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Engaging youth and a hip-hop food poem

Hi, this is in response to earlier comments re how to engage young people in
Food Security and urban gardening issues. The best way I can think of to
reach youth is through youth culture. As activists with a good message, we
need to remember that our ideas aren't always in a universal format.
Flexibility, on our part, is crucial. 

Personally, I try to reach out: I attend poetry readings sponsored by young
groups like Kansas City's Verbal Attack and the Black Poets Collective; I
listen carfully to how people respond to my message. 

As a poet, I use my voice to reach out. To announce a community garden
planned near an urban school (with hopes that the alternative/continuing ed
school will also become an anchor for community development around food &
urban food access/security) I took the stage last week at a hip-hop poets
collective, for a 124-second address on community gardening, rural-urban
relations, and consciousness building. From the stage I saw young eyes
widen, mouths shout out praise, and when my blurb was done, applause. Our
lives as activists are engaging. 

I believe strongly in the grassroot music of cultures. Hip-hop and jah
culture are significant backbones to tie into. To seek out young leaders,
contact poets, social workers, and musicians. A couple independent record
store owners around KC are very connected to the whos-who of activism in
various parts of the community. I try to reach a broad spectrum to connect
the Food Circle concept with another activist who'll accept some
responsibility (unfortunately, I've had little success getting poets,
painters or musicians involved, but they know everyone, including leaders
and workers).    

Most importantly, let seeds germinate. Rome wasn't built in a day. The
books, educational materials, coursework, all of it must be accessible
within subtle ways. Let people come around. Cynicism, doubt and skepticism
are too prevalent already, I keep my cards on the table, but not push them
too hard. Start by letting people understand that community gardens are a
place to start, that cultivating roots (literally and figuratively) and
consciousness can be best understood over food and culture - or music and

Finally, I'll share with you a two-part poem that is soon to be published in
a local urban cultural magazine. If you want to reprint it, include my name
and city, and email me where it hangs or is republished. 


From the forthcoming Winter edition of Kansas City's "Flavorpak: A Hip-Hop
Survival Guide":

"Urban Gardening: Part One

"Developing consciousness is a familiar concept to urban hopefuls. Yet, try
as we may to become brighter rays of light - more positive - to appreciate
life and our bodies as tools for a creative society, barriers exist. To
avoid traps of self-doubt and cycnism, we build wings of our minds and
hearts, and wisk ourselves toward new directions bypassing almost
bureaucratic spiderwebs, weaved to stick us up.

"Energy follows consciousness. I stand in vacant lots, littered with debris
of former movements. With both feet on the ground, wings lift my heart into
daydreams for this earth. Within the city I live, replete with limitations
of tricks and traps manifest by concrete realities, rules to which my dreams
must adhere. But I have prayed to my stones, this plot is church. 

"Advocating sustainable social change, I count assets while others recount
conflicts. I read across disciplines, in and out of my field. Life is a gray
world, where my participation knows both victory and defeat. I must eat. I
know how this earth must be maintained. I strive to make our goals equal. 

"As a teacher, and a student, I must think beyond myself, to others, and the
students of others. This is also the way of the garden. Planting one year
becomes the soil of the next. Composition becomes decomposition. Fruit falls
to earth, and is sampled by spinning worms mixing beats for casings - humus,
like knowledge is passed from season to season. There is no retracing our
footprints, yet the properties are cyclical as a turning disk. 

"Why are so many drugstores rising up beside fried food shacks, and produce
aisles smell of decay? Our urban fields are junkyards, when they could be
paradise. Gardens manifested of people's activity, and time spent in the sun
and air, among others, moving as the Maya, Dan, Hopi. Moving among the earth
as they do in Cabrini Greens (Chicago), Crenshaw High (Los Angeles), the Old
Ballpark (Kansas City). Cultivating food, economy, spirit. 

"We must retrain ourselves to forage for food in these times of lost
markets. Food access is a critical goal. Our neighbors hunger, not from
fillings, from greens. Where water is contaminated, sodapop overflows.
Sweets abound; pills replace nutrients. The four food groups: fat, sugar,
salt, caffeine. When does it stop? When does consciousness surpass insanity?

"I want more - more people into gardens, more gardens into neighborhoods,
more neighborhoods rising up among the rows of gorgeous beans and succulent
tomatoes. Want ... for lack of a better term, I want to show how the search
for consciousness can lead one to a garden, to the place where man and woman
were born. For among food is found our paradise, the source of life, beside
water, beside air, of which plants and our species each require. 

"Part 2: 

"Politics of Food: Spoken Word Poem

"In this, as with each electoral cycle, we hear voices addressing important
topics. Issues that require experts to analyze their meanings; spokespersons
to decipher how they effect a majority of citizens. Try as one may, its hard
to relate these platitudes to common life. There is one issue that's
important to urban and rural residents ...

"Food. It's a real damn issue. Without it, you better have tissue,
For blowing your nose, drying your eyes
In a matter of days you're hearing the cries 
Of children out in streets, shouting to their mother
What are we going to eat?
Food's a real issue, without you better have tissue,
For drying your eyes, blowing your nose. 
Children of the street, they know.

"Food. It's a real damn issue. 
Take the children in the fields, planting all day long,
Beside their father, lean and strong.
Waiting on the rain, but something's gone wrong.
It's a real damn issue. Without food, you're gonna need tissue.
For blowin' your nose, and dryin' eyes
In a matter days you'll be hearing the cries 
Of the children, out on land,
Working with their father, holding his hand.
Another year of drought, nothing but harm.
Another losing year and the bank owns the farms.
For food, it's a real damn issue. 
For dryin' your eyes, blowin' your nose
Children on the farm, they know. 
Food. It's a real common issue.

"Tom Kerr lives in Kansas City, Missouri and is working with University of
Missouri Outreach and Extension on the Food Circles Networking Project. For
more information call (816) 482-5888."

Tom Kerr
Food Circles Networking Project - Kansas City
University of Missouri Outreach and Extension
2700 E. 18th Street, Suite 240
Kansas City, MO 64127
tel: (816) 482-5888
fax: (816) 482-5880 

-----Original Message-----
From: Cathleen Kneen [mailto:cathleen@ramshorn.bc.ca]
Sent: Friday, February 11, 2000 10:16 PM
To: Community Food Security Coalition
Subject: youth 

A number of the food security groups here in B.C. are working with young
including pregnant teens, and finding extreme difficulty in getting them
or even interested in food system issues. Seems that popping something into
microwave is where it's at.

Anyone who has ideas or experience that has worked in getting teens turned
on to
"real food" and food issues, please let us know!!

Cathleen Kneen
Snail-mail address:
S-6, C-27, R.R. #1
Sorrento, BC V0E 2W0
website: http://www.ramshorn.bc.ca
phone and fax: 250-675-4866

"The proverb warns that 'You should not bite the hand that feeds you.' But
you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself.

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