On Partisan Gardens, we know climate catastrophe is here, and it’s our food system’s dead end. Here we see sustainable fine dining and ecological destruction, hunger and obesity, extreme wealth and immense poverty. We can’t wait any longer — for a tech breakthrough, climate apocalypse, the revolution, or a reform of the USDA loan system. We must be frank about reality, to reckon with our options. We must choose sides, and become partisans of a new way to live and grow food.
May 2021: Building Food Sovereignty
For today's episode, we spoke with Antonio Roman-Alcala and Spirit Mike. In 2011, Antonio released the powerful documentary In Search of Good Food, which carefully traced the crises built into the food systems in California's Central Valley, which is the source of most vegetable and many tree crops across the US. Antonio reflected on the film and addressed exciting new possibilities for building food sovereignty and agroecology in the Central Valley, against the grain of powerful structures of exploitation, racial exclusion, and environmental devastation. Likewise, Antonio speaks to the emerging connections between urban agriculture and movements like the George Floyd Uprising.
Next, we talk with Spirit Mike, an urban farmer in Tampa, Florida, who was pushed to grow food for his neighborhood by the massive logistical failures at the start of COVID. He goes into the strategic moves necessary to overcome barriers to urban agriculture and how growing food led to his own explorations of a food system in crisis and of the possibility of autonomous alternatives. From the Central Valley to Florida, the country's breadbaskets are also home to some of the starkest contradictions - whole towns of immigrant workers can be denied potable water which is instead directed to almond orchards, and in which urban communities can be wholly cut off from any control over their own food. Yet, in both these regions and across North America, people are building food sovereignty and the potential for a revolution.
April 2021: The Dystopic and Exceptional Pawpaw
The pawpaw is an incredible, temperate, semi-forgotten fruit. It's existence is a real exception on many levels: it is the only member of a tropical genus to survive this far north in most of the continent; it is nutrient and protein rich beyond most fruit; and pawpaws are exceptionally fragile, pushing them outside of economic distribution. Their skin and flesh is much more easily bruised than that of a banana, making them basically impossible to ship and sell in stores.
In turn, this has left pawpaws substantially neglected by commercial and academic research, and most of the work to produce improved varieties has been left to grassroots breeders, sharing their results with each other via fruit growers clubs and informal networks. Jerry Lehman was a leading figure in this emergent process - a committed pawpaw and persimmon grower in Indiana's Wabash Valley, who developed dozens of varieties, while pioneering new ways to process and enjoy these native fruits. Today, we highlight a lecture he gave at the Overlook, a DIY hub in here in Bloomington, Indiana. Jerry has since passed away, but his work is being continued by his friends and collaborators, including Mark Hildebrand who you will hear later on during this show.
Thanks to their work, and to the efforts of many others across the eastern US, there are now diverse options of excellent wild pawpaw stock and improved cultivars to grow. Nobody has succeeded in breeding a durable pawpaw- but perhaps this is a good thing. Instead of a commercial crop, the pawpaw can remain an abundant, seasonal fruit, contributing to wild richness and the riotous bounty of neighborhood food forests, available for common harvest.
In this episode, we are trying something new by collaborating with the excellent podcast, Propaganda by the Seed, hosted by Sole and Aaron in Maine. We start off with a conversation between folks from the two shows about pawpaws- how to grow them, what makes them unique, and their appealing (and not so appealing) characteristics. We also share an archived lecture given by Jerry Lehman prior to his passing.
Thank you to Mark Hildebrand, Jerry Lehman, Aaron and Sole for their contributions to this show, and to Lyn Rye for the music.
You can listen to Propaganda by the Seed here.
You can listen to Lyn Rye here.
March 2021: Food Insecurity and Collective Care
The global pandemic has exacerbated an already-simmering crisis of food insecurity, itself rooted in growing populations pushed outside of formal labor markets. This exclusion, often implemented along racial lines, leads to precarity and a struggle for survival, which has only grown more bleak with the pressures of COVID-19. The economy simply cannot produce enough jobs, and even those existing jobs deemed "essential work" during the pandemic are often precisely low-waged AND dangerous. In response, a constellation of existing food distribution hubs, mutual aid projects, and food sovereignty efforts have had to rapidly adapt to the pandemic and the crisis. Their work is simultaneously manual and critical, as many hands collaborate to pack and deliver relief boxes, while thinking together about the sources of food insecurity and who is suffering from it.
We share stories today from three of these projects: a food distribution & meal delivery service in Atlanta, Georgia, a free kitchen, or comedor, in Tijuana, Mexico and a food pantry in Bloomington, Indiana. All three projects are informed by an understanding of the importance of sharing food together in defining a better way of life. All three existed in some form before COVID, and each underwent major changes as they grappled with the challenge of addressing hunger without spreading the virus. For the "Food For Life" project in Atlanta, it meant scaling up and inviting hundreds of new volunteers to participate and experiment. For the Contra Viento y Marea Comedor in Tijuana it meant reducing the number of days serving to make more time for staff to clean and stay protected themselves. For Bloomington's Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, it meant scaling back on some of the wide range of gardening and nutrition programs they normally run to address the root causes of hunger and inequality, while still serving hundreds of people a week.
To learn more about each of these projects, check out:
Food For Life
Contra Viento y Marea Comedor
Mother Hubbard's Cupboard
For more background on mutual aid in Tijuana between the twin crises of climate change and COVID-19, check out this article.
February 2021: The Uncaptured Garden- Steven Stoll on Agrarian Resistance in Appalachia
In this episode of Partisan Gardens, we share a conversation between Ryan Richardson, a writer and activist born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains, and Steven Stoll. Dr. Stoll teaches at Fordham University and is the author of Ramp Hollow, a celebrated agrarian history of Appalachia.
Stoll seeks to revive the memory of agrarian life and its destruction through capitalist enclosure. Emphasizing the commons and the ecological dimension of survival in the mountains, he wrangles in Ramp Hollow with the complex legacy of the colonial expulsion of the indigenous peoples of the mountains, as well as the ways in which the mountain people's autonomy was co-opted by the coal companies. Stoll's notion of the "captured garden," in which agrarian subsistence was used by employers to maintain low wages, offers an important warning to contemporary advocates of food sovereignty.
Indeed, the struggles of Appalachian people offer a range of lessons for contemporary food politics, not least the dangers of capture, but also the possibility to carve out forms of collective subsistence that instead grow autonomy. At the end of the conversation, Richardson and Stoll reflect on this potential, via Los Angeles' South Central Farm - an urban oasis maintained by hundreds of immigrant-farmers that functioned as an "uncaptured garden."
January 2021: The Largest Farmer Strike in History is Underway in India
On this episode of Partisan Gardens, we are sharing a vital summary of the ongoing mass farmer protests in India. For almost six weeks, Indian farmers have blocked the major highways leading into the capitol, New Delhi. More than 100,000 people are maintaining tent cities on the highways themselves, in conjunction with a broader movement that mobilized 250 million farmers in strikes in November. These protests are pushing back on a suite of three neoliberal reform laws introduced by the ruling, right-wing BJP party, intended to remove protections for small farmers and increase the power of large corporations in the agricultural sector.
Last week, we spoke with Gaurika Mehta about the Indian agricultural sector, the neoliberal reform laws, and the massive movement organized by Indian farmers to shut down the capitol until these laws are withdrawn. Ranging from the self-organization of the blockades - including makeshift libraries, kitchens and self-published newspapers - to the role of the state in organizing food markets, her analysis helped us understand the movement and gain lessons for thinking about agricultural struggles in North America.
Further, her observations on the role of state racism and pernicious efforts to spread conspiracy theories discrediting the farmers are enormously timely, just as the farmers' intelligent efforts to link themselves with other recent movements offer important instruction for us here.
On January 12th, the Indian Supreme Court suspended the laws until the government enters into a new committee-based consultation with the unions, farmers, and other actors. However, farmers have maintained their blockades, while continuing to demand the full repeal of these laws. Further, many farmers are refusing to engage with the consultation at all.
December 2020: Carbondale Spring
For our second episode, we visited the small city of Carbondale, Illinois. Carbondale is a shrinking college town at the southern edge of the state, with a long history of racist segregation. Since winter 2019, though, a broad range of residents has made a wager on a different future. Grasping climate change and white supremacy by the horns, they've laid out a plan for municipal-level transformation, calling for police funds to be redirected to local structures of care and sustainability, with the aim of rendering irrelevant the economic system which has failed them. Their food autonomy plan is at the core of their proposal, and has led to the growth of a constellation of gardens and food distribution structures aimed at empowering communities and addressing long standing inequities.
To prepare this introduction to their wager, we visited a number of their gardens, inspected their chicken coops, spoke with neighbors, bakers, and board members, and asked about next steps. We're excited to invite you on this journey through a Midwestern town that's been turned upside down amid the pandemic. When we were there, it was clear that Carbondale Spring has re-enchanted this small world in southern Illinois, as they propagate herbariums, orchards, community kitchens, and neighborhood collaborations.
You can find out more about their work here.
Special thanks to the folks in Carbondale for speaking with us, and Lyn Rye for our music.
What a gem
Can’t get enough of this show , really thoughtful and inspiring