Growing up, my family moved a lot, and I have strong food memories associated with each place we lived. I was born in Buffalo, where I loved going with my mother to our neighborhood butcher. When we moved to Rhode Island, my mother immediately found a pick-your-own farm where we could get fresh corn and strawberries in the summer. As a high school student on the south side of Chicago, I would join my mother for the 10-mile trek to the north side farmers’ market to stock up on weekly groceries. My mother taught me to value good food and that the best tasting food was seasonal and produced nearby. My mother also hosted numerous gatherings for family and friends that always included delicious food, and through that, I learned how cooking and eating food together grows community.
My mother taught me to value good food and that the best tasting food was seasonal and produced nearby.
As an urban studies major at Vassar College, I took numerous classes on the disconnect between urban residents and the environment. I started working at an urban farm, where I could focus on building connections between urban residents and our food system. I fell in love with growing food. I experienced the power that taking control of food production could have for communities in urban areas: people who didn’t live near grocery stores could produce their own collard greens; refugees who couldn’t find food from their culture in the United States could grow it themselves; children were excited to try spinach when they had been the ones to plant the seeds.
After several years growing food in Boston, I wanted to expand to thinking about farmers who were left out of the local food movement — so I became a fair trade banana importer! In my work at Equal Exchange, we partnered with small-scale producers in Peru and Ecuador to offer consumers an ethical and environmental banana option. While bananas are so different from the fruits and vegetables we grow in the United States, the issues that banana farmers face are very similar to the issues farmers face here. Today’s global economy is characterized by corporate control and consolidation, climate change, and consumer demand for cheap food, which make it difficult for farmers to survive.
I am very passionate about the work being done at Farm Aid to help farmers move from barely surviving to thriving. In my role as the Farm Advocate, I hear from farmers everyday about the challenges they’re facing. The conversations can be sobering, but they are also the motivation to mobilize farmers and other food systems activists to build a more just and sustainable food system in the United States and abroad.
Jennie is Farm Aid’s Farm Advocate. Learn more about our hotline for family farmers.