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.

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 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!!
Written by Hnin Hnin, Youth Programs Coordinator at Slow Food USA

It’s not your ordinary summer road trip. 13 young leaders. 8 states. 2000 miles.  A journey to expose the injustices in the food system “from the ‘hood to the heartland”.
Tipping their hats to the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement, a group of inspired young leaders who call themselves theFood & Freedom Riders will carry forward the struggle for justice. Their task is to uncover the stories of farmers, workers, and communities who are working to change the food system that denies them justice. Their goal is to weave together a movement of people from diverse backgrounds—to learn from the past and find the food movement’s own place in history.

According to Navina Khanna from Live Real, the organization behind the wheels, the Food & Freedom Rides are taking place at an important moment in time:

Right now, over 50 million Americans face food hardship, and today’s youth are the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents—because of the food they eat.  We want to show that real food is a real solution—for economic revitalization, personal and public health, and the environment.

The Rides are timely for another reason: the 2012 renewal of the omnibus $300 billion Food and Farm Bill. Crucially, this legislation:
Influencing change in the Food and Farm Bill to support real food and real people will be a worthwhile harvest for the food movement and the Riders are out to plant the seeds of that change.

In the lead up to the Food & Farm Bill debates on Capitol Hill, the road trippers will be engaging youth and communities in creating a Food & Farm Bill platform, developing curriculum to share with educators, and documenting their travels on film.

They’re revved up and ready to go. The first ride, from August 7-18, will begin at Birmingham, Alabama—a turning point of the historical 1961 Freedom Rides. It will end in Detroit, Michigan—a beacon for the future of America’s food: . The second ride, from August 26-September 2, will travel through California, the nation’s salad bowl. You can follow the Riders on twitter @liverealnoworg or on their daily blog by sending an email to

For the 13 young leaders, Live Real, and the movement for food justice, it’s a road trip to be remembered.

Cross-posted at Slow Food USA’s blog.