It’s more than just a job training, it is a civic engagement project

Robert Pierce at Meriter Hospital
Robert Pierce in the Meriter’s site of the South Madison Farmers’ Market

This post is about my partnership in South Madison.  Reading the most recent story at the Capital Times about our project could potentially be misleading as this may be perceived as just another job training trying to help Formerly Incarcerated Individuals (FIIs). FIIs are not the problem.  FIIs are part of our solution in developing a strong and just local food system in South Madison.

First, it is very possible that we have not been able to communicate clearly about what is it that we want to do with the project.  It is very convenient to think that our project is just another job training for FIIs who lack of skills and lack of trust when trying to reenter the society.  This project is thought to bring together a group of saviors who will give the skills and jobs to FIIs.  No, we are not a savior, and this project is not a job training.  We are using the job training as a means, but the ultimate goal is to build a strong connection between the commercial urban agriculture skills and the food desert community where these FIIs are a part of.

Next, food justice could be addressed by building a strong local food system.  Food justice could be addressed by producing a group of skilled food entrepreneurs (growers, vendors, chefs, nutritionists, etc).  The two statements are true.  However, there is one crucial area that is missing.  Food justice could ONLY be addressed when the social relationship of the people organizing the local food system is strong.  That is, farmers, entrepreneurs, and consumers should all be on the same understanding that everyone has both collective roles and interests in a just local food system.  There need to be collective understanding that farmers could not just grow as much as they want without knowing whether these vegetables are needed by their customers; vendors’ business model could not be driven by a profit-oriented approach; consumers could not just ask for less expensive food price because the business is run to support the business owner family members.

Obviously, we still have to find better ways to communicate this message clearer.  Not that a job training is not cool.  I just think this project should be understood differently, because we approached the problems with this potential solution differently too.

– Ciao