I am fortunate to be able to do “food work” in my day job. What do I mean by that? Well, as I look back over the last 4 years, I can say that I went from documenting my own personal food journey/rediscovery on this little ‘ol website to sitting at tables and researching/discussing how to implement everything from getting fresh fruits and vegetables in child care centers and school cafeterias, talking food policy, connecting churches with summer feeding programs, working with partners on mobile markets and after school farm stands, partnering with community gardens, volunteering, working with food recovery partners and food banks, connecting hunger and nutrition, and the list goes on and on. In fact, today was a great step forward for Birmingham as I (along with many community partners and community residents) witnessed the Birmingham City Planning Commission unanimously pass an Urban Agriculture zoning ordinance.

But you see, all of those subjects listed above are like onions. You think you are going in talking about one thing and the next thing you know, you are peeling back layers and layers of “other things.” You quickly realize that all of this “food stuff” lives  in a very complicated system. And that system includes many different players (distributors, farmers, retailers, growers, consumers, and the list goes on).

This work can be incredibly difficult, but over the last four years I’ve had the honor of working alongside talented, smart, passionate, and refreshing grassroots organizations, non-profits, and food/community advocates who are  challenging our food system. Magic City Agriculture Project (MCAP) is a great example of a group not only choosing to challenge the system, but to change the entire conversation. In fact, MCAP is asking questions like, “WHO controls our food system?” “What are the cultural barriers?” “What role does white privilege play?” Bigger questions. More complex questions about race and injustice and how are food system is affected by all of that.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Magic City Agriculture Project’s President, Zac Henson, a couple of weeks ago to learn more about upcoming projects and their overall philosophy. Every time I meet with Zac, I end up  a) seeing community development/food system through a  different lens b) agreeing and disagreeing with some of his points. One thing is for sure, I always leave the conversations productively challenged and I use that energy as I move through my own work in the food world.

“It’s going to take some real courage,” says Zac. “We must begin with difficult conversations and have REAL discussion and REAL action.” Magic City Agriculture Project’s food work is defined best as community development. And community development is defined by MCAP as “anti-racism + urban agriculture.” Magic City Agriculture Project is interested in creating an alternative food and agriculture movement that will change the food system completely by focusing on sustainable agriculture, permaculture, and community development.

Magic City Agriculture Project’s work includes:
Anti-Racist Training (6-week interactive course, tentatively scheduled for summer)
Technical Assistance to communities (grant-writing, oral history projects, community farm management, etc)

So as I continue to do this “food work,” I’m constantly challenged to think beyond what I “know” the food system to be. There are hard questions to answer. There are hard conversations to have. There are real reasons that prevent community residents from having the same options as other community residents. As we strive to make the food system more equitable for ALL of our community, I appreciate the opportunity to sit down with Zac and other MCAP members to hear different points of view. We all have them. And they make our conversations and relationships stronger.

To learn more about Magic City Agriculture Project, “like” them on Facebook or check out their website by clicking here. Or, you can check out their “Food Justice for All of Us ” event at Bottletree THIS Thursday night from 10 pm-1 am. Music by Bluprint’s Jimi Fritz and Thed Weller. Admission is $7. All proceeds go to support Magic City Agriculture Project. There will be a raffle for three pieces of art at 12 a.m. Tickets to the raffle are one dollar.

I plan to highlight many community partners doing community development/food advocacy work in our community throughout the year and I have a feeling you will be interested to see how very different they are. My world is often turned upside down on a daily basis, but it is necessary. And I’m thankful.