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.

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