The following testimony was one of many from youth present at the Farm Bill Listening Session hosted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture at the Fresno County Farm Bureau.

My name is Carmina Gomez and I am a Food and Freedom Rider from East Los Angeles. I am a recent graduate from USC and I am currently working for a non-profit, called Alliance for a Better doing health policy. We are trying to increase physical activity and healthy food access in low income communities in Los Angeles.

I grew up in a community with a high-density of fast-food restaurants, in an area with more convenience and liquor stores than supermarkets, and witnessed the rise of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure rates, especially among the youth. 

Over the summer as a McNair Scholar, I conducted my own research on farmers' markets in South Los Angeles and their effect on fruit and vegetable intake. My key findings show that families feel farmers' markets are helping them increase their fruit and vegetable intake and their children enjoy the rich, sweet fruit and eat more fruits and vegetables. Families understand why prices are so high at farmers' markets, but wish they had more help to purchase at farmers' markets more often and would like farmers' markets to be open more than once a week. For this reason, an increase on food stamps and WIC vouchers that could be used for fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets is a key gateway to help low-income communities have a healthier diet and increase their fruit and vegetable intake.

As an advocate for healthy food access in low-income communities, I dream that communities like the one I grew up in have access to rich, fresh, and healthy food to nourish our bodies. I want more resources like subsidies to fund farmers' markets, restaurants, and supermarkets, and schools in low-income communities to help them provide affordable fruits and vegetables and live, real food so that families like mine can access quality, healthy food. 

Thank you for your time.

By Maya Salsedo
    Today was an inspiring and moving day. We had an emotional start at the border of San Diego and Tijuana. From there we drove up to south LA to meet our friends at the Social Justice Learning Institute. When I learned we were headed to an ‘institute’ I imagined an overly air conditioned building with minimal windows and bleak colors. Upon arriving I was surprised to find that the Social Justice Learning Institute was a half-acre community garden. At the Social Justice Institute we met seventeen year old TK who told us about what he is up to, down in Inglewood.  The garden grew out of a program for Black young men who as TK put it “Are stereotyped negatively.” The program has empowered young Black men to change the way their communities see them. These student then passed on the gift by engaging Latino youth, Asian youth and girls in community building programs.

    Last year was a very important year for TK and his peers, Tk told us, “There was an incident involving Black and Brown students.” TK feared this would alter the already fragile relations between Black and Brown students. So these youth decided to take action, they held dialogues where students could address each other and these issues respectfully. What a crazy idea! ;)

    After sharing with the group that his program was gearing-up to plant 100 new gardens in their community, we told TK about the Youth Food Bill of Rights and Rooted in Community. TK was excited to feel like part of a national movement and decided to sign the Youth Food Bill of Rights. He said he had been to conferences before but “I hope I can come out in the winter” for the Rooted in Community Leadership Summit. As we prepared to hit the road again, TK invited us to pick some tomatoes and sent us off with hugs! It was great to meet such an articulate and powerful young man who draws his strength from making a difference in his community.

    So, back into the Food and Freedom van we climbed on this shockingly hot day in LA our destination-Community Services Unlimited (CSU). CSU began as a program of the Black Panther Party in LA around the same time the original Freedom Rides took place. We arrived at their Mini Urban Farm an oasis in a concrete jungle dwarfed by the USC  coliseum. We were greeted by CSU Staff and youth who told us and other community members about the work they do and opportunities they offer. CSU Director Neelam Sharma described a workshop she facilitates which gives youth a chance to draw connections between their diet and behavior. Lawrence DeFreitas, a staff member at CSU told us all about how youth’s personal goals for health and wellness are directly tied to the goals for health and wellness of the community. Lawrence noted that when youth draw connections like this, they are more self determined and community minded.

    To end our afternoon at the CSU Mini Farm we toured their garden and sipped beautiful teas made from herbs on their site. The most outstanding part of the tour was, by far, the Banana trees they have that were just dripping with fruit. Bananas weren’t the only exciting bit of their farm they had everything from eggplant to native strawberries, cheremoya to zucchini and Zapotec heirloom tomatoes. Their herb garden was bountiful as well; I got to smell and taste things I had never heard of before like pineapple mint, cinnamon basil, all spice and curry leaf! CSU isn’t only growing food, they are growing their community and many up-and-coming leaders in the Food Justice movement.

    Our busy day ended with a beautiful dinner cooked by our dear friend Ozomatli, he prepared for us special Tamales from Michoacan. They were amazing, we may be on a tight schedule as Food and Freedom Riders but we certainly can make a little time for a home cooked meal and wonderful company.
Maya Salsedo
18 Santa Cruz/Oakland, CA
Rooted in Community
Live Real
by Kay Cuajunco

It’s the first day of the California leg of the Food and Freedom Ride and I feel so inspired and humbled to be on this ride with such amazing people committed to food and freedom. I also feel especially thankful for the opportunity to visit my hometown of San Diego through new eyes since becoming immersed in the movement for food justice.

I have a lot of friends and family I grew up with in San Diego who tend to associate healthy, organic food with the Bay Area -- some of them tease me, some of them still don’t quite get it, but I’m glad most of them will at least hear me out. Sometimes I say it’s as if I lead somewhat of a double life, torn between two communities, but after today, I’m beginning to see two worlds converging. San Diego is down with food justice -- there is SO much going on! 

Today we joined a food justice bike tour organized by Food and Water Watch with stops at farmers markets and community gardens around the city. My favorite site we visited was the campus garden at San Diego City College, a large well-maintained garden on a slope overlooking Downtown San Diego. In Oakland, I help coordinate the “Scraps to Soil” composting project at Laney College with Bay Localize. I think it’s so awesome that at community colleges, where most students only attend part-time and for a few years before moving on to a university, that the students truly are still building community through these spectacular gardens.

Returning to San Diego today has made me think a lot about the idea of transience. I love avocados, but when I think about planting an avocado tree in my yard, the first thought that crosses my mind is if I’ll even be living in my house long enough to enjoy the avocados. But I’ve realized that’s actually kind of selfish, isn’t it? Why not grow any and all trees for any and all to enjoy, now or years from now? The campus gardens springing up at community college campuses show us that people are transcending transience because they care about providing local, healthy food to as many people as possible.

In a lot of ways I’ve adopted the Bay Area as my home, partly because I’ve grown a lot in my time since moving there, but also because I felt really disconnected from a lot of people in San Diego. After spending the day here, I hope to rekindle the love for my roots down here and stay connected to allies working for food justice in San Diego.
By Navina Khanna

The area of India that I’m from has a train called the cancer train – its the train that takes people to the nearest cancer hospital. In Punjab, farmers’ cancer rates have skyrocketed from the pesticides and herbicides that they’ve been forced to use on their crops.  The chemicals are killing us - over the last decade, more than 250,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide, due to debt that they owe chemical companies.

All this because of the so-called Green Revolution, when scientists, 50 years ago, tried to “save" Indians from famine with new hybridized seed technology that required intensive chemical inputs.  They started out giving the farmers seed and chemicals free or low-cost; costs rose while yields plateaued and eventually plummeted due to soil erosion.  Now those farmers are killing themselves – often with the very chemicals they are indebted for. 

The chemicals that are used to boost productivity – and kill plants and insects  - are left over, revamped from World War II.  The same companies that created and profited from war chemicals, are profiting from the war on farmers, indigenous peoples, eaters, and the planet.

Last night, we met Steve, a southern Illinois seed-saver who risks freedom and financial stability every day to continue doing what he knows is right:  helping farmers save their seed, to replant and regenerate next years’ crop.  A year ago, agents broke into his truck and stole his client list.  He’s received multiple threats, and has seen fellow seed-savers’ bank accounts frozen for the same thing.  When Steve drives his seed-saving machine (which he invented) he proudly flies a Jolly Roger flag.  We laugh about that, but the irony is that Steve isn’t “pirating” anything – he’s tending a cycle of life.  Monsanto, and companies like Monsanto, who are trying to steal our livelihoods, and pillage the earth with their products, are the true pirates.

Monsanto, with its partner the Gates Foundation, is now declaring a new Green Revolution in Africa.  They’re suggesting that their biotechnology seeds and chemical advances will help end famine on the continent.  Having talked to farmers and villagers in India whose families are still suffering the impacts of the Green Revolution that was supposed to “save” India, I can only imagine the devastating impacts that threaten Africa with this new Green Revolution.

Today, we visited Monsanto’s headquarters right outside of St. Louis, MO.  I started to unpack my cloth, seeds, and sage, and within seconds, a security car arrived.   Ignoring this, I continued preparations for a sacred seed ceremony.  Most of the group attended to security while three of us began to place our saved seeds on the cloth in front of the Monsanto sign.  As I prepared to light the sage, four backup cars arrived and we were told that if we didn’t leave the property, we would be arrested.  We moved to the highway shoulder; I set up for ceremony between our van and a police car.  We encircled the seeds, singing, smudging, speaking.

They who control our seeds control our lives. Until we have seed sovereignty, and food sovereignty, none of us is free.

My prayer was for the people who work for Monsanto – that they might understand the repercussions of their work on the world – people and our planet.  My gratitude was for the earth, who continues to sustain us, despite this rape and pillage. My respect to warriors like Steve, who are actively facing threats from Monsanto, but fight every day for what they know is right.

            The cops encircled us, filming and trying to distract us from our circle, but the group held strong.  We closed with a song from our political ancestors, first sung to us by the Children’s Crusaders at our kickoff in Alabama, and by SNCC member at our first Farm Bill workshop in Mississippi.  We brought it to Missouri:

            Ain’t gonna let Monsanto
            Turn me ‘round, turn me ‘round, turn me ‘round
            I’m gonna keep on walking, keep on talking
            Marching on to Freedomland

As we sealed our ceremony, and the 13 of us loaded back into the van, one of the cops approached us.  Anim rolled down his window and the cop spoke, “I just want you to know that I understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.   I can’t always say what I want to say.”

For me, today, that was enough.

Live Real exists to unite people who are on the frontlines of our food system.  Today, in so many ways, I’ve been reminded that we are doing just that.  Together, we are finding freedom by building power based in love and respect – for ourselves, each other, and for our earth. 

Chat between #foodandfreedom riders Vanessa Bourgeios (V) & Hai Vo (H)

V: hi hai vo

H: hey v. so how're you feelin' after our first 1st f&fr day in bessemer/birmingham alabama?V: I am feeling energized & even more fully prepared for the days ahead. Birmingham is a really amazing city filled with passion & integrity. I'm grateful for our time here.

H: this morning, i'm bringing with me the words and wisdom of the reverend we met at kyoka's local church, hopewell baptist church. it was really cool starting off our journey being blessed by him and his congegration.
  what's one favorite moment you had yesterday?

V: That congregation was amazing. It was really great to have a positive experience in the church as, so often in our lives today Christians get a bad rap for being intolerant & ill informed about real issues. It was really great to see a church so in touch with their community's needs.

One of my favorite moments was meeting with some of the foot soldiers from the 60's civil rights movement here in Birmingham. Their encouragement to us & passion for change was really encouraging.

H: i'm also bringing with me the words of the four amazing children's crusaders that we met at the civil rights institute. my favorite was one of them sharing with us, "We started feeling the power of an idea whose time had come." gah, they were so young. 10, 11, 12 year olds. also i remember them sharing, "the civil rights movement would have ended if not for the childrens crusade." (!) makes me feel pumped about our time as young people. like i have no hesitation. bravery. courage. all with honesty and truth.
  i know! why do they get such a bad rap?

V: I know, they were all so vibrant in their own way. It was one of those "goosebump" moments. realizing we can do anything.

H: that congregation showed me, and i know a lot of us, that there are solid folks out there.
  tell me the story again about one of the young boys you met during the food tasting.
  that was dope.

V: I was just reading an article about the reputation of Christians in today's society. And, a lot of it comes from the fact that the only media coverage many Christians get is of very outrageous preachers doing not so nice things.
  Oh! yeah! So, yesterday I gave a short cooking demonstration. Mostly to high school age boys. I was teaching how to make a healthy pickled veggie mix & also a healthy snack.
  I really didn't expect them to be that engaged in a cooking lecture but they were awesome. When I closed & asked if anyone had questions one boy immediately asked "When can we taste it??"
  It was really amazing to see them not only interested but also coming back for seconds!

H: :)
  it was cool to see you be open with them.
  the group was primarily african american.
  and them to be open with you.

V: Definitely. They were great.

H: how did you feel about that?
  having the food context made me feel comfortable. like we can bring anyone to the table with food and talk about it.
  i had some interesting conversations with folks there, including the childrens crusaders, about food justice.
  they wanted to learn about it.
  one of them said, "i'm here to learn from you. what makes you work for food justice."
  it made me feel alive, liberated, surprised that some of the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement wanted to learn about me, us, and the food movement.

V: Food is such a common denominator. There isn't anyone in the world who doesn't eat
  All cultures use food as a way to socialize & come together so I feel like its an easy platform to reach others.

H: whats your hope for today?

V: To carry the energy & positivity from yesterday into today and arrive in Mississippi with a lot of hope for Courtney & her family.

H: i had a hard time initially getting to sleep last night. thinking about the needs and strength of the rest of the world. thinking about where the food justice will go. thinking about and really starting feeling like this is bigger than me. feeling nervous that i don't have the full support of my parents. they had another dream for me here - a steady job, education, marriage, etc. so far, i've been assured that making sure everyone has basic needs, staying true prevails.
  had to write a little bit.
  you fell right asleep! shoot.

V: Haha yes, yes I did. I knew I would feel better & more clear headed today if I just slept.
  I certainly understand what you are saying about the "American Dream" and the pressure you might feel from others to conform. But, I fully support that feeding people in a way that honors their body & honors those growing the food is the most important way we can take care of each other & the earth.

H: word.
  ok. gotta clean up b4 we roll to europa.
  make sure to bring your frozen ice water!

V: yes!

Day 1's Pictures | Pictures of our ride so far (via Flickr)
Twitter @liverealnoworg #foodandfreedom
Dear Friends and Cohorts,

We are happy to announce that the groundbreaking event in Eupora, Mississippi was a success. The Food and Freedom Riders helped to plant raised beds and increase food access in a community that really needed it.

We were concerned that the harassment Courtney Oats faced on Friday may become a problem again today, however the garden has been planted and seeds of change sown!

Courtney Oats' arraignment is tomorrow, then we will have a better understanding of the charges and next steps. We ask that you all stay tuned, as we know an injustice to one is an injustice to us all. Courtney still faces hurdles, but just as the Freedom Riders helped her plant the garden, we recognize our support can make a difference.

With Passion and Excitement,
The Food and Freedom Riders, Navina, Maya, Sam, Hai, Lloyd, Anim and the Live Real Team
Written by Anim Steel

When we took the Freedom Rides as an inspiration, we didn’t actually expect to be confronted with racist southern police. 

Our journey, the Food and Freedom Ride, is about honoring our heroes while also drawing attention to an urgent issue for our generation.

On Friday, one of our members was arrested on a charge of  “disturbing the peace” in her hometown of Eupora, Mississippi--before she could even join us.  The arrest appears to have been triggered by the flyers she hung up around town announcing both our arrival and a ground-breaking ceremony for a community garden.  She was arrested at the home where her 14-year-old sister was having a birthday party.

Courtney Oats comes from a family of community organizers that has been harassed by the police before. Her great-aunt was Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Party.  The garden was envisioned as a place of physical and racial healing.  

She's out of jail now, and we are on our way to meet her.  We're going to go ahead with the ground-breaking ceremony.  Courtney has told us how much she wants to do positive things in her community.     

But Courtney and her family are in a precarious situation.  She says that visibility would help protect them.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, and we're still getting all the facts.  I’m more familiar with the long shadow of racism than its bright light.  I do know I—all of us—want to support Courtney as much as possible.  And it makes me more determined to keep finding people who are doing hopeful things in the face of hardships.

This is the second day of our Food & Freedom Ride. I'm one of 12 people--mostly twenty-somethings from low-income communities--traveling overland from Birmingham to Detroit to highlight the ongoing crisis of food deserts and other inequities in our food system.  

We’re also building bridges.  We'll be having a dialogue with farmers in Iowa, visiting a chicken-processing plant in Illinois, and everywhere raising awareness about the upcoming Farm Bill. 

Our journey began with a service yesterday at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Bessemer, Alabama. Later, at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, we met with four of the individuals who, as children in 1963, faced down Bull Connor’s dogs and hoses.

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” said Gwendolyn Appling, one of the ‘Children Crusaders.’

As someone whose life was almost 100% shaped by what the Civil Rights movement achieved, I won’t soon forget the moment.

Kyoka’s 8-year old son, Keylen, was standing next to me.  Kyoka is a Rider, a Real Food Fellow, and our host in Alabama.  

“Are you going to cry?” he asked, in front of everyone. Keylen is as sweet and charming and funny.  We're going to edit a video clip called "Cooking with Keylen" that we shot earlier at the church.  “It’s OK. You’re gonna cry when we get home.”

As of now, home is an 10 interesting days away.  If you want to stay in touch, you can follow our journey at:

Twitter: @liverealnoworg #foodandfreedom

Thanks so much for your help on the Do Something Awards!!
By Roy Frias, Food & Freedom Rider
  Fact: all trekkers of of the human race have a genetic predisposition to ambition.
    As you digest that Snapple fact, think back to all the peoples who migrated to new places in history.  The Israelites that fled the slavery of the Egyptians were ambitious.    The Black Americans that moved from the south to the north during the Great Migration were ambitious.  And the Freedom Riders that left their homes to ride buses and participate in sit-ins were indeed ambitious.
    The different accounts of people in history being ambitious all had something else in common.  They were working for justice.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed an idea that justice works towards correcting that which works against love.  Justice is adaptable. The terms that constitute justice are constantly being defined.  The Freedom Riders left on those Greyhound buses seeking justice.  Are you ambitious enough to seek justice?
    The Food and Freedom Riders share the same thing as the great trekkers of the world: we are ambitious enough to try to change our food system.  America is deteriorating.  Believe it,  look at the increase in rates of different cancers, heart disease, and hypertension.
    There are people around the country who are looking to change our food system.  Those modern day heroes are the champions of the Food and Freedom Rides of 2011.  These ambitious people believe in the stories they were told about Civil Rights Movement.  So as we start this journey we hope to show that we are as ambitious as a Freedom Rider. We ride for Food and Freedom.