In celebration of Black History Month we are highlighting three black individuals who have had significant contributions in the way that we approach hunger and food justice, both historically and currently. Although communities of color have always had a critical role in shaping our American foodscape, their contributions have historically gone unrecognized. These three advocates offer a peak into these contributions, to engage and learn from not only this month, but at all times.
George Washington Carver is perhaps one of the most honored figures in the black American landscape for his food contributions, specifically the peanut. What many people don’t know about him is that he had a master’s degree in Scientific Agriculture. Born into slavery, he often skirted chores as a child to study plants and eventually found his passion in food and cooking. He obtained a college education as the first black student at Iowa State University, and after joining the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama as the director of agriculture, he made significant strides in helping farmers to efficiently grow crops, best utilize their harvest, and even published bulletins and recipes to distribute to farmers. He was one of the earliest proponents of sustainable agriculture and “conscious eating”. His research made a huge impact on soil fertility and waste reduction in addition to general farming practices.
Dr. Rashida Crutchfield is an associate professor at CSULB, where she initiated a study of student homelessness and hunger. What started as a local concern became a national study, and her passion to lend a voice to those who were displaced and food insecure helped initiate the Office of the Chancellor’s 3-phase study on basic needs, setting a precedent for making student food insecurity and homelessness among students a health priority. She’s since become a respected authority and advocate in this arena, and her findings and strategies to address these issues were published in 2019 as a book.
Ron Finley is a community contributor in downtown L.A., often referred to as the Guerrilla Gardener. Since 2010 he has been actively growing fresh produce for his local neighborhood using abandoned strips of land or parkways. These areas of South Central, often labeled as food deserts, have limited or nonexistent access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The “food prisons” as Finley calls them, impact the health of residents, each of whom deserves equal access to nutritious foods. To tackle this issue, he not only shares his harvest but teaches gardening and the importance of good food and provides a place for residents to gather and form tighter community bonds.
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