1 Agriculture and Human Values (2006) 23: Ó Springer 2006 DOI /s Learning democracy through food justice movements Charles Z. Levkoe Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada Accepted in revised form April 21, 2005 Abstract. Over time, the corporate food economy has led to the increased separation of people from the sources of their food and nutrition. This paper explores the opportunity for grassroots, food-based organizations, as part of larger food justice movements, to act as valuable sites for countering the tendency to identify and value a person only as a consumer and to serve as places for actively learning democratic citizenship. Using The Stop Community Food Centre s urban agriculture program as a case in point, the paper describes how participation can be a powerful site for transformative adult learning. Through participation in this Toronto-based, community organization, people were able to develop strong civic virtues and critical perspectives. These, in turn, allowed them to influence policy makers; to increase their level of political efficacy, knowledge, and skill; and to directly challenge anti-democratic forces of control. Key words: Canada, Community gardens, Democracy, Food justice, Grassroots organizations, Poverty, Social movements, Toronto, Transformative learning Charles Z. Levkoe recently earned a Master s degree from the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. His research interests focus on alternative responses to urban and rural food security issues and considers the role of grassroots organizations, their connection to place and their ability to organize across scales. He has been active in food security and community gardening movements across Canada. This paper was prepared for the 2004 joint meeting of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society. It was selected as the winner of the 2004 AFHVS Student Essay Contest. Introduction Food can be a powerful metaphor for the way we organize and relate to society. Beyond subsistence, food is a social and cultural expression of individuals. It acts as an entry point into larger debates and discourse around a multitude of issues. Through food we can better understand our histories, our cultures, and our shared future. Food connects us to ecological systems and can teach us about the world in which we live. We also use food as a way to get in touch with our deepest desires or to examine political and social relations within society. One of the most well-known examples of this type of analysis is George Ritzner s explanation of McDonaldization, a term he uses to describe a process of social rationalization modeled on the fast food restaurant (Ritzner, 1996). A major theme within the analysis of the global food system, along with the world it illuminates, is that our current course of progress and development is unsustainable and unjust. This stems from the increasing focus on people, not as citizens, but as consumers. The perspective of consumer implies an identity defined by a direct relationship with the market, one in which profit becomes the most important factor in economic, political, and social activity. This identity is with us from the first moments we encounter the world from entry into the school system to the daily media. In response, there are resistance movements being waged internationally by those who refuse to accept the commodification of human relationships. It is a struggle to build a viable alternative system outside the neo-liberal, capitalist marketplace and to reclaim the ethos of democracy. This food activism takes many forms and is manifested through a multitude of approaches. The term food justice movement has been used to represent the coming together of a wide range of activists, from farmers to eaters. They represent a diversified approach that brings together many critical issues in Canada and around the world with a focus on creating a just food system. In his work, Tim Lang (1996) outlines some of the founding ideologies of these movements: Consumers have rights which must be fought for rather than assumed Human and environmental health go hand in hand There is no such thing as an average consumer What matters is not just what is eaten, but how it is produced and distributed Policies can be changed for the better, but this requires imagination, coalitions, and focused effort.
2 90 Charles Z. Levkoe In this paper I will examine food justice movements as a valuable site for countering the identity of the person only as a consumer, and as a place for learning active democratic citizenship. Food offers a unique opportunity for learning because it has the power to galvanize people from diverse backgrounds and opinions. According to food policy analysts Welsh and MacRae, Food, like no other commodity, allows for a political reawakening, as it touches our lives in so many ways... from the intimacy of breastfeeding to discussions at the World Trade Organization (1998: 214). Participation in food justice movements encourages the development of strong civic virtues and critical perspectives along with the necessary experience for shaping policy makers decisions. Food justice activism has the ability to increase the confidence, political efficacy, knowledge, and skills of those involved. This has been evident in the case of The Stop Community Food Centre s (The Stop) Urban Agriculture program in Toronto, and shows how participation in food-based, grassroots organizations can foster transformative adult learning. Through the community garden at The Stop, participants have the potential to gain a better understanding of their role as an active citizen. Together they can understand the challenges that face their local communities and develop strategies for engagement. They are able to take responsibility for a number of tasks and follow them through while recognizing their rights within a larger system. By working together on a common vision, participants directly witness the strengthening of their community. Their commitment and ownership establishes a greater sense of control and power over their lives. Participants in the community garden also are partaking in a wider process, one that de-links their community from the corporate system by taking steps to build sustainable alternatives (Starr, 2000). By reclaiming public space and growing organic vegetables, they are breaking dependencies on systems of charity and the market economy by producing their own food. The garden also serves as a model for the community of what can be collectively accomplished and how people can reconnect to each other and the earth. In her work, Juliet Merrifield explains that although learning through doing seems to be the key root to active citizenship... there is little hard evidence (2001: 8). This paper provides evidence in the form of a case study and joins other works in the field of social movement learning by linking existing theory with grounded practice (see for example Eyerman, 1991; Buttel, 1997; Foley, 1999; Gottlieb, 2001). Thus, I emphasize that organizing in pursuit of food justice affects not simply practical experiences, such as growing foods and building shared community spaces, but also instills civic experiences that foster participation and leadership in wider social justice activities. This paper draws on my experience working with The Stop as researcher, volunteer, and staff member from December 2002 through June Evidence presented through this case study draws primarily on a participant observer methodology, along with archival materials such as program reports and evaluations. Food justice vs. food power One of the central struggles of food justice movements is to identify eaters primarily as citizens as opposed to consumers. This involves recognizing the current trends of the global food system and increasing corporate control. Graham Riches explains that the giants of the transnational corporate agriculture and food industry have taken over local control of the production and distribution of nutritious food, and their bottom line is profit, not nutritional value or the health of the community (1999b: 205). Relegating food solely to the whim of market forces directly threatens democracy, putting profits ahead of the people who are involved in its production, distribution, and consumption. Economic benefit takes precedence over people s need for survival. The corporate food economy has led to an increasing separation of people from the sources of their food and nutrition. In his work, Brewster Kneen (1993) describes this process as distancing the disempowering and deskilling of people from producing their own food and being able to eat well. Put simply, citizens are being transformed into consumers (and [by] the illusion of choice this entails) and are being increasingly disconnected from the sources of their food (Riches, 1999a: 208). For instance, in my experience working with urban children, many are shocked to discover that a carrot grows underground or that a hot dog comes from a living animal. Similarly, many adults increasingly prefer the ease and convenience of drive through fast food to taking the time to prepare and enjoy a healthy meal with friends and family (Schlosser, 2001). The market, once a place for interaction with those who produce our food, has been transformed into an anonymous super-market. Farm products are broken down and recombined into complex industrial foods different from anything that could be prepared in a kitchen. These foods are then patented and sold to us in packages by corporations. Contrary to corporate ideology, food is more than just another commodity and people are more then just consumers. Anthony Winson explains that people s relationship with food goes far beyond commodification: In the process of [consuming food and drink] we take them inside our very bodies, a fact that gives them special significance denied such externally
3 Learning democracy through food justice movements 91 consumed commodities as refrigerators, automobiles, house paint or television sets. Moreover, unlike many other goods that we produce and consume in capitalist society, food is an essential commodity: we literally cannot live without it (although this is not to say that all of the processed food products for sale today are essential) (1993: 4). As a growing force, food justice movements promote a strategy of food security where all people have access to adequate amounts of safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate food produced in an environmentally sustainable way and provided in a manner that promotes human dignity. 1 Various critical discourses have clashed attempting to understand this concept of food security and the ways it can be attained. The different discourses operate on different scales and have varied implications for activism. They also highlight many of the central debates within food justice movements. I will briefly examine three perspectives in order to set the context for discussing food justice activity and the nature of food systems work. The rights discourse is one perspective that has been used to profile the unattained human right to food in Canada (see Riches, 1999a, b). Advocates primarily use international agreements between nations constructed through state agencies, and apply them to a multitude of political scales from municipality to national government. Proponents of this discourse focus on the individual. They contend that every citizen should have a right to feed him or herself as an essential attribute of the social rights within a democracy. Through rights, food, which is not often considered controversial, becomes a profoundly political matter, one that enables questions to be raised around the equality and justice of its production, distribution, and consumption. Using a rights discourse calls for accountability and places a significant amount of responsibility on governments to protect its citizens against hunger. Human rights, although entrenched through international agreements, have little more than moral weight. Since there are no international enforcement mechanisms, they depend on local governments to support them through domestic law. The language of human rights, however, tends to focus on individual entitlement rather than on structural or political economic conditions. There is often little connection between hunger and poverty and other issues that contribute to food insecurity. Second, overcoming food insecurity necessitates addressing structural barriers. Since the beginning of the recession in the early 1980s, food banks have been the traditional response to feeding hungry Canadians. Those within the food bank movement, along with many food security proponents, attribute the rising need for food directly to increasing poverty. They attempt to use their very existence as a marker of the inability of governments to achieve social equality. This anti-poverty discourse has taken on many of the issues ignored by the human rights approach. Although there have been different ways of framing their interests, most agree that the definition of food security must go beyond simply guaranteeing access to food. By reframing hunger as an issue of poverty, it is argued that a strong social safety net and adequate income will enable marginalized people to make choices around the foods they purchase. Through these arguments, activists have attempted to frame issues of hunger as food poverty and to place them on municipal, provincial, and national agendas. Although the anti-poverty approach complements the use of a rights discourse, critics have shown that it can also be limiting. Looking at hunger solely from a perspective of poverty ignores the connection of food to the environment and the role that the global system as a whole plays in the production, distribution, and consumption of food. The discourse of Community Food Security (CFS) is a third perspective. It encompasses both previous discourses and aims to engage a broader perspective including sustainability and community building. CFS emphasizes building local capacities for food production and marketing, equity, social justice, and ecological sustainability. Its objectives include food systems that are decentralized and environmentally sound in the long-term. CFS also aims to be supportive of the needs of the whole community and to assure equitable food access created through democratic decision-making (Fisher, 1997). Unlike other approaches that focus their attention solely on governmental policy and regional or global change, CFS recognizes the importance of a strong safety net that can provide for those in need until conditions improve. Proponents work within smaller scales to build community and invest in projects that aim to create longterm self-sufficiency. CFS focuses primarily on neighborhoods and households and sees them as having the potential to initiate social change; at the same time, it recognizes the need for global coalitions. It draws upon both environmental sustainability and local economic development. Through these perspectives we can analyze the nature of the food system as an important indicator of the broader picture. According to Tim Lang, it is both a vignette and a microcosm of wider social realities (1999: 218). Through food justice movements, a vision of food democracy has been adopted which directly challenges anti-democratic forces of control, exploitation, and oppression. Food democracy refers to the idea of public decision-making and increased access and collective benefit from the food system as a whole. It implies a reconnection to the earth and the process of
4 92 Charles Z. Levkoe growing, preparing, and eating food. According to Neva Hassanein, At the core of food democracy is the idea that people can and should be actively participating in shaping the food system, rather then remaining passive spectators on the sidelines... [It is about] citizens having power to determine agro-food policies and practices locally, regionally, nationally and globally (2003: 79). The transition to a food democracy requires that people develop the knowledge and skills necessary to actively participate in society and to have an impact on different political levels. Food justice movements, utilizing local grassroots initiatives, have the ability to provide this opportunity. Through organizations, collective groups of citizens are able to work together to raise awareness, put pressure on governments, and build viable alternatives to the current system. In the remainder of this paper, I will focus on the case of The Stop Community Food Centre s Urban Agriculture program, a Toronto-based, grassroots, non-profit organization that combines dignified direct service with capacity building and sustainable community development. The Stop Community Food Centre The Stop Community Food Centre works primarily with vulnerable populations in the Davenport West region, one of the poorest areas in Toronto, Canada. Similar to areas in other large urban centers, neighborhood residents face inadequate employment, low incomes, language barriers, and high rates of school dropout. Over half of the unattached adults live below the poverty line compared to the citywide rate of 37% (Urban Development Services, City of Toronto, 2003). These factors are compounded by the fact that there are few services in the community to meet local needs. A 2004 survey of The Stop s Food Bank (Bain and Company, 2004) shows a 20% increase in use of The Stop over the previous year and that 50% of recipients go hungry at least a couple of days each week. Building on its strong history of community service, The Stop has grown to meet the needs of the existing community. The organization originally opened in the late 1970s, in St. Stephen-in-the-Fields Church in downtown Toronto, to work with people living on low incomes through the distribution of food. In 1985, once the food bank was well established, The Stop became involved with advocacy work by assisting people with landlord tenant disputes and welfare and unemployment problems. By 2000, programs had expanded to include a community kitchen and dining programs, a morning and afternoon drop-in, a peri-natal support program, and the Urban Agriculture program. Currently, The Stop Community Food Centre has two central interconnecting ideologies. The first is that confronting hunger must go beyond handing out food to people struggling on low incomes. The second is that food access and food security are basic human rights. In working to promote these ideas, The Stop s philosophy is reflected in its attempt to make food the focus of a larger project of a community center. By providing respectful emergency assistance through community development, social justice, and advocacy, The Stop is attempting to create a new model that takes a more holistic approach to issues surrounding hunger in all aspects of society. Operating within the discourse of Community Food Security (CFS), The Stop brings together many of the diverse perspectives in the food justice movement. In describing this approach, Nick Saul, The Stop s Executive Director, explains that (t)oday, The Stop truly is a community food centre, one that works on food access issues through a wide range of strategies direct programming, education and advocacy (Saul, 2001: 1). The new mission statement reflects these efforts, stating that The Stop strives to increase access to healthy food in a way that maintains dignity, builds community, and challenges inequality. In its work, The Stop recognizes the interdependence of people s access to food and the health of the environment. The Urban Agriculture program has been a way to accomplish many interlocking goals, including environmental protection and protection of native species, environmental and food-based education, urban food production, waste reduction, and the development of strong social networks in the community. The program began in 1998, when a district supervisor with Toronto Parks and Recreation approached the organization s executive director and proposed jointly running an organic community garden in Earlscourt Park. Seen as an opportunity to gain access to fresh and healthy produce and to increase the community development aspects of their mandate, The Stop took on responsibility for the project. In 1999, a permanent staff person was hired to coordinate the garden activities. Currently, the Stop maintains a number of community gardens in two main areas. The first area (in partnership with and located behind the Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre) is home to three smaller gardens: (1) a woodland teaching garden with plants native to the area; (2) a healing garden with medicinal herbs and flowers; and (3) a raised bed herb garden accessible to people with disabilities. The Stop also coordinates a wood-fired bake oven that was built in 2002 to enhance the public gathering space for both organizations. It is used primarily to facilitate weekly community pizza lunches. The second focus of the Urban Agriculture program is Earlscourt Park, home to the Earlscourt Garden, which is
5 Learning democracy through food justice movements 93 currently maintained jointly with Toronto Parks and Recreation and local schools. As the largest of the gardens, it is over 8000 ft. 2 and is run almost entirely by volunteers who contribute the majority of the produce to The Stop s food bank and community kitchens. In addition to increasing the amount of nutritious food available at the food bank, the Urban Agriculture program s main objectives are to teach the community about urban ecology and to provide an opportunity for community members from diverse backgrounds to work together. Not only does the garden serve as a model for how to reduce the amount of pesticides in soil and water, but it is also a magical green space in the center of downtown Toronto where people come to play, to rest, and to reflect. Learning democracy through food justice movements Education is a key tool in building and maintaining a strong democracy. Strong civic virtues (to be an active, informed, and critical community member) and the rights and responsibilities associated with the status of citizenship are two vital areas of learning. Juliet Merrifield (2001) outlines a scale of the different ways people learn democratic ideals and become active citizens. On the one hand, she discusses deep-rooted assumptions developed through socialization into political cultures through family and community. On the other, she examines formal, civic educational institutions that teach the knowledge, abilities, and dispositions of citizenship. In the middle and most pertinent to this study, she discusses the indirect learning that occurs through participation in groups. Although little study has been done in this area, many scholars have identified active participation in social movements as a necessary part of democratic learning. As emphasis is often placed on school and other formal institutions to teach civic responsibility, the role of informal learning through NGOs and community organizations has received limited attention in the literature on democratic citizenship. In his work, Daniel Schugurensky identifies the informal learning sector, together with the school, the family, media and community associations[,] as among the most powerful socialization agencies for the development of citizenship values and political competencies (2003a). According to Derek Heater, it is utterly artificial to treat the civic educative process as a school responsibility in isolation from the community at large and from the individual s experience as a citizen over his or her lifetime (1999: 172). Participation in social movements is a valuable way for citizens to learn about democracy through active participation. As opposed to simply studying civic activities, Schugurensky argues that one of the best ways to learn democracy is by doing it and one of the best ways to develop effective civic and political skills is by observing them in the real world and exercising them (2003a). Fred Rose (2000) views social movements as schools for democracy. In his work he engages discussion around social movements and suggests that, through participation, citizens have an opportunity to learn what they cannot understand from formal civics classes, television, or print media. According to Schugurensky (2003b), learning acquired through participation in democracy has an expansive effect. As people become more familiar with local democracy through their involvement, they become more interested and engaged in broader issues, which encourages them to work for the common good. Within social movements, learning is often incidental and informal, although many organizations increasingly include education and raising awareness as an important part of their work. Food justice movements are an example of this as organizations from diverse sectors come together to work for progressive social change. Learning from participation in food justice organizations can be organized into two broad and interconnecting categories: (1) individual learning, and (2) learning from the collective experience. In examining the intersection of individual and collective learning, I will draw upon the case of The Stop Community Food Centre s Urban Agriculture program. In my personal experience with the organization, its staff, and its community, I have witnessed how participants have gained increased knowledge, skill level, and a wider understanding of political issues. Individual learning through urban agriculture Individual learning through urban agriculture can happen in many ways, ranging from skill development to acquiring the knowledge and experience needed for democratic citizenship. By challenging the status quo and reframing the way we understand the current food system and new approaches to changing it, food justice movements present an opportunity for personal transformation. One way this is encouraged is through The Stop s focus on transformative or critical learning that extends the learner, [moving] her beyond her current understanding (Foley, 1999: 105). An example of this occurred during the summer of 2004 when Toronto Community Gardeners hosted the American Community Garden Association s 25th Anniversary Conference. Many of The Stop s Urban Agriculture volunteers worked with community groups from around the city to coordinate this massive endeavor. The theme Gardens of Diversity: Growing Across Cultures was chosen to reflect the multi-cultural nature
6 94 Charles Z. Levkoe of the city and the gardens within it. Stop volunteers had the opportunity to reflect on this theme for over a year leading up to the conference, and eventually to attend workshops with people from around the world. Workshops all focused on community gardening and were connected to broader social and political issues. As part of an afternoon bus tour, a group visited the Earlscourt Garden. Volunteers spent time discussing their work with organic gardening and how it connected to their own community. These experiences enabled the garden volunteers to put their efforts into the context of a larger movement and understand their own work in a deeper way. Over the regular garden sessions, volunteers have continually identified new skills and learning in the areas of gardening, environmentalism, problem solving, discovering other community resources, organics, and nutrition. Although some volunteers come to the program with gardening experience, many have never interacted with soil or seeds. The garden sessions provide ample opportunity to teach and share techniques. Harvests enable participants to taste and learn about new and healthy foods. Other Stop programming offers an opportunity to cook with produce in the community kitchen and share it with Stop members through the dining program and food bank. Many of The Stop s programs encourage learning through workshops on environmental preservation, gardening techniques, creating value-added products, and cooking with fresh organic produce. Participants in foodbased activities and popular education workshops often expressed conscientisation (Freire, 2000) developing a critical understanding of reality in the form of ah ha moments. This part of The Stop s pedagogical approach has been adapted from the work of Paulo Freire s work with Latin American social movements (2000). In one of these popular education workshops with the Sierra Club, participants were given the opportunity to make connections between food and issues relating to economics, politics, and culture. Through an interactive analysis, a critical understanding of the food system, its relation to individuals and the wider community, and concrete project ideas were developed for the group to take away. Many of the programs relating to the garden have worked with participants to develop skills that have been lost in this modern era of technology and convenience. Relearning simple skills such as planting, growing, cooking, and eating can be an empowering act. Realizing that they can do these activities themselves helps people take steps towards understanding their dependence on corporations. This can be observed at weekly pizza lunches, which bring community members together around the brick oven to roll their own dough and pick fresh toppings. Participants have commented that the pizza is much better than that of any fast food restaurant and that it is simple and inexpensive. They are surprised to see that they can do things they did not expect and many have started baking pizza at home. In the fall of 2003, The Stop developed a grade-ten curriculum on food security that is used at local high schools. The curriculum provides an opportunity for volunteer facilitation, student leadership, and learning. Consistently throughout the ten-week course a major transformation in the group can be witnessed. Using experiential and popular education techniques along with hands-on planting and cooking components, the group and facilitators are given the opportunity to acquire new knowledge, implement their learning, and reflect on their activities. In the fall of 2003, a number of tough boys were amazed at the living organisms in a sample of compost. While transplanting seedlings in the greenhouse, one boy adopted a worm he found, vowing to help it live by setting it free outside. This type of food-based education has been able to reach youth that have given up on school. In 2004/2005 the program expanded to involve over 1200 youth from kindergarten to grade 12. Increasing participation in public life has also been a general theme observed within the Urban Agriculture program. One volunteer, who remembers gardening in his birth country of Jamaica, took great pleasure in educating local school children and even garden staff in ways to tend Callaloo. 2 Over the years, he has become the garden s guardian angel, watching over the garden and making sure that visitors respect the area. During volunteer sessions, he is often the first to arrive and the last to leave, spending time with other participants and giving tips and assistance. Participation in the community garden enables volunteers to invest in a long-term process to see the season through from beginning to end. They have repeatedly commented on the health benefits through stress reduction, physical fitness, and an increased understanding of nutrition and healthy eating. Through coordination with other Stop programming, further application of these skills is possible. Together with the community kitchen, garden volunteers participate in cooking workshops and learn to work with fresh organic produce. Later in the season, some of the volunteers take responsibility for teaching each other to cook with their own recipes. In the food bank, volunteers help prepare and distribute information about organic vegetables, including instructions on storing, preparing, and cooking fresh produce. Another important aspect of participation in the garden has been the external impact and the ability of participants to educate others about the larger issues. Part of this has been done by talking to public figures who visit the garden about accessibility of healthy food and the necessity of green spaces in Toronto. Funders and supporters are also educated through their participation and through The Stop s publications about the holistic
7 Learning democracy through food justice movements 95 benefits of growing your own food and the environmental implications of urban agriculture. Open and critical discussion about where food comes from and the value of organic agriculture occurs regularly between garden volunteers and neighborhood residents. Volunteers continuously talk to passersby about their work, sharing experiences with each other through discussions. Many have also published articles, recipes, or gardening tips in the program s bi-annual publication, The West End Gardener. Furthermore, The Stop and its volunteers have become a model for community gardeners around the city by helping to initiate new projects. Most importantly, participants learn that they have the ability to make change and influence larger policies. Many who have felt powerless in their lives recognize that through consciousness raising, knowledge, and skill development, they can make a difference. This is also fostered through The Stop s educational programming. In an ongoing partnership with the Justice for Workers minimum wage campaign, Stop volunteers worked with community coalitions to raise awareness around low wages and worker exploitation. During lunchtime town hall style meetings, The Stop brings in speakers, educators, and politicians to facilitate interactive workshops. Although not directly related, workshops such as these have used the garden as a stepping-stone to bring people together, educate, and build a stronger community. Finally, staff have also expressed elements of democratic learning through their participation in the Urban Agriculture program. Figuring out how to use community-organizing tools to encourage participation and ownership has been a central focus. In order to facilitate inclusiveness within the multitude of projects, participatory processes have been developed to organize and train individuals, foster positive leadership, and encourage democracy participation. A garden advisory committee and group evaluations have been used to encourage broad involvement. Some of the other strategies that have been implemented include hiring community members as seasonal part-time staff, creating an anti-harassment and discrimination policy, and organizing planning and evaluation sessions. The attempt to create a comfortable working environment has involved building a garden shed to store tools and personal belongings, providing transit tokens for volunteers, and having water and snacks available for breaks. Having a positive relationship between the knowledgeable and caring staff also provides a positive model for interactions with authority figures and helps to break down traditional, hierarchical power dynamics. Beyond the specific skills acquired in the garden, this learning is not unique to food justice movements. Other social movements also foster and have the potential to increase democratic learning. The diversity of food justice movements, however, enables citizenship learning in a wide array of areas and on various levels. Through participation, citizens gain knowledge and understanding of the social, legal, and political systems in which they live and operate. They gain skills and aptitudes to make use of this knowledge, acquiring important social values and dispositions, based on their democratic experience, to put their knowledge and skills to use. Learning from collective experience Learning also comes from participation in activities with others. Direct experience working with social change activities or with shifting public awareness on an issue can impact the political efficacy and the knowledge base of the individuals involved. Since democracy is something that necessitates community, democratic learning is enhanced in social spaces. According to Juliet Merrifield, Learning is social, even though it occurs within an individual. It takes place in specific social contexts that shape what is learned, by whom and in what ways (2001: 1). She suggests that learning in social situations is not simply a proficiency in a skill, but is a developmental process through engagement in a community. Certain marginalized groups of people may have little exposure to such processes in the formal sector and, thus, may become alienated from politics. Therefore, social movements that operate in a democratic fashion and include mechanisms for diverse participation provide a unique and important forum for learning. By creating collective spaces and being involved in democratic practices, participants are able to directly experience, practice, and learn democracy (Schugurensky, 2003b). Grassroots organizations can serve as a model for what a healthy democracy could look like. Participants are given the opportunity for experimentation in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere and for public participation in the context of a smaller community. Numerous examples of this can be found within The Stop Community Food Centre s Urban Agriculture program. The structure of the Urban Agriculture program has attempted to emulate a democratic society in various ways. Through the aforementioned advisory councils, feedback sessions, and collective decision-making, The Stop has become a place for participants to understand the opportunities for participation. In coordination with a staff facilitator, the advisory council is responsible for deciding how to organize the garden, what to plant, and how to organize various activities throughout the season. The garden is a safe place to experiment, take risks, and learn from mistakes. Most importantly, seasonal festivals and volunteer appreciation parties have created a space for celebration, appreciation, sharing, and fun. At the beginning of the 2003 growing season, a group of garden volunteers needed to make a decision on the layout of the
8 96 Charles Z. Levkoe garden. A spontaneous, collective decision-making process began which involved heavy negotiation and compromise. Eventually, the volunteers decided to plant a section of the garden in the shape of a peace sign as a response to the American invasion of Iraq. Whenever individuals or groups visited the garden, the volunteers would proudly explain the planning process. Working in groups within the structure of a democratic, grassroots organization can be a valuable space to practice and enhance civic virtues. Such behaviors can range from responsibility, respect, and caring for others to taking pride in a community. For individuals who have little positive experience with social interaction, working democratically within the context of a controlled space can be the ground for learning. People can experiment with how they would like to be treated and how to treat each other. Within the garden, working with diverse individuals has resulted in breaking down stereotypes of race, class, and gender and has encouraged participants to embrace each other s differences. On many occasions, communities that have traditionally been in conflict have met face to face in the garden, in some cases developing friendships. Processes are being experimented with that increase accessibility and allow for the expression of all voices. The garden s anti-discrimination policy is one example of this. Another example is the path built in 2004 that makes the garden accessible to people who use wheelchairs. The garden also provides volunteers with the ability to contribute to a neighborhood improvement project. A number of the volunteers are also users of the food bank, and gardening provides a rare chance for them to give something back to the community. As a result, participants continuously express feelings of connection to the space and a valuable sense of ownership. The lack of vandalism and theft from the garden speaks partially to these feelings within the larger community. Through the creation of green spaces in the center of a city, the garden is an opportunity for increased care for the commons. The aesthetic beautification of a local park has encouraged resident interaction and enjoyment of usable public space. Over the years, participants have felt that they were making a change by contributing to organic agriculture in the city and by working to provide for themselves and their community. In 2004, over 2500 lbs of vegetables and herbs were harvested from the garden. By choice, the vast majority of the harvest was donated to The Stop s food bank and community kitchens. In the fall of 2004, due to the wet summer conditions, many of the tomatoes did not ripen. Fearing imminent frost, groups of volunteers picked as many as possible and researched green tomato recipes. That afternoon over 150 people dining at The Stop café learned about organic, heritage variety, green tomatoes while feasting on green tomato chutney and green tomato sweet pie. The proud volunteers answered questions and received many compliments. At The Stop, many participants have expressed the value of feeling connected to something larger than themselves. This speaks to the power of working collectively. Cultural days and celebrations help participants teach and learn about the community and each other. In the fall of 2003, the community initiated an annual harvest festival complete with food, crafts, a parade, music, storytelling, and garden tours. At these events various community members, garden volunteers, and other Stop members gathered to celebrate the fruits of their labor. One year, two women who had volunteered in the garden realized that they were born in the same city in Mexico. Others shared stories and experiences around the different vegetables and herbs grown in the garden. After one of the festivals, an elderly woman commented that being in the parade that circled the neighborhood, and included a man on stilts, music, and costumes, was one of the best held memories of her life. Social interaction is important for breaking down seclusion and individualism and for building a strong community. Giving volunteers the opportunity to interact with each other encourages mutual support and connects people to each other by creating social networks. Participants in the community garden continually express a heightened sense of self-esteem gained from sharing knowledge and skills with each other. For some of the volunteers, working in the garden is one of the few times in a week that they leave their home. During the weekly pizza lunch, some of the participants who routinely return to socialize at the oven do not even eat the pizza. The social atmosphere created by the garden activities gives volunteers the opportunity to meet new people and interact in a safe environment. Through The Stop and other food justice movements, people are able to interact socially and recreate community. Coalitions are one further expression of collective activity that has provided an important learning space at The Stop. Groups of individuals and organizations come together on different levels, regionally, nationally, and/or internationally, and create networks that further enable connections to larger issues. For example, The Stop s Urban Agriculture program has been involved with the Toronto Community Gardening Network (regional), Plant-A-Row-Grow-A-Row (regional), the Food Justice Coalition (regional), the American Community Garden Association (North American), and the Canadian Food Security Assembly (national). Through food justice movements, Hassanein shows how building coalitions to work on particular issues increases citizen power and enables organizations to effect change that they could not achieve on their own (2003: 82). This also encourages a deeper social analysis
9 Learning democracy through food justice movements 97 and broader understanding of issues. In the winter of 2005, The Stop hosted a gathering of over 40 Toronto-based community garden leaders in conjunction with the Toronto Community Gardening Network. During the meeting, collective brainstorming techniques were used to facilitate discussions around challenges and prospects for the upcoming season. Conclusion The case of The Stop Community Food Centre shows that food justice movements can be important sites of transformative learning. Learning from participation in activities can be a valuable way to reclaim community and public space. It also has the ability to empower people by increasing their political efficacy and overall knowledge base. The individual learning that can occur through food justice movements can be an important way to acquire valuable skills and the knowledge necessary for democratic citizenship. The learning from collective endeavors can be a valuable experience for groups to practice and understand the functioning of democracy. Although these activities do not solve the challenges of food insecurity, the learning enables individuals to contribute to building a stronger local community. Participation in small projects create changes in people that inspire and prepare them to participate in a wider society. Acknowledgements I would like to thank Dr. Gerda Wekerle for her encouragement and support in the preparation of this paper. I would also like to acknowledge the initial inspiration for this work that came from Dr. Daniel Schugurensky. This paper would not have been possible without the time and patience of the staff and members of The Stop Community Food Centre. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Laura B. DeLind along with the three anonymous reviewers who spent considerable time helping me strengthen this paper. Notes 1. This definition of food security has been adapted from the Ontario Public Health Association s food security working group (www.opha.on.ca/workgroups/foodsecurity.html). This organization is comprised of individuals and constituent associations from various sectors and disciplines that have an interest in improving the health of the people of Ontario, Canada. 2. Callaloo is a dark-green leafy vegetable that resembles spinach and grows in the Caribbean. To the delight of the neighborhood, it also grows wild in The Stop s community garden. References Bain and Company (2004). A community profile of The Stop s catchment area. Survey prepared for The Stop Community Food Centre. Toronto, Canada. Buttel, F. H. (1997). Some observations on agro-food change and the future of agriculture sustainability movements. In D. Goodman and M. J. Watts (eds.) Globalizing Food: Agrarian Questions and Local Restructuring (pp ). London, UK: Routledge. Eyerman, R. (1991). Social Movements: A Cognitive Approach. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University Press. Fisher, A. (1997). What is community food security? Urban Ecologist 2: 4. Accessed May 2004 at foodsecurity. org. Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, New York: Continuum. Foley, G. (1999). Learning in Social Action. New York, New York: Zed Books. Gottlieb, R. (2001). Environmentalism Unbound: Exploring New Pathways for Change. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Hassanein, N. (2003). Practicing food democracy: A pragmatic politics of transformation. Journal of Rural Studies 19(1): Heater, D. (1999). What is Citizenship?. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Polity Press. Kneen, B. (1993). From Land to Mouth: Understanding the Food System, Second Helping. Toronto, Canada: NC Press. Lang, T. (1996). Going public: Food campaigns during the 1980s and 1990s. In D. Smith (ed.) Nutrition Scientists and Nutrition Policy in the 20 th Century London, UK: Routledge. Lang, T. (1999). Food policy for the 21st century: Can it be both radical and reasonable? In M. Koc, R. McRae, L. Mougeot, and J. Welsh (eds.) For Hunger Proof Cities: Sustainable Urban Food Systems (pp ). Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre. Merrifield, J. (2001). Learning from experience trust: A discussion paper prepared for Institute for Development Society For Participatory Studies Participation Group Research in Asia. Accessed September 2003 at Riches, G. (1999a). Advocating the human right to food in Canada: Social policy and the politics of hunger, welfare, and food security. Agriculture and Human Values 16: Riches, G. (1999b). Reaffirming the right to food in Canada: The role of community based food security. In M. Koc, R. McRae, L. Mougeot, and J. Welsh (eds.) For Hunger Proof Cities: Sustainable Urban Food Systems (pp ). Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre. Ritzner, G. (1996). The McDonaldization of Society. Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press.
10 98 Charles Z. Levkoe Rose, F. (2000). Coalitions Across the Class Divide Lessons from the Labour, Peace and Environmental Movements. Ithaca, New York: Cornell Press. Saul, N. (2001). The name gain. The Stop News (The Stop Community Food Centre Newsletter) Fall. Schugurensky, D. (2003a). Three theses on citizenship learning and participatory democracy. Accessed September 2003 at Schugurensky, D. (2003b). Working paper #1: Citizenship learning and participatory democracy: Exploring the connections. Accessed September 2003 at ca/daniel_schugurensky/. Schlosser, E. (2001). Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All- American Meal. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin. Starr, A. (2000). Naming the Enemy: Anti-Corporate Movements Confronting Globalization. New York, USA: Zed Books. Urban Development Services, City of Toronto (2003). Ward 17: Ward profiles, City of Toronto. Accessed February 2005 at Welsh, J. and R. MacRae (1998). Food citizenship and community food security: Lessons from Toronto, Canada. Canadian Journal of Development Studies 19: Winson, A. (1993). The Intimate Commodity. Ontario, Canada: Garamond Press. Address for correspondence: Charles Z. Levkoe, c/o The Stop Community Food Centre, P.O. Box 69, Station E, Toronto, Ontario, M6H 4E1, Canada Phone: