Urban Farming for Social Impact
Josephine Chu is the Programs and Operations Manager at Common Good City Farm. She manages the distribution of the farm’s produce through the Farm Stand and organizes the Seed-to-Table workshops and Community Events. As a graduate from American University’s MA program in Global Environmental Politics, she became very involved in DC’s food justice work. She co-founded Zenful Bites, a women-of-color owned social enterprise that provides plant-based eco-catering services and food education programming to foster a sustainable and fair food system in the DC metro region.
We asked Josephine some questions about her organization…
Common Good City Farm focuses on educating members of the community about food through farming, what do you think creates the connection between farming and learning?
We use the farm space as the demonstration site where students can come to the farm, learn about the different growth techniques, and see what is happening. We are a production farm, but we’re able to open it up so students can learn from there.
How do you think teaching community members about sustainable farming will impact their future and their relationship with food?
We’re hoping that can expand their knowledge of different food items that can be grown and eaten, making the connections between what we eat and our health and connect us to larger systematic issues, the issues with our current food system and how that’s having issues not only on our own health, but the larger society as a whole. Using food essentially as a medium to think through these larger issues that are connected around issues of social justice, for example, food and farm workers and labor rights, or the use in many conventional agriculture systems of pesticides, and how that has impacted waterways and drinking water are some examples.
Do you think there is a necessity for more farms around urban areas? And if so, why?
There’s definitely a need for that. People are really craving, especially in this pandemic, a connection to the natural world to be able to have that connection and get their hands in the dirt and really reconnect and at the same time, see where their food is growing, where it’s coming from, and understand the food cycle. It’s really important to share those skills to build resiliency and build skills among people as we work towards sustainability. Farms very much serve as a place that can be very soothing, allowing for spaciousness for people to really slow down. As well as, of course, serving as the direct connection to the source of growing produce, to connecting people with their food. Especially during the pandemic the need for more resilient food systems is made clearer than ever. Urban farms can play one part in that solution to making our food systems more resilient by helping to source fresh produce for people. In light of COVID-19, people might avoid or reduce trips to the grocery store, and the supply chains are stressed due to workers processing food or farm workers getting sick.
What sustainable agricultural practices do you think should be taught to everyone in the country?
I think what would be great for everyone to learn is just to have a deeper understanding of our current food system in the United States, how food is currently produced, where it’s grown, and how does it then get from the farm and all the way to your table. Essentially, what does that process look like? Unfortunately, a lot of kids these days don’t have a clear understanding of where their food is coming from. They understand, “Oh, this came from the grocery store.” Yes, and where does it come from beyond the grocery store? Let’s expand that knowledge about where produce is coming from, what’s involved in growing produce, how climate change will impact our ability to grow, and what we should be doing to adjust that.
Has Common Goods been affected by COVID-19, negatively? Or has there ever been a silver lining?
We’ve definitely been affected by COVID-19. We’ve had to, for the most part, shut down the majority of our programming on the farm. So, prior to COVID-19, we would host youth programming on the farm weekly on Wednesday and Sunday afternoon, monthly community events on the farm, volunteer workdays, city farmers to volunteer in their farm. We would host pretty large groups and have a lot of visitors come to the farm. However, in-person activities were not possible this year. We moved some of the program workshops to virtual platforms, such as our youth program for children. We continued to do summer workshops around herbalism and teach people how to use herbs through a virtual platform. Unfortunately, a lot of the programming is more challenging to move virtually. So, that’s definitely been a challenge.
However, because of COVID-19 there’s been a great increase in need for people to access fresh produce, especially for people that are senior citizens, immunocompromised, or face other health risks going to a grocery store. The number of people who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 has increased the demand for food as well. So, we transitioned our farm market to be a weekly produce giveaway on Wednesday afternoons and distribute produce free to anyone in need, as well as offering options. We also worked with DC Greens and DC Health to run a Produce Plus Direct site outside the farm to distribute produce to people and also deliver produce to those that need delivery.
COVID-19 has horribly affected those who are not able to get fresh produce and groceries, what shifts have you seen since the beginning of the pandemic with Common Goods city farm?
In previous years, we would have had a more traditional Farm Market with all the produce out on display, and people would come and select what produce they want, but because of COVID-19, we needed to maintain physical distance and keep the time that people are at the market to a minimum. What we did instead was have all the produce pre-boxed and people would grab a box and go. So, one of the biggest shifts was returning to more of a pre box model, instead of people selecting their produce. Also, adding on delivery for those that are senior citizens, immunocompromised or for some other reasons are not able to come out to the farm, and making sure they can get their produce delivery.
As the program director at Common Good City Farm, what is your favorite program and why?
Pre-COVID, I loved our community events, it was a great way to get community members together and get them to enjoy food. Usually, for example, we would have community events once a month. April would be when we host our spring kickoff with kids’ activities, cookouts with lots of food, and farm tours. It was a great way to get people on the farm and get to know each other. Now we are working to identify different ways to continue to build that community even when we can’t always get together in person. I think this year, the produce giveaway has been really important to connect the community and provide that critical lifeline of providing food.
What concerns you most about the world today and what brings you hope?
There’s definitely unfortunately a lot of different things that are concerning in the world today. Namely, climate change is a major one, and how that’s affecting how livable our communities are going to be now and the next 10, 20, 30 years. We’re going be impacted by increasing temperatures and increasing rain. We are already seeing that impact on our farms in the area, for example, just two years ago and even last year, as well, we recorded some of the heaviest rainfall we’ve ever seen and that dramatically impacted crop production. Another concern is ensuring that our voting rights continue to be protected and safeguarded. There are many other concerns, but these are some that come to mind at the moment.
What gives me hope is all the people in social justice movements across the country and across the world that are working to create a more just world.
To learn more about Common Good City Farm visit https://www.commongoodcityfarm.org/