"Cultivating Green Power" Conference Raises Awareness about Food Insecurity and Community Gardening
On November 3, 2023, Seton Hall University’s PolicyLab and the Digital Humanities program at Seton Hall University hosted the inaugural "Cultivating Green Power" conference to raise awareness about environmental racism and food insecurity. The conference served as an extension of Green Power, a public-facing digital humanities project developed by Amalia McEvoy that showcases community gardens in Newark, NJ. Funded by a mini-grant from Engage NJ, with additional support from the College of Arts and Sciences, the conference planners invited four local community leaders to share their subject matter expertise while offering insight into the factors leading to food insecurity, along with the steps being taken to address the root causes of environmental racism. The conference, which welcomed an audience of approximately 60 attendees, began with a brief introduction and presentation by Joseph Pastino, co-founder of PolicyLab and Adjunct Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Seton Hall, and Amalia McEvoy, a Seton Hall University alumna and developer of the Green Power website. The two provided an overview of the origins of the Green Power project, including a demonstration of the website.
The community activists who spoke at the conference included Tobias Fox, Founder and Managing Director of Newark Science and Sustainability; Chesha Hodge, Sustainable Food Systems Program Manager in Newark's Office of Sustainability; Sabrina Ross, Program Associate, GreenLight Fund of Greater Newark; and Audris Torres, Resiliency Coordinator at Solar 1, Resilient Solar Initiative. Each of the speakers provided a brief overview of their work; the conference then transitioned to an open discussion with active participation from the audience. Throughout the course of the discussion, the panelists explained the basics of community gardening and urban farming, shared the strategies they have used in the fight to end food insecurity, and provided a candid overview of the obstacles they face daily.
They also addressed a number of issues related to food insecurity, including rampant food waste by individuals and institutions, the location of grocery stores in relation to fast food establishments, the significance of childhood obesity in urban communities, and the lack of proper nutrition education in low-income communities and BIPOC-dominated neighborhoods. Upon outlining the surface issues commonly associated with food insecurity, the conversation shifted to examining how structural barriers stemming from the legacy of racism impede environmental justice initiatives. Members of the audience shared their own experiences, noting the importance of civic engagement and questioning the efficacy of the many public policies designed to safeguard the rights of the marginalized. Most notably there was considerable focus on the pervasiveness of misinformation, which so often manifests itself in the social justice domain and creates roadblocks to progress. Susan Haig, founder of CivicStory, who attended the conference, observed that it "created a special sense of dialog and belonging. The conversation flowed without being rushed; the four excellent panelists chose complementary topics close to their hearts, and the many guest attendees were active participants." She also noted that it was "a dynamic effort to empower residents with information on greenspaces and healthy food."
PolicyLab envisions a political system that is free of misinformation, and it aims to achieve this goal through experiential learning, community outreach, and student-faculty collaboration. It emphasizes the importance of working in conjunction with local community leaders to address social justice issues while empowering residents to be change-agents in their communities. The Digital Humanities program emphasizes the use of digital technology to address real-world concerns while advancing students’ digital skills. The "Cultivating Green Power" conference underscores both programs’ commitment to render aid that is both helpful and community centered, while supporting the efforts of local leaders.
For more information about PolicyLab, contact Joe Pastino at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Digital Humanities program, contact Mary Balkun at email@example.com.