Christopher Bradshaw, Founder and Executive Director of Dreaming Out Loud, Inc., is speaking at the third annual D.C. Food Tank Summit, Let’s Build a Better Food Policy, which will be hosted in partnership with George Washington University and the World Resources Institute on February 2, 2017.
Bradshaw is a social justice entrepreneur whose expertise is using social innovation through the food system to grow meaningful community economic development within marginalized communities. He founded Dreaming Out Loud, Inc., a nonprofit social enterprise that is rebuilding an economically and environmentally sustainable, community-based food system in Washington, D.C.
As a member of the first-ever D.C. Food Policy Council, Bradshaw was selected as a 2015 Ashoka-American Express Emerging Innovator, a finalist for Ashoka Changemakers’ Nutrients for All competition, and one of 50 Under 50: Innovative Leaders Transforming Metro D.C.’s Food System.
Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Christopher about his background, social justice in the food system, and the food sovereignty movement.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Christopher Bradshaw (CB): I was inspired to get involved in urban farming for a number of reasons. The first inspiration was seeing deep community need in healthy food access, exposure of young people to healthy lifestyles and opportunity, and the need of communities to rekindle cultural foodways that could aid intergenerational healing and other social fissures. As I got more into farming, memories began coming back to me. Those memories were running up and down the crop rows of my Uncle Walt’s acre-plus garden in Morristown, Tennessee, across the street from my Grandmother’s house. From his garden—which he basically did by himself—he would grow everything imaginable, which my grandmother, aunts, and neighbors would can and preserve and we would eat for months.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
CB: The more powerful forces work to displace indigenous communities from land, corporations pollute our world and fund climate change denial, and grocery stores leave urban communities without health food options—the more I want to stand up in solidarity and fight. We don’t have time to tire when the stakes are so high! Also, I am always restored by the soil; healed by it. So every time I get a chance to get my hands in the soil, I feel renewed and ready to keep going.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
CB: My mom, JoVita Wells, inspired me as a kid. She exposed me very early on to social justice issues. She even worked at the Highlander Center, an organization in Tennessee that helped to train Civil Rights workers and was targeted and shut down by the government for their work fighting for freedom. My mom exposing me at an early age to social justice really sunk in. When I was in third grade, a teacher-issued ban on tag sparked me to organize with classmates to sign petitions, stage a sit-in on the sandbox, and boycott recess for our right to play!
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
CB: The biggest opportunity that exists to fix the food system is in creating new ownership within communities that have been historically disadvantaged, displaced, and oppressed through our current food system. We have an opportunity to create community-owned cooperatives and worker-owned enterprises.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
CB: Abron Wells, my grandfather, is my food hero. Memories of my grandfather and his garden were also prominent. He was a man from rural, small-town Jacksonville, GA, with only a fourth-grade education. Yet, he accomplished much. He worked for Pratt and Whitney building airplane parts, worked at an ice-cream shop, and eventually started buying houses, apartments, and duplexes across Hartford, Connecticut. It was real estate that allowed him to gain independence and prosperity from his limited education, but it was farming that kept him grounded, connected him to his childhood, and gave him a release.
I remember him working very hard all week, but then on Saturday mornings he would wake me up between five and six in the morning to get breakfast, and then we would proceed from property to property where he would fix everything from sinks to doorknobs. After that was done around 11 am, you think that would be enough, but that was only the warm up because we still had farming to do. Farming was like recreation for him. The picture of us standing in the field was at his growing space in Connecticut; it was his way of mentally escaping to Georgia. He always wanted to retire there and farm, but he didn’t get to. Now I honor him, my Uncle Walt, and countless other women and men in my ancestry who didn’t get to do it for fun, but rather forced to under the yoke of oppression. Today we do it as an act of liberation.
I also look up to Will Allen. Visiting Growing Power in 2012 was a watershed moment along my journey into food. I can remember how it felt in the greenhouses and hoop houses; I remember the smell. And also, I think that there’s something about Will Allen that reminds me of my grandfather.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
CB: The biggest challenges for creating a just and sustainable food system are creating a new system to bring low-income and landless people into models of collective ownership and benefit, dismantling a system of policies and subsidies that advantage corporate-agribusiness, and moving society to truly valuing food and the folks who grow and harvest it.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
CB: I think conversations help to frame circumstances and push folks to find ways of acting within their world. We are at a critical juncture; policy needs to move to open up resources to undergird individuals and communities with skills and supports eroded by a profit-over-people economic system. We need to shape a national vision of the food and economic system towards one that creates living wage jobs and moves towards a restorative, regenerative social justice narrative; beyond Band-Aids, to systemic, structural social revolution that has justice as its core value.
FT: What advice can you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
CB: Support D.C. statehood. We deserve the right to self-determination. To be in the backyard of the White House and Congress means that we have physical proximity to major institutions; however, we have to work harder—not being a state—to influence policies that impact our little city-state. We believe that the visibility of the first-ever D.C. Food Policy Council will help us to make a difference on the ground in our community and hopefully serve as another positive national example of what food justice, food sovereignty, and equity can look like. Work to empower local, community-based solutions and turn from corporate agribusiness. Be open to a spiritual transformation that can move you away from the influence of money and restore power to the people.