Deeper Roots

It’s good to talk about the problem of food access and race, but even better when you can do something about it, firsthand. A diverse group of 16 college students recently got the chance to do both during a six-week internship called the “Food & Leadership Fellowship.”

The program was co-founded by Urban Roots—which teaches high school students about growing food on its 3.5 acres and empowers them to become leaders—and Food for Black Thought, a food-justice education initiative. Ian Hunter-Crawford, the programs and operations director at Urban Roots, says the partnership has been a chance for the nonprofit to expand its pool of talent and bring in people from different walks of life. “This gives us more room for new voices,” he says.

Paid through a city grant, the program employed interns from Austin Community College, The University of Texas (UT) and other schools to mentor younger students on the Urban Roots farm from mid-October through late November. Meanwhile, they explored food-justice issues in workshops based on the course “Exploring Food and Urban Change” that Food for Black Thought co-founders Dr. Naya Armendarez Jones and Dr. Kevin Thomas teach at UT. Workshop themes included “How Food Injustice Happens” and “The Austin Food Landscape.” “We focused more on what it means to farm this land in East Austin as well as on what reflective, anti-racist leadership looks like when it comes to food work,” says Jones, an Urban Roots alumna. 

Thomas says the program has been a chance to “engage, inform and imagine” with the next generation of food visionaries, a sentiment Hunter-Crawford shares. “Every time we sat down with these students, they brought a really fresh perspective that helped us think about the work we’re doing in a different way,” he says.

One of the interns, Malcom Harvin-Conner, a recent Southwestern University graduate, says he applied for the program to learn how teaching people to farm can create better access to sustainable food in low-income neighborhoods. “After having been given this opportunity,” he says, “I’ve found this whole new world of both activism and education that I thoroughly enjoy, and I’m incredibly excited to try and delve deeper and see where it takes me.”

Urban Roots has hired six of the interns to come back to the farm this spring and summer to mentor the next crop of high school students, who tend to respond well to supervision from people closer to their own age. “I’m hopeful that this group will be inspired by this experience and move on to engage with this work in a lot of different ways,” says Hunter-Crawford. “Who knows what will emerge?”

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By Steve Wilson