A Just Food Community Advocate Takes on the Farm Bill

Qiana Mickie, bottom left, with fellow advocates in training.

On January 4th, more than a hundred concerned New Yorkers attended a Farm Bill Listening Session hosted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand at Hostos Community College in the Bronx.

"The Bronx is home to urban farms like La Finca Del Sur and Taqwa Community Farm, farmer’s markets like the one at Lincoln Hospital and multiple CSAs," said Qiana Mickie. "Back in the day, people would say the Bronx was burning; now I am proud to say the Bronx is growing.

Qiana, a Just Food Community Advocate, was one of six speakers at the session urging Gillibrand to support policies that make fresh, local food available for all New Yorkers, regardless of their income.

Despite her powerful presentation to the Senator, this single mother and yoga enthusiast with a background in marketing is new to the food movement. Qiana found herself drawn to food justice through her interest in health—her own, her family’s and her community’s. After a lifetime of living in the Bronx, Qiana moved to Harlem a few years ago, and immediately noticed the new food environment.

"I started wondering about my food and becoming more interested in where it came from, why I ate what I ate, and what I was giving to my son. I started to notice what my friends and coworkers were eating and how little fresh food gets to some communities."

Qiana’s growing interest in food justice led her to volunteer in her neighborhood and eventually Just Food, where she joined eight other community members at Just Food’s Community Advocate Training in February 2011. The two-day training employed Just Food’s Training of Trainers model, which empowers participants to be both learners and teachers throughout the workshop and then later in their communities. The training covered a wealth of skills for community organizing including creating and leading workshops, facilitating useful and productive meetings, mobilizing the community, engaging with elected officials and much more.

"I thought I would probably have the most trouble with the policy information. The more I thought about the training though, the more I started to find myself gravitating towards policy, especially the Farm Bill. I had just started learning about the Farm Bill, and the implications it has for SNAP and nutrition, rather than just for farms. Volunteering in the community has made me more aware of policy and how residents and citizens can influence that policy.

"In certain communities, sometimes you feel like you don’t even have a voice. Especially in communities of color, people kind of look at policy as something they don’t want to get involved in. And in struggling communities, even though many people are using benefits, or qualify for them, they still don’t know about the policies that create them. I think if they can know that, then they can feel excited, or enraged, or interested and feel like they should get involved in the process. The training left me with a sense of purpose because it started to help me figure out how I can have an impact in the movement and what I can bring to my community. It left me with the tools so I felt more empowered, with not just information, but also skills. I just needed an opportunity to put them to use."

This past fall, the looming Farm Bill Reauthorization provided the perfect opportunity. Qiana linked up with the New York City Food and Farm Bill Working Group (NYCFFBWG), which was formed to promote understanding and advocacy around the Farm Bill. Because this legislation impacts everything about the way we eat, the Working Group and advocates in the field renamed it the "Food and Farm Bill". The Working Group is a coalition of non-profit organizations and concerned citizens interested in promoting conservation and sustainable farming, health and anti-hunger, and access to fresh food in the Farm Bill.

Qiana jumped in with both feet, joining two committees: the Rural/Urban Alliance and the Community Engagement Committees.

"The working group gave me the opportunity to build the relationship between local farmers and hungry New York residents. As I’ve worked more with the group, I’ve started to realize that that’s where I’d like to put my focus. I want to be that connector in the community between policy and people, making policy accessible and increasing awareness in the community. I want people to ask: what can we do to change the Farm Bill to make it work for us? Working with the group, I realized how many different areas of a community could engage and mobilize around the Farm Bill. Whether its kids, teenagers, seniors, whoever! Since the Farm Bill impacts everyone’s life, there has to be a way to make it relevant to everyone." Which is precisely what Qiana has planned for 2012.

"Fresh food and local food is food for everyone—we can’t forget that. It’s something I really got from Just Food--it’s not just SNAP for somebody else, it’s not just fancy local food that only some people can afford, it’s about creating access for everyone."

Join Qiana Mickie at the Just Food Conference, February 24th & 25th
In February, Qiana and the NYCFFBWG will be offering a series of Farm Bill workshops at the Just Food Conference 2012: Eat. Work. Grow the Movement. The series will include 4 workshops which explore the effect of the Farm Bill on the economy, health and hunger in the US, urban and rural farmers, and sustainability and conservation. In addition to those workshops, Qiana will be coordinating two other food justice organizing workshops with her fellow Just Food community advocates.

Click here for more information and to register for the conference.