In 2015 an Albertson’s groceries closed their location in a low-income neighborhood of Bellingham. The corporation that owns Albertson’s also owns Safeway, Haggen, and Rite-Aid. While they were turning a profit at Alberstons, they made more off of their other stores. But what did this do to the community?
A community who needed easy access to affordable groceries had grown around this Alberson’s in Parkview Manor. The area has Section 8 housing (for people with disabilities on income assistance), seniors apartments, single parent families, and so on. Without the grocery store people who could have walked one block for groceries now have to bus across town and back. For some people with certain disabilities (e.g. fibro, ME, lyme) this can be the difference between groceries taking one afternoon, and needing two days of recovery–making food acquisition half of a person’s week. Depending on income, the 2 dollars for the bus to the store and back can be the difference between getting that loaf of bread that gets you through the end of the week without hunger. To make this all worse, the corporation has the neighborhood bound with a non-compete clause so they can’t get a grocery store in the area till 2042.
But the community is resisting! We’re resisting the corporate control of food that can decide who is granted and who is denied access to this basic human right. We are resisting the dispersed food system that is eroding our top soil and contributing to green house gasses. Bellingham occupies the traditional, rightful, ancestral land of Lummi and Nooksack nations. Prior to occupation by the colonial nation-state, these nations lived in right relationship with the land and harvest, ensuring food for their whole communities. The land wasn’t just stolen, it began to be used exploitatively, valuing profit over the life of the soil and the bodies of the workers. Some were kidnapped to work stolen land in the case of African American enslavement. Others were pushed off their own farm lands through US trade policies and then paid poverty wages as undocumented workers. Birchwood and Bellingham land bears this legacy and the current injustices reflect the ongoing disregard for life over profit. It does not have to be this way.
Community to Community is a local organization that works to ensure the rights of workers, indigenous sovereignty, and environmental stewardship from the ground up. This is not a bourgeois movement to stamp “organic” on products only available to the rich. This is a movement that changes the very structures of our food systems. It is beyond the reach of this post to cover all of the projects and movement building they coordinate (but they are very much worth looking into in greater depth). Community to Community supported the formation of the Birchwood Food Desert fighters, a group dedicated to bringing affordable, accessible, and healthy food back into the neighborhood. The group holds vigils by the former Albertson’s and protests at Haggen and Safeway. They have created petitions and sat down with civic leaders to advocate for the overturning or the non-compete clause. All of these are important movements, but we also want fresh food in the neighborhood now.
A major project is the Birchwood Food Desert Fighters Garden. This year we’ve been expanding our volunteer base reaching out to the community to Western Washington University students, and other interested folks. Our garden has doubled in size! We are working with nature to grow food that we then give away at a weekly Saturday Share Spot (Bellingham folks: it’s at Northwest and Birchwood at the bus stop by the Industrial credit union– come get some food, come bring some food). We’re working with local farms and Parks to build food forest orchards (thanks Cloud Mountain Farm and Common Threads Farm). Today a team of local farms in Ferndale, WA (also Lummi Nation) donated a large truck bed full of rich manure, mulch, straw, and comfrey to help the soil and we got a team of five folks to shovel and get it spread throughout the garden beds in a single evening!
We can do this friends, the garden is just a large back yard that tenants offered for the project, the volunteers are just folks who want to get their hands in the dirt and care about food justice. Together we can build local, justice based, community food sources. We can freely share the food the earth shares with us. We can center our food sources in each other’s backyards, free from emissions, exploitation, and toxins. We can build food justice with climate justice. Some days working for climate justice is as simple as shoveling manure.