EMEAC among four organizations chosen as public policy fellows in national EAT4HEALTH program

August 23, 2012

Charity Hicks
WASHINGTON D.C. -- The Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation announced today the naming of four community-based activists from Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas as the foundation’s first Everybody at the Table for Health fellows.

Our goal is to bring about better food and farm policy by supporting community-based leaders who will help bridge the gap between grass-roots community organizing and national advocacy,” says Kolu Zigbi, Noyes Foundation director of sustainable agriculture and food systems, and creator of the fellowship program, also known as EAT4Health. “Ultimately, we hope EAT4Health will lead to enactment of federal food and farm policies that support environmental, economic and food justice for all.”
Beginning in September, each fellow will work with a national advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. and his or her sponsoring community-based organization to design a work plan and project that builds and leverages the power of grass-roots leadership and the national organization’s expertise. The fellowships are for three years.
The fellows and their community-based organizations are:
  • Nelson Carrasquillo, general coordinator of the Farmworkers Support Committee, also known as El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores, Glassboro, New Jersey.
  • Charity Hicks, Food Justice Task Force Program coordinator, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Detroit.
  • Diana Lopez, coordinator of environmental justice, Southwest Workers Union, San Antonio, Texas.
  • Dana Parfait, member of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees, which is part of the Coastal Communities Collaborative, Houma, Louisiana.
The fellows will work together to develop skills, talk with and learn from policy experts, share experiences, explore areas of common interest and plan collaborative campaigns,” explains Zigbi. 

Although the first four Everybody at the Table for Health fellows are diverse in terms of where they live, race and ethnicity, and the community-based organizations they represent, they share a long-term commitment to social justice, a sustainable environment and healthier food options in their communities.

Meet the 2012 Everybody at the Table Health fellows:\\

Charity Hicks is coordinator of the Detroit Food Justice Taskforce, a collaborative of 12 community-based groups formed in 2009 including The East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC). EMEAC’s mission is to empower the Detroit community to protect, preserve, and value its land, air and water. The task force brings together local growers, social and environmental justice organizations, schools, churches, food educators, restaurants and caterers, restaurant suppliers, the City of Detroit, community activists and residents to promote a justice-centered food system, explains Hicks. The Detroit native and environmentalist is a member of the Detroit Grocery Store Coalition Steering Committee, Detroit Food Policy Council and the People’s Water Board Detroit.

One of the most critical food policy issues for Detroiters is a lack of access in city neighborhoods to quality, fresh produce that is nutritionally dense,” says Hicks, a master gardener and founding member and secretary of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, one of the city’s largest agricultural groups. “Good soil and sound agricultural practices are at the root of all resilient, vibrant food systems. We need to have both,” she says.

Hicks previously worked as a clinical research associate and project coordinator of a National Institutes of Health-funded longitudinal study on health disparities at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

Nelson Carrasquillo is general coordinator of the Farmworkers Support Committee, headquartered in Grassboro, New Jersey. Two thousand member families who work in farm fields and packinghouses in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania govern the nonprofit organization. The Farmworkers Support Committee also is known as CATA, for El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores.

Most U.S. food policies are designed to facilitate access to cheap labor,” says Carrasquillo, who joined the Farmworkers Support Committee in 1992. Previously he coordinated organizing in the National Ecumenical Movement in his native Puerto Rico, where he worked with fishing and small agricultural communities, farm workers, and communities with environmental problems.

In addition to engaging Farmworkers Support Committee members in local agricultural programs, Carrasquillo is active in the Agricultural Justice Project, which develops standards for the fair and just treatment of people working in organic and sustainable agriculture. The Agricultural Justice Project’s domestic social justice certification initiative and its Food Justice Certified label allow family-scale farms to distinguish their products from industrialized organic products.

Carrasquillo co-chairs Urban Rural Mission USA and its Global Partners Working Group. He is a member of the New Jersey Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigration and says immigration reform is the most critical issue for Farmworkers Support Committee members. He believes the Everybody at the Table for Health fellowship will help him make the necessary connections to advocate effectively on food policy issues at the national level.

Diana Lopez is coordinator of environmental justice at the Southwest Workers Union in San Antonio, Texas. The Southwest Workers Union, with 3,500 members, works to reframe public policy to protect the community and include the voices of local residents. It has led successful strategic campaigns targeting wages, environmental clean-up, economic revitalization, health care and energy policy.
Lopez, a part-time agricultural and ethno-botany student at Palo Alto College, began working with the Southwest Workers Union as a high school intern. It was while conducting a health study in neighborhoods near two of San Antonio’s six military bases that she made the connection between birth defects, cancer and other health problems associated with pollution from military installations.

The experience of working with other environmental justice organizers helped me figure out my role in the community and made me aware of the systemic barriers that are causing problems,” says Lopez, who helped establish the Southwest Workers Union’s Roots of Change gardening cooperative.

Too often industry comes ahead of the health needs of the community,” Lopez says. “Also people need access to fresh, organic food.” She looks forward to working with the other fellows to establish policies that promote vibrant food economies and healthy community infrastructures.

I have worked a lot with Detroit and am impressed with the urban farming model it is developing. I also would like work together with the other fellows to push through national policy and to teach others in my community about policy development.”

Lopez was recognized with the 2009 Brower Youth Award from Earth Island Institute and the Urban Renewal Award for her community organizing and for promoting food sovereignty, premised on the belief that people have the right to decide what to eat and that food should be healthy and accessible to everyone in the community. Lopez sits on the Energy Action Coalition, South by Southwest Experiment, and Youth for Climate Justice coordinating committees. She also is a member of the Food Policy Council of San Antonio and the Green Spaces Alliance.

Dana Parfait is a member of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees, which is part of the Coastal Communities Collaborative, headquartered in Houma, Louisiana. The four Native American communities and one African American community that make up the collaborative work together to preserve and protect Southeast Louisiana.

The collaborative focuses on involving citizens in oversight of oil and gas industry activities, preservation of wetlands, and food sovereignty and security issues, including restoration of traditional medicinal plants. The communities share ethno-botanical knowledge, build and maintain test gardens, and work together to protect and restore vital natural resources.

Parfait, an accountant and tribal researcher, serves on the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees Tribal Community Disaster Council. She has worked on emergency preparedness and policy issues related to tribal disaster recovery since 2005. Parfait focuses on education, coastal erosion, the loss of healing plants and the inability to grow crops due to the changing environment. Recently, she worked with the Natural Resource Conservation Service on restoration of native plants, gardening and food cultivation.