On Thursday November 12, students from Devparna Roy’s Connections 335 course, Race & Multiculturalism in the American Context, had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Dean Jackson, local activist and founder of the Hilltop Urban Gardens. Jackson began Hilltop Urban Gardens (HUG) in 2010 in attempt to develop the prospects of food sovereignty and combat racial and economic issues in Tacoma.
Jackson highlighted six principles that define food sovereignty. Focus on food for the people, valuation of food providers, localization of food systems, making decisions on the local level, building communities’ knowledge and skill, and working with nature. According to the World Health Organization, food sovereignty is attained when “all people at all times have access to safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy lifestyle”.
As Jackson explained, there is a devastating food crisis going on in the United States. In many communities of color issues of food justice and sovereignty are rising concerns. HUG strives to foster meaningful discussions on these issues, while developing options for residents to pursue. Jackson posits that, “everyone deserves access and the ability to produce and distribute fresh, affordable, healthy, clean, sustainable, safe, and culturally appropriate food”.
Currently, food charity groups feed approximately 220,000 of the 820,000 residents in Pierce County through food banks and food stamps. According to Jackson, if the Pacific Northwest were to be cut off from the rest of the US, say by a disaster, it would take grocery stores three days to run out of food. This is a troubling prospect; one food sovereignty would combat.
Our reliance on food charity and national chains makes an alternative hard to imagine, Jackson said. However, a shift towards alternative models must be implemented to confront the crisis currently faced. Food sovereignty does not just concern the matter of obtaining food, it also is meant to address the power dynamics within the food industry.
In their five years of operation, HUG has come a long way. One current focus surrounds the creation of the Black Lives Matter Memorial Gardens. Jackson is combining efforts with the UPS Black Student Union to commemorate Black lives lost due to police brutality. In addition, Jackson hopes to expand their gardens in the future. Soon, HUG will be participating in Tacoma’s “Healthy Homes, Healthy Neighborhoods” initiative.