AFT members connect with the community through urban farming

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Farmers pray for rain, and those who came out for the AFT’s pre-convention adventure in healthy living got a downpour to kick off this event July 26 in Detroit, where families and AFT members shared good food and good vibes at a community garden run by Urban Farming, a nonprofit that promotes vegetable plots in big cities.

Urban Farming event in Detroit

Experts at the event gave demonstrations on how to start a garden, harvest vegetables and cook healthy meals, as well as promoting fitness and literacy. The event drew hundreds of Detroiters and AFT delegates. Participants took away free plants, seeds and other door prizes. Urban Farming founder Taja Sevelle invited everyone to register their garden; she saw so much land and so much poverty in Detroit that she established three gardens here. Urban Farming, which started in 2005, now has 59,000 gardens registered nationwide. 

Kathleen Roach, president of the Peru Association of Teachers near Plattsburgh, N.Y., said she was there to give back to the community and to help advance economic justice. “This is about people helping people,” she said.

Patrick Keegan, president of the Charlotte (Fla.) FEA, and Nancy Kent, president of AFT Mississippi, said they, too, came to help out and to get ideas to take back home to their locals. “I’ve just been enthralled,” said Kent as she watched a demonstration of cooking using lots of fresh vegetables. “This is the way for us to learn how to grow our own food and eat right. Look at those bitty cucumbers!”

Besides Urban Farming, partners in the event included Gleaners Community Food Bank, No Kid Hungry Michigan, Cooking Matters and First Book, which gave away gardening books to children. Door prizes included copies of first lady Michelle Obama’s American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America.

All three top AFT officers—president Randi Weingarten, secretary-treasurer Lorretta Johnson and executive vice president Francine Lawrence—spoke at the event, one of many AFT Gives Back activities being held during the convention. 

“I want to register my garden because I am digging this,” Weingarten said, speaking of initiatives like Urban Farming and No Kid Hungry as a source of empowerment for communities. “Teachers, paraprofessionals and other educators—we see kids every day who are hungry,” she added. In endorsing the practice of urban farming, “we are uniting those we represent and those we serve.”

You can register your own school, community or residential garden with the Urban Farming Global Food Chain. [Annette Licitra/photo by Jim West]