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CHICAGO (INC/PNS) — From farm to table, a public leadership program is working to bring more sustainable food systems to the greater Chicago area in Illinois.
The HEAL Food Alliance’s School of Public Leadership (SoPL) is helping warehouse workers and urban farmers to build inclusive, worker-focused food systems.
Felix Ortiz, community health navigator at the Joliet-based Warehouse Workers for Justice, is a member of the program’s newest cohort. He additionally said the initiative helps his organization develop new tactics to advocate for better conditions in warehouse operations.
“The warehousing industry doesn’t really provide good and fair workplace standards for the community,” Ortiz asserted. “We aren’t getting paid well. Our workers can’t afford food.”
The six-month program places an emphasis on BIPOC participation and leadership in local food systems. The systems also include twelve community leaders spread between three different programs. In addition to the Warehouse Workers cohort, the program also includes an urban agriculture group based out of Chicago.
Program will help shape urban agriculture for sustainable food
Ren Encinas, organizing steward at Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA), said their campaign for the program will build a base of BIPOC growers. It will also build an additional base of residents to shape the work and policy of Chicago’s Food Equity Council and its urban agriculture subgroup.
“By participating in the SoPL program, that’s helping me as an organizing steward to develop a political education program,” stated Encinas. “The program gets its foundation in ancestral relationships and ongoing legacies of land- and food-based resistance across Chicago.”
Chicago has untapped agricultural potential
Bea Fry, development steward at AUA, said Chicago has untapped agricultural potential, especially in its vacant land. Fry argues the city’s abandoned land is a government-created, systemic issue. Meanwhile, urban agriculture is a community creation.
“It’s ancestral knowledge that’s being passed on from generation to generation,” Fry explained. “It’s community building between youth and elders, it’s nurturing one another.”
Program will help refine other campaigns
Marla Larrave, political education director for the HEAL Food Alliance, oversees the SoPL program. She said the three cohort teams, which includes another group in California, will continually refine their campaigns and initiatives as they progress.
“So that’s been interesting, to see what folks come in with and then what they leave with, in terms of their campaign,” Larrave observed.
The 2022 class is the fourth overall cohort to pass through the HEAL’s School of Political Leadership.
Reporting by Jonah Chester
Illinois News Connection, a service of Public News Service, covers a broad range of issues with a focus on social services, growth, health care, environmental issues and state government. This coverage is made possible by funding from grants and contributions from individuals, non-profit and non-governmental organizations and foundations with an interest in seeing more news coverage on these and other subjects.