Youth at the Just Food Conference


This March, the next generation of food movement leaders were present in full force at Just Food’s 2016 Conference. More than 100 youth joined 700 other community organizers, CSA members, local food advocates, urban and rural farmers, and entrepreneurs gathered for a full day of workshops and panels focused on building a more equitable food movement.

The conference opened with Just Food’s annual presentation of the McKinley Hightower-Beyah award, which celebrates  New York City youth who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in their community through their involvement in urban agriculture and food justice work.  Just Food created the award  in 2008 to commemorate and celebrate a dear friend of the organization and his lifelong commitment to community service, education, urban agriculture, and social justice. McKinley was a Just Food Trainer with a passion for youth education through agriculture.

Typically, the award goes to an individual, but this year the honor went to an outstanding group of youth working together to advance food justice.The winners of this year’s award, the Youth Empowerment Summit (Y.E.S.) Planning Committee members, is a group of 17 young people from a diverse set of organizations that came together to host two regional gatherings for youth involved in the food justice movement in and around NYC. These gatherings, planned by youth for youth, convened more than 100 youth advocates; all working towards a more fair and equitable food system.

“Receiving the award was amazing,” says Kristina Erksine, Y.E.S. Planning Committee member. “We moved onto our next projects so quickly after the summit, and the award made it possible for us to step back and look at how great the experience and our work was. During the planning, we concentrated on our own small communities, but receiving the award opened our eyes to the broad impact our summits have on the larger food advocacy community brought together by the Just Food Conference.”

Kristina works for EcoStation: NY and Community Food Advocates and is a current sophomore at Medgar Evers College studying environmental science and creative writing. As a young person transitioning into adulthood, what Kristins enjoyed most about her time on the Y.E.S. Planning Committee was to ability to pass the torch and give younger people the space to step up, speak their minds, and execute their ideas at the summits.

“It is important for youth to be present in this space,” says Kristina. “They bring an energy to the work. They bring a modern language, new energy and get their peers and families excited. Our work and values are strengthened when people mentor youth, then youth mentor younger generation and so on. Re-strengthening food justice teachings

McKinley’s family presented the award to Y.E.S. Planning Committee members.

 “This year’s award was nice because it was given to the Y.E.S Planning Committee--it’s a new generation that’s getting the word out there about manifesting gardens,” says Mckinley’s daughter, Wajeedah Hightower-Beyah.

Mckinley’s wife (also named Wajeedah), was excited to see more youth represented at the event. “Just Food opened doors for youth to really get involved at the conference this year. I went to one workshop where 90% of the attendees were young people,” says Wajeedah Hightower-Beyah. “The youth presence shows how food combines everyone together in one picture and enlightens communities for years to come. The youth are important because they are the next generation to take a stand for food justice issues such as GMO labeling and increasing food sovereignty awareness.”

After the award, youth involvement at the conference continued with Khaleel Anderson’s Food Talk on his work with the Rockaway Youth Task Force. The Northeast Youth Food Justice Network hosted two sessions, including a food justice skillshare and a Youth Identity Caucus.

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