A new dawning of kid-led activism is upon us, with tweens and teens taking up the charge against climate inaction (Greta Thunberg, Our Children’s Trust), lax gun laws (the Parkland students) and all varieties of discrimination. American kids these days are also working at the forefront of the food justice movement, seeking to close the gap on access to healthy, affordable food in a country with a stagnant 12 percent rate of food insecurity.
Members from one such group, New York–based Teens for Food Justice (TFFJ), recently conducted an audit of bodegas and grocery stores in so-called food deserts in the Bronx and Brooklyn. The goal: to tally the fresh, healthy food offered for sale. The conclusion: There was very little—and it was usually squirreled away at the back of a store and sold at a premium; processed food, soda and beer, unsurprisingly, predominated.
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The 25 TFFJ students, from Brownsville Collaborative Middle School (BCMS) and the Urban Assembly Unison School (both in Brooklyn) and DeWitt Clinton High School (in the Bronx), presented their findings earlier this month to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. They hoped to convince him of the need to direct more resources toward low-cost good-food initiatives.
“I stand with [the students] in their efforts and I am working to redirect public health funds to improve the availability and affordability of fresher and healthier food across the borough,” Adams said in a released statement.
Launched in 2013, TFFJ currently operates in these three public schools; it will expand to another three next year. While advocacy is a large part of its focus and is embedded in its curriculum, the organization has another, more immediate mission, which is to supply produce to the cafeterias in the schools it serves. To accomplish this, TFFJ runs hydroponic farms—one in each school. Participating students help to raise lettuces, cucumbers and other salad-worthy vegetables. All tolled, the three farms produce 75,000 pounds of produce a year.
“The volume of the produce we generate is very large, because we’re trying to change the nature of what’s served in the cafeterias and what’s available in these communities,” says TFFJ co-founder Katherine Soll. Toward the latter goal, TFFJ will begin distributing its school-grown produce, CSA-style, from two of its school sites beginning this month. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to engage with our [local community members] about how good our produce is,” Soll says.
Twelve-year-old BCMS sixth grader Rose Quigley, who started participating in TFFJ last fall, has found the experience of learning about food justice eye opening. “I’ve started to notice that there’s lots of junk food places around my neighborhood in Brooklyn, every place you look,” she says. “It makes me feel like I want to go around putting up flyers for food justice, to get the word out about eating healthy.” Her greatest takeaway so far, though, has been about lettuce: “I never knew how many things I could do with just lettuce!”
Unless otherwise noted all photos are courtesy of Facebook/Teens for Food Justice.