[Raleigh, NC – July 29, 2020] — Youth from across North Carolina and food and climate justice leaders from across the nation gathered virtually last week for the Food Youth Initiative Summer Gathering. During the week, youth explored how they are impacted by climate change, their role in their local food system, how our current food system contributes to food and climate injustice, and opportunities to re-envision the food system in response to climate change.

Participants included youth from the following organizations: A Better Chance, A Better Community (ABC2) (Halifax County), Growing Change (Scotland, Hoke, and Robeson counties), Highland Cultivators (Gaston County), Poder Juvenil Campesino (PJC) of NC Field (Lenoir and Duplin counties), Pupusas for Education and SEEDS (Durham County), Transplanting Traditions Community Farm (Orange County), and Youth Ambassadors of Men and Women United for Youth and Families (Columbus County).

The event opened with a keynote by Travis McKenzie, a Food Justice Organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project (S.W.O.P.) with Project Feed The Hood and a member of the Rooted in Community Network. Facilitators during the week included Jodi Lasseter, Founder & Co-Convener of the NC Climate Justice Collective, Bevelyn Ukah and Daniel Holloman of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS). Guest facilitators from across the nation included Jayeesha Dutta, a co-founding member of Another Gulf Is Possible Collaborative, Wanda Stewart, owner of Obsidian Farm in Berkeley, CA and Executive Director of Common Vision, Will ‘See’ Copeland, the Coordinator of the Community Care Circle Program for Detroit Disability Power, and Abbey Piner and Gini Knight of Community Food Strategies.

Speakers shared about the impacts of climate disaster on food systems as well as how food justice can be part of a “just recovery” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Youth also had the chance to share their work, for example, how Growing Change is transforming prison cells into compost heaps and how youth from SEEDS, Youth Ambassadors, and ABC2 are forming youth-led food councils.

Towards the end of the week, youth learned tools for action and social change, including the 4-Rs of social transformation – Reform, Resist, Reimagine, Recreate – developed by Jodi Lasseter. With these tools, youth were encouraged to share their visions for creating change in their local food system. The Food Youth Initiative developed a Toolkit with additional resources to support continued youth engagement in climate, food, and environmental justice.

FYI youth speak at multiple conferences every year to share their work with adult and youth food system stakeholders and are also introduced to opportunities for working in sustainable food systems. Following the Gathering, participating youth will have the opportunity to apply for the Food Youth Initiative Fellowship.

As Noran Sanford, the Founder of Growing Change, encouraged participating youth, “You are NOT the leaders of tomorrow, you are leaders of TODAY.”

Interested in getting involved or supporting this work? Contact Bevelyn Ukah, bevelyn_ukah@ncsu.edu

About the Food Youth Initiative

The Food Youth Initiative (FYI) is an initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) with support from a number of community partners. FYI youth are a collective of youth representatives (high school, continuing GED and recent grads) and their youth organizers from groups across the state who are already working towards some aspect of food justice in their own communities. FYI youth envision and support the advancement of a just food system. Learn more: cefs.ncsu.edu/youth/food-youth-initiative