Chris Bradshaw with Dave Matthews at Farm Aid 2016

Discovering Farm Aid with DOL

Joanna Williams DOL Out and About

Joanna Williams is an Emerson National Hunger Fellow with Dreaming Out Loud. Below, she shares her reflection on our day at Farm Aid 2016.

A couple of weekends ago, I attended Farm Aid 2016 with our team from Dreaming Out Loud. Being relatively new to the team and to the food justice scene, I didn’t know what to expect from the day. A little background research told me that it was a huge event for farm and fresh produce lovers and advocates. Even with this knowledge, I still was not expecting the affirming and genuinely enthusiastic environment that Farm Aid was. It felt like a holiday for farmers and food justice advocates.

The HOMEGROWN Village was one of my favorite parts of the day; DOL was one of the exhibitors in the tent. I had fun visiting the different tables and learning about the many farm-related organizations across the country working to support fresh and healthy produce. Our table featured two displays. One was a mini farm in the box with real soil and fresh produce – tomatoes, basil and mint from our urban garden, picked that morning! Those who stopped by the table were able to touch the soil and feel the produce as we explained what seeds we used to grow them. Our second display included three posters boards depicting income inequality by DC ward, SNAP participation growth over the past six years by DC ward, and changes in grocery store access over the past four years by DC ward. We contextualized that information growth with a chart about changes in DC’s racial demographics.

Using the boards, we walked visitors at our table through food access inequality in DC. We highlighted how Wards 2 and 3 average more than $200,000 a year in income, while residents who live in Wards 7 and 8 average $50,000. We discussed how between 2007 and 2013, Wards 7 and 8 each added more than 10,000 new SNAP participants – but there were fewer than 1,000 new participants in that same time time span for Ward 3. Finally, we looked at changes in grocery store access and poverty rates in DC neighborhoods; and we noted that what looks like an improvement in food security statistics for many wards actually coincides with the displacement of African-American families from those wards in favor of white and wealthy residents. Visitors to the table were shocked to see such a stark visual representations of inequality in DC, and it was a reminder of how stealthy inequality remains. We tied it all together by explaining how DOL’s new urban farm project at Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7 will be a tool for community members to create a more equitable food system for their neighborhood.

DOL was also a part of Farm Aid’s morning press event. Chris and some of our community members from Dix Street Garden shared the stage with Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Willie Nelson. A few weeks earlier, Farm Aid produced a video about our work, and the DOL team was interviewed on stage after the video was shown. It was a surreal experience to see our staff and community members on stage with famous musicians telling our story to the crowd. They made it clear to everyone why urban agriculture can be so powerful for communities – if community members are the ones deciding how it happens.

I left Farm Aid feeling fulfilled and revitalized. I see these next few months at Dreaming Out Loud as an important step in my journey as a changemaker, and I have no doubt my day Farm Aid 2016 will turn out to be a pivotal day in that journey.

Want to see more from our Farm Aid experience?

  • Check out the video below with DOL Executive Director Chris Bradshaw and Dave Matthews.
  • Read this Farm Aid blog post for more about our partners in DC’s food and farm scene.