Our Quiet Benefactor

I plucked a blackberry from the thorny vine, popped it into my mouth, and marveled at the thousands and thousands of blackberries protruding ripe and succulent plump and sweet in a city park, adjacent an elementary school, in East Oakland...growing wild. It occurred to me, as it had many times before, in that quiet moment as I liberated one berry after another, and enjoyed the sweet splash in my mouth, that here in the Bay Area, there’s food everywhere.

These berries are not the result of the many painstaking efforts on the part of one of our town’s local, scrappy, underfunded food justice orgs. They are the gift of the one, true, quiet benefactor who holds us all... Mother Nature. She is, without a doubt, the most prolific giver of random acts of justice - sustenance...always giving us modern human beings well lit pathways out of the systems that seem to bind us and an opportunity to mirror her and consistently reminding us of abundance and to “do as I do.”

Her spirit looms large later in the week as, sun holding high accompanied by a cool, good breeze,  I harvest greens and herbs for Smoothies from The Planting Justice garden at McClymmonds High School in West Oakland. This garden is the result of the efforts of a local, scrappy food justice org. It is tended by the touch and laughter of students, teachers and Planting Justice Organizer Anthony Forrest.

As I fill my basket with herbs and greens and strawberries and pluck chamomile flowers and run my fingers across the voluptuous, floppy basil leaves and that fresh, intoxicating fragrance of summer wafts up into the air, reminding me of sandwiches of thinly sliced mozzarella and fat ripe plump tomatoes... I am humbled and dazzled again by the one simple fact - here in the Bay Area there is food growing everywhere!

This food will go directly into a blender for my work in equalizing food disparity in East Oakland for elders on and around MacArthur Boulevard via The Electric Smoothie Lab.

The food everywhere thing, it’s is a cooling thought. And it makes me feel good. Makes me worry less about the future and the ways and  means of food justice in the hood and therefore lowers my internal thermostat.

Any thought that can quell my worries over food insecurity in the hood is a resource.

This is what’s on my mind a week before the big climate talks, when folks from all over the world will convene in San Francisco and other cities to protest politicians, big business, governments as the play around with the destiny of our precious Planet. There will be alternate talks, models of A New Earth discussed, alot of networking and rallying for love for the Earth and her children.

Me, I have to check in with my Soul and ask whether I am living a life, in the face of these myriad crises, that makes sense. Am I making a contribution? Am I part of the problem or part of the solution? I ask myself, in the back of my mind as I prepare to jam up the streets with thousands of other people at the march this weekend,in the face of the very serious threat to our ability to sustain human life on Earth, as a result of our way of life, our habits, the things our governments don’t seem to care about and the things we can stop doing but choose not to. 

Moments like the quiet one with the blackberries at the park and the basil at the school garden, suggest to me  that we are closer to solid, sustainable local solutions around moving nutrition through our communities and that these solutions are indeed cooling the thermostat of the Planet. Planting Justice and other local, scrappy food justice orgs are afterall, engaged in projects to lessen fossil fuel use by growing and harvesting food locally and supporting people’s access to it. 

And we are indeed doing that.

But as I deal with the berries, and enjoy them that morning, quiet all around me, I realize that we are at a pivotal moment. The food is here. The relationships are here. There is power - food justice people have even convinced Oakland Unified School District to stop spraying Monsanto’s deadly chemicals (Round Up) on school grounds, so we can eat the berries without fear of the cancer that Round Up causes. That’s a really big deal. But can we do the one giant-little thing that needs to be done in order to move those berries...that basil and the rest of those amazing, freshly grown greens and strawberries grown throughout community? Can we talk to one another? Can we connect with one another? Can we be less afraid of one another?

 Because that’s what it’s going to take.

Can we do what we need to do to move it through the community without engaging more fossil fuel? WIthout exchanging one crime for another? Without supporting more of those big, ugly, giant things that are drilling and digging deeper down into the bowels our Mother Earth and blasting up and out more fossil fuel?

Can a few people just get together, in little groups around the city... walk to their neighbor’s home and ask to harvest their figs or the greens from their garden or the passion fruit growing abundantly and serving usually only as ornaments, put ‘em in bags or boxes and distribute them in a way that builds community and utility so that people, maybe in another part of town...another part of Oakland, can eat? Can it be done with enough love so that it moves like the gentle fragrance of leafy basil in summertime? 

Effortlessly, beautifully...naturally?

It doesn’t have to be a scrappy food justice org...or a foraging organization or college interns who want to give back. I realized that morning in the city park that it can just be people...being neighborly, because some other people across town or down the street or next door, don’t have the time or don’t know the berries are there or never thought about it or can’t leave their homes anymore because their bodies don’t work as well as they used to anymore.

It can just be people wanting to doing what Nature does...without fear...following her guide and keeping a good thing going. I guess as I stood there eating the berries I realized that we already have everything we need and if we all really wanted everybody to have some berries, then we’d find a way. If we really want all this madness to end, then we will find a way for everybody to get some berries, without asking anything more from our Mother, Nature. 

Kelly Curry is the author of Until the Streets of the Hood Flood With Green (www.freedomvoices.org) and the Founder of The Electric Smoothie Lab Apothecary (electricsmoothies.org). She is on the Board of Directors for Planting Justice and is on the Planning Committee for the organization’s 10th Anniversary Celebration. She can be reached at kelly@plantingjustice.org

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