Black History Month: Changing food culture

February 2, 2017
Black Church Food Security Network volunteers working in a garden. Photo courtesy of Rev. Dr. Herber Brown III.

By Karyn Bigelow

For centuries, black churches have been places of worship and hope—as well as safe spaces to organize for human rights. Black churches represent freedom to the communities they serve. With this in mind, we start Black History Month by highlighting the community work of a leader who is working with his Baltimore, Md., congregation to give residents of his city freedom in the form of affordable, nutrient-rich foods.

Rev. Dr. Herber Brown III is one of the founders of The Black Church Food Security Network. Four years ago, he saw that people in his congregation were being admitted to the hospital for ailments related to poor diets. To address this problem, Brown reached out to local markets to form a partnership, but he found that their prices for fresh produce were too high. He came from these meetings with a feeling of “divine discontentment.” When he returned to his church, he noted an empty lot owned by the church and decided that they could use the land to plant fresh produce. This empty lot would later be named Maxine’s Garden, named after a dedicated gardener in the congregation. With one plot of land, the Black Church Food Security Network was born.

Brown describes the project as more than just urban farming; it is “a tangible expression of the Gospel.” This initiative is not intended to be a charity. Instead it is a tool to organize people. These gardens are just the beginning of a movement in Baltimore to organize, cultivate new lifestyles, and teach skills to people in underserved communities.

The network is changing food culture. Traditionally, black churches often serve Southern meals, also known as soul food, after worship each Sunday. Soul food is tasty, but not particularly healthy. Now churches are better able to incorporate healthy foods from their own gardens. Congregants feel pride when their food is served at the table. When children participate in the creation of their food, they are more willing to eat fruits and vegetables. And when they try new foods, they are able to influence their parents’ decisions when grocery shopping. The initiative will reap benefits for generations.

Since its inception, Maxine’s Garden has produced more than 900 pounds of produce! The network now includes multiple plots of land and has launched several farmers’ markets. Brown is also starting a Freedom School to teach children about agriculture, herbs, and sewing when they are not in regular school. In the future, the network will be partnering with Johns Hopkins University to analyze the effects of their work.

Although the Black Church Food Security Network is now limited to Baltimore, Brown has traveled to Chicago, Ill.; Dallas, Texas; and Gary, Ind., to educated other churches on how to start their own community gardens and farmer’s markets. The Black Church Food Security Network is led by African-Americans and primarily addressing the lack of accessibility of food to African Americans. However, all people are welcomed to join the work that they are doing just that.

Karyn Bigelow is a government relations assistant at Bread for the World.

These gardens are just the beginning of a movement in Baltimore to organize, cultivate new lifestyles, and teach skills to people in underserved communities.

Tools
from our Resource Library

For Education

For Faith

  • The Bible on Health as a Hunger Issue

    A brief examination of the biblical approach to health as a hunger issue.

    Includes an introduction to the issue, a Scriptural reflection, practical actions you can take, and a prayer.

  • Sermon by David Beckmann at Duke University Chapel

    Remarks delivered October 1, 2017 at Duke University Chapel in Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

    Thank you for inviting me to preach here at Duke University Chapel. And I especially want to thank the Bread for the World members who have come this morning.

    Bruce Puckett urged...

  • Bread Newsletter January 2016

    In this issue: Another Great Year for Bread; Catholics Begin Observance of Holy Year of Mercy; Serving on ‘God’s Wave Length’ for 39 Years; and more.
     

For Advocacy

  • Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit

    A set of how-to sheets for carrying out advocacy and fact sheets on the current issues Bread for the World is working on.

    For new and current Bread grassroots hunger activists.

    Ideal as a starter toolkit for new Bread activists or as a set of updates for current activists.

    ...

  • Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017

    Unnecessarily long prison sentences, combined with the lack of rehabilitative programs for people in prison, exacerbate hunger, poverty, and existing inequalities.

    Overly harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences have contributed to the rapid increase of our country’s prison population. The...

  • Health Care Is a Hunger Issue

    Learn more about the principles that Bread for the World supports regarding health reform.

Field

Changing Climate, Changing Farmers

February 7, 2017

Insight

From the Blog