“Cultivating Green Power” Conference Raises Awareness about Food Insecurity and Community Gardening

Green Power ConferenceOn November 3rd, 2023, Seton Hall University’s PolicyLab and the Digital Humanities program at Seton Hall University hosted the inaugural
“Cultivating Green Power” conference to raise awareness about environmental racism
and food insecurity. The conference served as an extension of Green Power, a public-facing
digital humanities project developed by Amalia McEvoy that showcases community gardens
in Newark, NJ. Funded by a mini-grant from Engage NJ, with additional support from
the College of Arts and Sciences, the conference planners invited four local community leaders to share their subject
matter expertise while offering insight into the factors leading to food insecurity,
along with the steps being taken to address the root causes of environmental racism.
The conference, which welcomed an audience of approximately 60 attendees, began with
a brief introduction and presentation by Joseph Pastino, co-founder of PolicyLab and
Adjunct Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Seton Hall, and Amalia
McEvoy, a Seton Hall University alumna and developer of the Green Power website. The
two provided an overview of the origins of the Green Power project, including a demonstration
of the website.

The community activists who spoke at the conference included Tobias Fox, Founder and
Managing Director of Newark Science and Sustainability; Chesha Hodge, Sustainable
Food Systems Program Manager in Newark’s Office of Sustainability; Sabrina Ross, Program
Associate, GreenLight Fund of Greater Newark; and Audris Torres, Resiliency Coordinator
at Solar 1, Resilient Solar Initiative. Each of the speakers provided a brief overview
of their work; the conference then transitioned to an open discussion with active
participation from the audience. Throughout the course of the discussion, the panelists
explained the basics of community gardening and urban farming, shared the strategies
they have used in the fight to end food insecurity, and provided a candid overview
of the obstacles they face daily.

They also addressed a number of issues related to food insecurity, including rampant
food waste by individuals and institutions, the location of grocery stores in relation
to fast food establishments, the significance of childhood obesity in urban communities,
and the lack of proper nutrition education in low-income communities and BIPOC-dominated
neighborhoods. Upon outlining the surface issues commonly associated with food insecurity,
the conversation shifted to examining how structural barriers stemming from the legacy
of racism impede environmental justice initiatives. Members of the audience shared
their own experiences, noting the importance of civic engagement and questioning the
efficacy of the many public policies designed to safeguard the rights of the marginalized.
Most notably there was considerable focus on the pervasiveness of misinformation,
which so often manifests itself in the social justice domain and creates roadblocks
to progress. Susan Haig, founder of CivicStory, who attended the conference, observed
that it “created a special sense of dialog and belonging. The conversation flowed
without being rushed; the four excellent panelists chose complementary topics close
to their hearts, and the many guest attendees were active participants.” She also
noted that it was “a dynamic effort to empower residents with information on greenspaces
and healthy food.”

PolicyLab envisions a political system that is free of misinformation, and it aims
to achieve this goal through experiential learning, community outreach, and student-faculty
collaboration. It emphasizes the importance of working in conjunction with local community
leaders to address social justice issues while empowering residents to be change-agents
in their communities. The Digital Humanities program emphasizes the use of digital
technology to address real-world concerns while advancing students’ digital skills.
The “Cultivating Green Power” conference underscores both programs’ commitment to
render aid that is both helpful and community centered, while supporting the efforts
of local leaders.

For more information about PolicyLab, contact Joe Pastino at [email protected].

For more information about the Digital Humanities program, contact Mary Balkun at
[email protected].


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