South Sacramento urban farmer, Chanowk Yisrael, wants to see local food systems improve. Eight years ago, he started growing organic food for his family and eventually launched the Yisrael Family Urban Farm in Sacramento’s historic Oak Park neighborhood. Now, he’s expanding that vision to motivate Sacramento youth to become more engaged in changing our local food system — announcing today that he’ll be partnering with Slow Food Sacramento to charter the city’s first Food Academy.
Slow Food Youth Network developed the model for a Food Academy six years ago in the Netherlands. The concept: Select 25 youth and expose them to six months of education about their local food system. Yisrael will partner with Slow Food Sacramento to create an academy that reflects our farm-to-fork region.
“The Youth Academy’s genius is that is brings people from different professional backgrounds together to work on food and farming for a year,” explains Slow Food Sacramento board member, Charity Kenyon. “It’s more like Rotary in that it spreads the knowledge and activism to new sectors. When it works, the participants go back to their professional groups and bring in even more interested colleagues who start to care about and want good, clean and fair food for all.”
As local youth learn more about our food system, Yisrael hopes they become inspired to create change in our community.
The idea for the Food Academy came in October while Yisrael was in Milan attending Terra Madre Giovani (We Feed The Planet), a summit coordinated by Slow Food International in response to the Milan Food Expo 2015. The expo convened international food thought leaders and activists to address the question of feeding the planet. Yet, it lacked a strong presence from those who actually feed the planet for a living: small farmers.
Terra Madre Giovani convened only farmers and specifically focused on young farmers. Yisrael was invited to represent Slow Food Sacramento, Slow Food California and Slow Food USA. At the age of 39 (turning 40 in January), Yisrael laughs at the idea of being considered a “youth.” Yet, despite being one of the eldest representatives, he says it was a role he was grateful to accept.
In Milan, Yisrael attended a series of workshops on agricultural topics as diverse as food and religion, composting, and women in agriculture. He also had the opportunity to visit an urban Italian farm.
Seeing the world of farming through global eyes gave Yisrael the chance to learn from and share information with peers, including African farmers who, like Yisrael, still water every crop by hand. He also learned that in many developing countries, agriculture remains primarily a woman’s occupation, while men bring the harvest to market and collect payment.
“They don’t see how much money is earned off their labor,” Yisrael shakes his head in dismay. “It really comes down to capitalism and patriarchy.”
For the first time, Yisrael saw the U.S. food system from an international perspective.
“From a food activism standpoint, we have a lot more of that going on here,” he says. Yisrael points to organizations like the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition, which worked to pass a city ordinance in Sacramento this year allowing the sales of food grown on urban backyard farms. He continues, “But from a systems standpoint, America is looked at as the garbage place for food. Being in the U.S., we tend to think we’re doing well, but when we go to other countries they say, ‘You all take food that we won’t take.’ America takes junk food, processed food and GMOs.”
Those moments made Yisrael stand firmer in his convictions to improve his own family’s food consumption at home, but also to continue to improve the health of those around him. Back in Sacramento, he and his wife already teach gardening and cooking classes to other families.
One of Yisrael’s big takeaways: “Urban farming [around the world] isn’t as fad-y as it is [in the U.S.]. It’s just what people do.”
To learn more about Slow Food Sacramento’s Food Academy, subscribe to their newsletter. They’ll be announcing details in early 2016.