January 31, 2020
It is with a full heart that I greet you as the new Executive Director of Grow Food Northampton! I’m so excited to lead this organization into a new decade – not just because it’s 2020, but because this is the year that Grow Food Northampton is launching its second decade of existence. Yes, it was ten years ago that under the visionary leadership of Lilly Lombard, GFN was founded. And we have big ideas, ambitious plans, and a brilliant vision for the coming decade. Please join us, my friends, in manifesting our social justice values in new ways, addressing the climate emergency, and continuing the stellar accomplishments of an incredibly hard-working organization.
So, what was my motivation to helm Grow Food Northampton, you may ask. Let me share my background with you.
I grew up in Cleveland, OH in the era of frozen dinners consisting of something resembling fried chicken, shriveled-up little green things that were called peas, and mashed potatoes likely made from powder and added water. We ate “cheese in a can” on special occasions, and poptarts, in all their artificial glory were a breakfast staple in my home. We didn’t exactly live in a “food desert” but little value was placed on the consumption of fresh produce and healthy, whole foods. The food ethos of the 1960s and ‘70s in middle class middle-America was focused on new ideas of “efficiency” and the ways in which industry and corporate agribusiness could make life easier for “homemakers.” What’s more, growing one’s own food was seen as an act of necessity that poor ancestors had had to undertake to survive. My first-generation American parents saw access to packaged foods as part of having achieved the American Dream.
Fast forward to my teenage years. I lived on a kibbutz in Israel, a collective agricultural community based on socialist principles. There, we ate produce and lots of fresh food that had been grown on our land (previously expropriated from indigenous Palestinian villages), or on the land of neighboring settlements. I worked in the apple orchards and weeded the cotton fields. I felt for the first time in my life a connection to the land, realized salad wasn’t a piece of iceberg lettuce, and discovered the joys of avocados. But I also came to know the stench of pesticides on my clothing after a day in the orchards or fields, and to identify the dusty coating of insecticides on the apples and other fruits and vegetables we consumed daily.
Speed the reel another couple of decades forward to my arrival in Northampton, to the dawn of my awareness of sustainable, organic farming and gardening as a pursuit for not just enjoyment, but as a way to feed one’s family untainted food direct from the soil. My passion for growing my own organic vegetables took on even broader meaning for me as I recognized the deep connection between how we farm and produce food and the climate emergency we are in that threatens our very existence. One of my central goals during my tenure as a Northampton city councilor over the last six years was ensuring that the city reduce the use of pesticides and other chemicals in our community. In establishing a Select Committee on Pesticide Reduction and passing legislation that mandates the organic management of municipal areas, I was able to fulfill this goal and set the stage for more comprehensive change of how we manage Northampton’s green spaces.
In choosing a path of sustainable, local agriculture and food systems, we are pushing back against destructive agribusiness and tending to our communities in ways that not only address the destruction of our climate, but the economic and racial inequities so rampant in the corporate production of food. The food justice work that Grow Food Northampton has worked on for the last decade – and plans to deepen in the next ten years — has crucial implications for the ways we use the agricultural land in our community, the quality of our food, the environment, workers’ rights, access to fresh and affordable food, and our overall health and well-being.
I can’t wait to meet you all so we can do this work together! Please come say hello at our upcoming Meet and Greet Open House on Sunday, February 23 from 3:00-6:00pm and tell me how you’d like to work with Grow Food Northampton on strengthening sustainable agriculture and food systems in our region, achieving food justice in our community, and saving our planet.
Alisa Klein, Executive Director