On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Haile Thomas, founder and CEO of HAPPY; Tony Hillery, founder and Executive Director of Harlem Grown; and Regina Anderson, Executive Director of Food Recovery Network join Nierenberg at South by Southwest to talk about youth in the food system: from efforts better supporting youth to youth-led movements for a better future. “There are young people here who want to help, who want to have access, and who want to do things,” says Anderson. “But it’s about the system, whether it is willing to recognize them or not.”
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According to Thomas and Hillery, systemic injustices hinder a young person’s ability to make healthy choices and change in the food system. “These kids may be born poor, these kids may be born disadvantaged: they all question whether they are brilliant or capable. This is our default,” says Thomas. And, Hillery notes that the system not only disempowers marginalized youth, but also subjects them to an unjust incarceration system and a discriminatory society. “The system failed them, they’ve been arrested for one thing or another. Employers automatically dismiss them for these offenses and they go back into the system. We embrace these people—those are our urban farmers,” says Hillery.
Even if young people chose to be farmers, the process toward becoming a modern farmer can be confusing to navigate. “If you go on Instagram, you don’t see cool farmers that are your age doing fun things… From this, it seems like farming is not glamorous or something to talk about; this is how the industry markets it,” says Thomas. “When you think of farmers, you think of an old guy with a straw hat and overalls: it’s not really something that a young generation feels [they want to do].”
According to Thomas, redefining farming as a service that builds communities can direct youth interest back to farming. “If we attach greater meaning to it—rather than we’re just running out of farmers… it may redefine what it looks like to be a modern farmer,” says Thomas. With this meaningful lens and education about systemic injustice nationwide, Anderson believes young leaders can revitalize the entire food system. “Our movement is only as good as the people who are on the lines every day, working really hard,” says Anderson.