By Chloe Partlow
“[Do] you feel sovereign?” said Rashad Frazier in Camp Yoshi, a short film directed by Faith Briggs. Frazier is the co-founder of Camp Yoshi, a collective that designs outdoor experiences to empower black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and their allies while they reconnect with wilderness.
As Frazier helped a small child, Zura, harvest a head of radicchio, Zura shied from the question. Being sovereign is hard to identify and achieve, especially when your head is two-thirds the size of your greens.
Sovereignty—more specifically, food sovereignty—was the night’s theme in The Athena Cinema, as Camp Yoshi was followed by Steven Alves’ Food for Change. Camp Yoshi focuses on the healing power of food and the efforts of Rashad Frazier, his family and his team in making outdoor experiences more accessible for BIPOC and their allies. In Food for Change, the audience is introduced to the co-op movement in the United States, cycling in and out of prominence with the country’s beginning, the Great Depression, World War II and other major economic shifts. Food co-ops are presented as a means of change at the community level.
“It’s really easy to get this mindset of ‘oh my gosh, everything sucks. There’s no way out,’” said discussion panelist MacKenzie Kay, a Cutler Scholar and undergraduate community and public health major at Ohio University. “You can talk and talk and talk about the problems and the factors that go into those problems, but it’s really refreshing to see an actual solution that works pretty much all the way around once you get that support.”
Food co-ops are, at their core, grocery stores owned by community members, typically with an organizing body that is chosen by the community of producers and consumers. Co-ops put an emphasis on local produce and organic goods, building relationships with local farmers to benefit as many people as possible in the market.
Alongside Kay, the panel included Layla Walter, also a Cutler Scholar majoring in anthropology at Ohio University; Kyle Butler, the university’s Sustainable Living Hub coordinator; Reggie Morrow, Community Food Initiatives’ program manager for Donation Station; and Theresa Moran, who established the university’s interdisciplinary food studies program and established the Farm to OHIO Working Group with SugarBush Funding, Rural Action and Community Food Initiatives.
Athens lacks true co-ops, but is home to a variety of devoted organizations, community groups, farmers markets and businesses that prioritize local produce, all compiled in the program for the night’s events. Morrow offers an overview of Community Food Initiatives’ programs, including their Veggie Van, Discovery Kitchen, and Sprouts School Garden program.
“We [Community Food Initiatives] have put… $80,000 every year back into the community through these procurements,” said Morrow. “We try to shoot for over 100,000 pounds of donated food every year. And so it’s a constant goal that we’re always trying to reach.”
For many, the typically higher prices of organic goods can deter them from smaller grocers or co-ops.
“The prices of food at Walmart and Kroger do not reflect the living wage for a small farmer. And the consequence of paying that low price for food is wrecking our environment, as well as supporting types of food that does not help us nutritionally,” said Moran. “We have to think about, what are the externalities of buying chard at Kroger, what are you not paying for? And how is that being wrecked upon us?”
On the Athens campus, Ohio University’s 2021 Sustainability and Climate Action Plan sees the university choosing to purchase more local food and helping students to be more mindful of their food choices and sustainable options.
And for students interested in making changes in the university’s plans and operations, Butler suggests finding a specific goal, building a community and planning out actionable steps.
“Just raise a stink to get your voice out there,” said Butler, “Have a rally on campus, out on College Green… have a social media campaign.”