people who have the least amount of resources are going to be impacted first. And usually that's our community, communities of color.
I garden at my home and I've been doing it for several years now. It's healing for me. It's enjoyable to walk out in the morning, decide what I'm going to have for breakfast, clip it, bring it in, wash it, prepare it and eat it. There's nothing like it in the world. it's important that people get back into gardening in spaces that we own or control.
No question about it. I mean I think it's even more necessary for our community. We were a very physical people as African American people.
My grandfather at one point owned a thousand acres in Wisconsin. They were immigrants from Iowa to this small place Spooner, Wisconsin. That's remarkable. And it's a remarkable testament to the courage, the strength, the intellect and the vision of us as individuals. Everything starts from vision. Without vision the people shall perish.
I contend that it's no accident that North Minneapolis has been economically deprived. That's by design. Now the solution lies in our hands, not only for our personal health, not just for the health of our own children, but our success going forward as a people. If we're going to survive we have to plant the seeds of change. We have change from being the consumers which we've been socially engineered to be.
We've been engineered to be consumers, but we become the prey. We have to change that dynamic and become the producers. And food is a simple place to start. Put some seeds in the ground and tend it with some tender loving care. I also say that if you don't know anything about husbandry then you can't know anything about humanity. We learn to become loving caring individuals by caring for God's creations, whether it's a pet, or planting a rose or a tomato that you've put in a pot in your window.
We have to reclaim everything that we want.
Nardal when you reach out to young people, what are you finding out? What kind of reactions are you getting? What's your vision for the future?
When I work with them, I see in their strength. I see a lot of sweat and tears creating smiles and hope and love for their community. It's changing them. Hard rough fathers become the soft gentle giants of a mother's hope. This work is creating strong young brothers who believe that they can have a job in the bank or that they can have that beautiful house on the hill or that they can have a healthy environment, community to live in. It doesn't matter about the despair. It matters more about the hope, the love and the smiles.
Michael, why it's important to connect our decisions to our economic and food interests.
We have to be critical thinkers. If we're not, it will lead to our own demise.