Youth Resisting Food Apartheid: Mutual Aid & Community Care
This summer, 11 high school youth living in Camden County – predominantly in Camden City and the adjacent Pennsauken Township – are graduating from our 6-week intensive Resilient Roots Food Justice summer internship.
They spent their first two weeks learning about the root cause of food injustice and other social issues in Camden County, which they themselves have witnessed and survived. Students studied their people’s food and cultural history, learning about the extent of colonization and capitalism and how it underpins the inequity that leads to conditions of food apartheid in Camden: histories of redlining, white flight, labor exploitation, deindustrialization, privatization, police brutality. Students gained a framework for understanding why their own community’s health is so frequently and severely affected by food racism and segregation, and what alternatives are to the existing systems.
Not only did students engage in political education, they also did hands on work to sustain the community through our existing mutual aid program. Students learned the basics of urban farming, such as how to maintain the land with weeding/watering/landscaping and harvesting food for our neighbors. They also practiced community outreach and engagement, doing mutual aid food bag deliveries and check ins for their three weeks of hands on learning (aka “rotations”). Students also practiced cooking as a form of cultural resilience, sharing recipes and stories from their family members and cooking those same recipes for one another. They will cook these nourishing, cultural family recipes to share out as mutual aid to the broader Camden community and neighbors at a food stall during our annual Harvest Block Party in September that is being hosted at the farm!
Through our ongoing mutual aid work, we have been able to strengthen and deepen relationships with various community members. The majority of the folks we are supporting through our mutual aid food bags are working class, urban poor East Camden residents who do not have regular access to fresh cultural vegetables. Out of the 20 people who have registered with us over the course of the growing season, 9 have sustained a strong relationship with us. 4 of these folks offered their time to reciprocate and support our Resilient Roots program through student-led community interviews, in which they provided insights about the injustices they face while living in Camden: anti-Black racism, lack of language access, xenophobia/ discrimination against immigrants and undocumented people, gender oppression, lack of healthcare, food scarcity, and general disinvestment in Camden. They also talked about strengths: equanimity amongst residents of color, acceptance of LGBTQ communities, desire to support other people when in need, desire to come together to fight for themselves, desire to give what they can even if they don’t have much, desire for education around these complex issues.
Throughout the course of this summer we have learned much about the opportunities to grow a local food movement in Camden, and support our community’s wellness as folks gather on the land and commune over soil. We will culminate the end of summer and our interns’ graduation at our Block Party, and continue our mutual aid food bag program through the rest of the growing season into October.
About the Grantee
VietLead is a grassroots organization that strives to improve health, increase sovereignty, and develop Vietnamese leadership in solidarity through intergenerational farming; youth leadership; health navigation; policy advocacy; and civic engagement. Our Food Sovereignty and community garden program was built from seeing how food is an important part of how refugees practice self-determination.