An important aspect of Food Warriors, a program of Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, is to de-stigmatize the relationship between African Americans and agriculture, which is often viewed through a lens of oppression. As the program teaches young people about healthy food and gardening, it’s also helping to reframe agriculture as a tool of self-determination.
Michigan Nightlight: Tell us briefly about your program in terms of it purpose and who it serves.
Detroit Black Community Food Security Network Education & Outreach Director Hanifa Adjuman
: The Food Warriors program teaches young people about food, where it comes from, and how to grow it. Participants are taught the importance of eating healthy foods in order to maintain health and well-being. Our program serves youth from the ages of 3-18. We have afterschool programs in two Detroit schools, a Saturday Community Food Warriors program, and a preschool program. Last summer we operated a 12-week summer program at Starr Commonwealth, a social services agency that works with young people who have encountered some life challenges.
What really differentiates this program?
Another key to the success of our program is that they also learn – and I think that this is the most important of all – that agriculture is our legacy and that there is dignity and pride in being connected to the land.
The Food Warriors program is “rooted” in the 7 Principles of the Nguzo Saba. The Nguzo Saba is a set of values that speak to the importance of the maintenance and strengthening of family, community, and culture from an African-centered paradigm. Those values are centered on the “we” and not the “me.” This simply means that Food Warriors learn from the beginning that everything, from the building of the raised beds, to the decision making about what to plant in the garden, to the harvesting and preparation of the produce, is inextricably linked to the health and well-being of the community in which they are a part.
What are the keys to success for your program?
I would say that the keys to success are that our children begin to develop a sense of agency because they learn that food is a human right for everyone and not a privilege for an advantaged few. They begin to develop an understanding of how they can be empowered to change circumstances, one garden at a time. And, they learn practical skills that instill in them a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Another key to the success of our program is that they also learn – and I think that this is the most important of all – that agriculture is our legacy and that there is dignity and pride in being connected to the land. One of the truths that I always impart to our youth is that, “One of the reasons our ancestors were enslaved was Not because of their ignorance, but because of their genius of agriculture” and that we stand on the shoulders of greatness. Changing the narrative of agriculture and allowing them to see it as an asset is extremely empowering. Food is life and a people who cannot feed themselves will have their lives forever in peril.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
The two major challenges are getting more adults and older youth involved in urban gardening and farming as a viable means of access to healthy food as well as a means of entrepreneurial opportunities, and, having the resources to expand Food Warriors to the numerous entities who have expressed interest in our program.
Continued outreach to parents, working with older youth, and having them to serve as peer educators to the younger ones are the main strategies that we use to encourage more participation. We’re still working on program expansion. One way to
...the children are making an impact on family decisions around food and parents are learning how to prepare foods in a more nutritious and wholesome way.
expand the program is to work with entities that have funding in place and we simply provide the programming. Unfortunately, that scenario is generally the exception, not the rule. So we are working on developing strategies, which include identifying and training young people who are interested in the work to be able to implement the programming, and to do that we need funding. But again, because working in agriculture is viewed as demeaning work, before we can expand we must rewrite the narrative of African Americans and agriculture. Not an easy task, but one we must undertake nevertheless.
How does working with youth around food and nutrition help create a stronger food system in Detroit?
By giving youth the tools to make positive choices around food certainly impacts the food system in a positive way because the more school, home, and community gardens, the greater the nutritional outcomes of youth, families, and community. But it’s not just the gardens, it’s learning how to make sound food choices even if you have to shop at the corner party store. After a recent lesson on the importance of eating whole grains as opposed to “enriched,” the following week one of my second graders excitedly told me that instead of “white rice” they had had brown rice for dinner. So the children are making an impact on family decisions around food and parents are learning how to prepare foods in a more nutritious and wholesome way.