2012’s been quite a year!  Perhaps most notably, this is the first year since the founding of the U.S. that 'babies of color' outnumbered White babies.  
But it’s no joke that half of those babies will develop diabetes.  That they have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.    That the diet-related diseases among young people of color are both a symptom of and a contributor to a broken
economy: one that values profit more than the lives of people or the planet.

The mainstream media will tell you it's their poor food choices.  It will tell you that all teenagers care about is the newest video game and and Justin Bieber.  
It will tell you that teenagers are lazy, violent, selfish, ignorant.

We know that this isn’t true.  We see their promise every day, and we’re inspired.

Thousands of young people are stepping into their power, transforming local food systems at school, on urban farms, and in their own kitchens. 

  • Matt learned about nutrition because his Mom got sick; now he’s a leader with Philadelphia’s Urban Nutrition Initiative.
  • Salvador started cooking for his siblings after his parents got deported; now he runs EAT GRUB with Oakland’s Planting Justice.
  • Celeste joined Bring Healthy Back in February, to give up junk food for one month. She kept at it, and today, she's cooking healthy meals for her family.
These young people and their peers are courageous, compassionate, and committed.  They are leading their communities today, and they are our hope for a resilient, just, vibrant future.

We believe in them, and we need you to believe in us.  At Live Real, we're dreaming up new programs to lift up their leadership, to help build their power, to make sure their voices are heard:  
  • training for Real Food Ninjas to understand the political economy of food, and organize their own communities for real change
  • Youth Media Crew who use art, culture, and new media to tell their own stories and engage their peers in change
  • policy campaigns that demonstrate our collective power and transform our lives for now and for generations to come.
Please join us, and help make our dreams come true.    

Live Real for Life! 

Navina Khanna
tw: @liverealnoworg

Thank you for following and contributing to Courtney Oats, her family, and her community of social change agents in Eupora, Mississippi.  A community of 35 people across the country helped raise $1140 in the last two months to pay a lawyer and fine.  With your help, she is starting nursing school at a local college, growing winter greens with her community, and continuing to fight for justice.

A note of thanks from Courtney:

"I would like to thank you for your support and generosity.  Thank you for caring for someone who's faced racism and discrimination and trying to do something positive for their community and youth.

I think it was something great and positive to be able to tell my story and know that I'm not alone.  You heard my cry.  I'm very grateful that you were able to give out of your pocket and support young people whose lives are being suppressed.  I'm glad to come to that part of my life where I can teach younger youth how to grow food and eat well.  I will always be grateful.

It means a lot to me that I can continue to organize and work with the next generation.  For me to be able to do what I do, organizing, especially with youth, it's a gift.  I appreciate the support that you've given me.  I'm so grateful to continue working with youth and the [Real Food] fellows."

Again, we thank you.  Please continue following the stories of the Real Food Fellows and act on the Bring Healthy Back and Farm Bill campaigns.

Day 5.

The final day of my trip, we go to meet the congressmen (or their representatives) in Des Moines.  I am actually very taken by the fact that they would meet with us.  They talk about very good ideas and seem to be very in tune with what we are talking about.  They inform us that the Farm Bill will probably be extended for another couple years under the current bill’s provisions.  I can’t shake the feeling that his like for small farming, organic food and sustainable agriculture, is for gaining votes and support.  The vision that he provides of the huge farmer’s market in the main area on the weekends seems to be like it could be the coming tide or is it just trophy to put on the wall?  His comment of “We’re not attracting the good type of immigrants……” disturbs me.  Who are the good types of immigrants?  Obviously not the ones who are pushed off of their land……..Let’s just say that my feelings of government, politicians and politics have not changed, but rather been reinforced.

Day 4.

We now find ourselves in Iowa.  We have driven through millions of acres of corn and soy beans.  The rolling hills all begin to look the same.  We meet up with a group known as the Immigrant Allies.  They inform us that the majority of the people working at the meat packing plant are all from the same town in Michoacán, Mexico.  There are now more people from this community living in this US city than back in their hometown.  They tried to start a community garden for the immigrant community, but the anglos of the community were angered that they would help immigrants instead of them.  They’re always good enough to pick or get their food to the supermarket and their plate, but not to reap benefits of the US society.  I think about all the millions of acres of subsidized corn and its consequent displacement of the people of Mexico.  For a people whose diet revolves around corn, NAFTA is a death sentence.  These people to be displaced from their land because of US policy, them pulled to this area to work the meat packing industry, and then persecuted in the US and raided by ICE, only to be jailed and then deported back to Mexico.  Does this piss anyone else off!  I want to take all anti-immigrant people and run them through this infuriating roller coaster!

We meet with a small organic farmer in the heart of the commodity farming.  Although his training was in the industrial monoculture farming, he has switched over to organic diversity farming.  However, being in the heart of this, he was hit by a crop dusting of pesticide, making all his produce unsellable.  Although it was an accident, it makes you wonder what type of warfare the other side could wage.

Engaging in conversation with one of the riders, it appears that 4-H and FFA are looked down upon, as they are seen as the pushers of industrial farming.  These two organizations are the main forces of youth interaction revolving around agriculture in my community and thousands of others in the US.  Our way of life is looked down upon by the greater society as a whole, so to have the liberal movements look down upon as well, is angering quite honestly.  It has always been angering to have liberal hippie types, who have now come into this way of life, not because they had to, but because they have enough money to live that way, look down upon us and feel the need to “educate the stupid country folk.”  It’s always these people, wrapped in their privilege, who are in the spotlight, given grants, and praised for their way of life.  How about us country folk who lived that way of life, not because it was cool, but because we had to in order to survive?  The bottom line, is that I would rather take a hard working country person to lead the change, than a privileged liberal virus character, because that’s where the change needs to be.

I will agree that there are a certain number of people in FFA that will go onto the big industrial way of farming.  However, there are many out there, like the farmer in Iowa and my cousin, who will take their training and convert it into a better way of farming.  To dismiss youth organizations such as this because of their past history or what some associated with the organizations may be doing is very ignorant.  What should be highlighted is the extreme potential that we have to work with youth who are open to a world of thoughts and ideas.  That is the path I followed in 4-H and the reason that I will help out the youth of my own community.

Before dinner, we get to interact with youth in the community who are engaged in growing food and food justice issues.  They are a definitely hip group that will go onto do a great many things in the future.  The only thing I can’t shake is what I feel to be the marginalization of the one Mexican boy in the group.  Is it a microcosm of the community at large or our society at whole?  Will he continue on with the group and become part of this knit of youth?  Will more Mexican youth join the group?  Will it become a place of integration so that they can work together towards common problems?

I loved the idea of having a community garden for the immigrant population.  Being displaced from your homeland and not having the food you are used to, makes living dull and sad at times.  Having the connection to your food brings to life your culture and your people.  I gave them my Mexican pumpkin seeds and my chiltepines with the hope that they will do just that.

Day 3.

Ioway Reservation

At lunch, we meet with some of the Ioway elders and youth.  One of the elders only speaks to his grandson in their native tongue.  He is conveying their language and culture to him at this young age, so that his people will live on.  I speak with this Ioway elder.  He speaks of his travels to Guatemala.  He speaks of the genocide of the indigenous people of Guatemala and the oppression and killing of people of indigenous blood in the current era, which his people endured long ago.  He speaks of a visit to a military complex years ago, when he saw Spanish speaking people being trained.  It wasn’t until he went to Guatemala, that he realized they were being trained by the U.S. to be Death Squads.  We must stop the death and oppression of our government, both in our own country and abroad.

As we drive around the reservation, we see lots of fields sown in corn.  Even though the land is of the Ioway, it is leased out to others to grow corn.  In an area where the land could feed the people, it is instead leased out to commodity growers.  What’s more, no one is sure who is leasing the land.  We visit the Pow Wow area.  Two of the younger Ioway sing some of their songs to us.  It is a beautiful display of their people.

We come to a look out to see the devastation of the floods.  We see that the floods have literally put thousands of acres of farm land under water.  What are these farmers to do?  How it that parts of our country is being flooded with an excess of water, while others like me in Arizona haven’t had rain in a year?  Our world is experiencing extremes on both ends.  How is it that people can’t see that Mother Earth is furious with us?  Why can’t they see that our current world and way of living is destroying Mother Earth.  It appears that we’ll all ride the roller coaster to hell before we open our eyes to see.

Day 2.

The Robert J. Dole Institute for Politics

            I’m not sure what I think about this.  I think that it is very cool that we are able to come to such a mainstream building at a big university, but I’m not exactly sure what our aim was coming here.  The crowd who has come appears to be a very liberal one that is already at the same place we are.  The one man tells us that “you are preaching to the choir,” and wants to know what adversity we are facing and what real change we are doing.  I want to ask him the same question because it appears that the choir that is attending mass with us is of an upper echelon as it is.  Where are the real people?  I want to hear the stories of the real local people there and what they are doing.

            I talk with a guy who is farming with his wife.  It is very inspiring to see a young couple working the land.  He tells me a story of when they were working for a farmer elsewhere.  He said that they were growing tons of food to sell, but eating Ramen noodles for dinner because they had no time.  They thought it was a terrible contradiction, but now that they are farming their own land, they are in the same boat.  I’ve heard same stories of people who are new to farming saying they can’t do it alone.  Maybe they can’t.  How is it that my family and thousands of others across the nation did it all their lives and never complained?

            The medicine lady brings up a great point that medicinal plants and herbs are directly connected to growing food and living off the land.  The integration of the both into our lives would take our health to a great place.

Haskell Indian Nations University

I have heard of this place before.  It makes me angry and sad that the U.S. government could force people away from their homes to destroy their language, culture and values, to make them American.  The stories of those who tried to runaway and died are haunting.  As we walk around the marshes, I think about all the spirits present with us and what they’re trying to tell us.  In the cross in the middle of the marsh, I see the representation of the Southwest Native Americans.  I think of my own people.  It is said that the Mexica, the Aztec people, left the Seven Caves of Creation, which is said to be somewhere in the American Southwest, for their new homeland of Tenochtitlan, where the Eagle would be perched on the cactus with a snake grasped in its talons.  Why is it as Mexican people, we overlook our own indigenism.  It is seen as backwards and not respected.

            I think of my own indigenism.  I know that I have Aztec blood on my mom’s side.  I wish I knew more about my dad’s side.  Although they do not know or claim not to, their appearance maintains the story of their indigenous roots.  I however, bear the light skin of the one who raped my ancestors.  I was once told by one of my “liberal virus classmates,” one especially privileged ones who thinks themselves more enlightened than everyone else, that it would be offensive to people of indigenous blood to say that I too was indigenous.  Meeting with another indigenous person, who is proud of her roots, despite her light skin, gives me courage.  I will never again be swayed by the oppressor of who I am.

Day 1.

Touchdown in St. Louis.  I am rushed with a feeling of joy and comfort as I see my comrades pulling up in the van.  It’s great to reconnect with this group of people.  Although we are from different parts of the country and from diverse backgrounds, I feel a very strong connection to these people.  I am glad to be with this group and find strength with my brothers and sisters.

On our ride leaving the downtown area, I am taken by the amount of billboards ads paid for by Monsanto.  I had never seen one before in my life.

As we pulled up to the Monsanto Headquarters, I guess I expected some kind of welcoming entrance that might have hours where one might tour the place, much like an amusement park.  As we come to a stop at the entrance and start to make our way out of the van, I am mesmerized that two security guards are already there, followed by a police car, seconds later.  As we pull out our banner, incense and seeds, more security and police cars arrive.  I wonder what have we done and why would they call out such an arsenal for a little group such as ourselves.  I wonder what kind of connections or pull they have that the cops would show up in less time that they would for a murder in the downtown.  What are they hiding?  They don’t even know us or who we are, but are seconds away from trying to arrest us.  What are they afraid of?

I wonder what the cops are thinking.  Are they Monsanto’s private little force, assigned for their personal protection?  Are they the Pinkerton’s of old?  I think of Monsanto’s lobbying power.  All that power that they have in politics and now I see their real power in the form of police power.  As we gather together in a circle, I feel that we have formed a force field.  In this area, together as one, we are strong.

I have faced intimidation before.  I have been arrested before.  With my brothers and sisters I feel strong and know that together we will hold the circle or go down together.  Whenever I find myself in a situation like this, I am reminded of the words of one of my spiritual mothers, “If you follow the truth and are persecuted because of it, you will know that you’re on the right path.

The response of the police officer who says he understands our plight is somewhat reassuring.  His humanity shows through his Pinkerton’s clothes.  But when that day comes, will he stand with us, or put me on my knees, yank my arms behind my back and tighten the handcuffs until they nearly cut off the circulation to my hands?

Today I will not be arrested.  This giant evil enemy has acknowledged us, blown steam down out through its nostrils to try and scare us off.  Now I know its power and what we are up against. We must prepare ourselves.  We will have our dance in the future.  Stay tuned.

By Adrien Salazar
The Food and Freedom Riders support the United Farm Workers. Photo by Hai Vo.

A month ago I wouldn’t have considered the work that I was doing any way historic. I had a limited knowledge of the way food and agriculture worked in America. Since then I have come to know the thunder rolling across the fields, through farms, and to our dinner tables, and I have come to know my part in it.

I became a Food and Freedom Rider on August 29, 2011. The Food and Freedom Rides were a journey in the legacy of the Freedom Rides of the civil rights movement.

Through my work at Green for All in Oakland, I connected with Navina Khanna from Live Real, organizer of the rides. A collaboration between Live Real and Rooted in Community — two groups working to build a just and sustainable food system in America — the Food and Freedom Rides sought to expose the harsh realities of America’s food system while highlighting community solutions to reclaim food and health.

The rides swept through Birmingham, Alabama, up through the midwest to Detroit, Michigan. The California leg of the rides started in San Diego and rode through the Central Valley, ending in Oakland.

The Food and Freedom Riders interviewed organic farmers, farm workers, youth, and community workers along the road to document stories of resilience.
I joined the rides in Fresno and immediately felt swept in the whirlwind. In my first day I met an enthusiastic organic raw milk dairy farmer, a raw food enthusiast who also was a family-farm owner in the Fresno countryside, and the California Secretary of Agriculture.

In this series of posts, I will document stories of the people I met and the realities I witnessed. Throughout the rides I saw the squalor and injustice of a broken food system. Yet I also met people fighting to transform that system into one that prioritizes the well-being of people and the environment. I saw that we — the youth, the new farmers, the organizers and entrepreneurs — are at the forefront of this transformation.

I too am a part of this history. I am working to build a more just and sustainable planet. It is part of the reason this blog exists. It is why I am doing the work I do now with my hands in the earth. Together we are pushing food and agriculture to be the source of life, health, and community abundance it can be. The next agrarian revolution is here. It is us.

My name is Adrien Salazar. I am a Food and Freedom Rider. And these are our stories.

A view from inside the Food and Freedom Ride.
This blog post is cross-posted from Adrien's blog and the Green for All blog.
You might have already heard that one of our Food & Freedom Riders & Real Food Fellows, Courtney Oats of Eupora, Mississippi, faced an arrest that almost prevented her from joining us on the first Food & Freedom Ride. If not, you can read more about her case here.

In Eupora, the court-appointed public defender is deeply entrenched in county politics, so Courtney sought outside counsel to fight multiple trump charges.  So far, she’s been unable to find a pro-bono attorney. Her court date is set for this Tuesday, September 27th.

We have been working hard with her to find a lawyer in the area, but Courtney cannot afford to pay for one. 

  We're trying to raise an additional $850 to secure a lawyer for her case.

Will you take a simple action to ensure Courtney has a fair trial, and a real chance at defending herself?

  These charges, and this trial, are just one example of dangerous and disrespectful harassment in Webster County, Mississippi. Courtney and her family are trying to do good for their community. Don't our taxpayer-funded police have something better to do than harass community activists?  Courtney and her family want to see a different culture of cooperation and caring for neighbors. They shouldn't be punished for this. 

  We can show Webster County police and the town of Eupora that the Oats are not alone, and they can't be harassed anymore.

  Donate here to Courtney's Legal Defense Fund.

Any amount you can give is deeply appreciated. And look out for more updates after the hearing on September 27th.

  Thank you for your support, that comes in so many ways.
   Anim, Navina, Hai, Sam, and the rest of the Live Real Team
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.