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Planting Justice: Examining the Potential for Alliances between Urban Garden Groups and Other Environmental Health Organizations

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           Recently, our class has been confronted with many theorists who urge us to recognize that we exist in relation to one another and that our concerns are closely tied to others. Farmer reminded us that we live in an “increasingly interconnected world” (Farmer, 158). Barad urged us to “experience life like electrons” and be aware of the ways our lives and concerns are entangled with those we share the world with (Barad). Finally, Butler suggested that it is time to “expand what we mean when we say ‘we’” and to foster alliances across groups that have been subjected to various levels of “precarity” (Butler, Flexner Lecture 2). I decided to investigate the potential for alliances to be formed between the food justice movement and broader environmental health movement in the San Francisco Bay Area. The research led me to Planting Justice, an Oakland, CA based organization that seeks to increase access to organic produce by installing organic gardens in community spaces and private homes. By using the work of Growing Justice as a model, this web-event will seek to suggest ways that community gardens and the organizations that support them can mobilize political action on local environmental health issues.

            Planting Justice has several main components. The group strives to increase access to fresh food in communities throughout the East Bay, especially to low-income areas which either don’t have access to or the means to purchase organic produce. In order to bring fresh organic food to low-income communities, Planting Justice designs and installs organic gardens in private and public spaces throughout the East Bay. In their first two years, the organization created more than 80 gardens in communal spaces of affordable housing complexes, public schools, backyards of private residences, and San Quentin Prison – to name a few examples. Planting Justice uses funds generated from donations and the installation of gardens for full-paying clients to build gardens for clients who cannot afford to pay for them. For every three paying clients, Planting Justice is able to install one garden for free.

            Planting Justice also works to provide low-income communities with education on food justice. The organization conducts weekly workshops on food justice in community centers, homes, apartment complexes and schools throughout the Bay Area. One of the goals of these workshops is to help students “contribute to the health and well-being of their local communit[ies]” (Planting Justice). The syllabus for one such course in Food Justice, can be found on the organizations website here: .

            The work of Planting Justice can be understood as alliance-forming in several ways. By increasing access to organic food for people of all socioeconomic levels, Planting Justice fosters a greater sense of entanglement across socioeconomic divisions. When paying clients hire Planting Justice for an organic garden, they presumably recognize that they are contributing to gardens in either community spaces or the home of someone without the resources to pay for the installation. The financial structure of the organization is such that receiving a garden means “buying in” to the importance of access to healthy food for people of all income levels. This organizational link represents the awareness of all parties involved that food justice issues are relevant to everyone.

            Planting Justice’s Burbank community garden project provides a rich example of the connections the organization seeks to foster both within communities and the way they attempt to use food justice education to encourage broader thinking about the role of urban agriculture in the larger food justice movement. Here is a short video summarizing the project:



This Burbank Community Garden project primarily involved Explore College Preparatory Students, but the garden is open to the entire community. The students are learning about both local and global food justice movements and how they can become involved. They are being asked to thinking about where this project fits into the larger food production system. The project forms connections both between members of the community, and between the students’ access to food and academic interactions with local and global food justice issues.

Planting Justice has created the perfect foundation from which to form alliances with environmental health organizations that are working on policy that impacts the health of the communities it is involved with. Many of the Planting Justice projects are in low-income neighborhoods, which are often exposed to environmental conditions that adversely impact their health. Exposure to poor air quality is one such condition. In 2008 the Alamdea County Public Health Department reported that residents of West Oakland breathe air with 3 times more diesel particles in it than in the Bay Area in general. According to this report, this air quality “translates to a 2.5 greater lifetime risk of cancer compared to that in the [rest] of the Bay Area” (ACPHD, 92). Environmental groups like The Sierra Club have been working to improve air quality in these West Oakland neighborhoods by imposing stricter regulations on the Port of Oakland. Not only are low-income neighborhoods more likely to include greater environmental health risks than high-income neighborhoods, but these neighborhoods also tend to have lower voter participation rates than in wealthier regions (Fair Vote).

Organizations like Planting Justice, who are already involved in both environmental work as it relates to food access and involving these communities in education surrounding their work, are in the perfect position to begin educating the communities they work in on environmental health issues affecting their neighborhoods. By designing an environmental health workshop or after school program curriculum, like that at Burbank Community Garden, Planting Justice could use the communal spaces it designs as loci for educating communities on the health risks their environment exposes them to and help mobilize them to take political action on environmental policies that directly impact their health. Alliances could be formed between organizations such as the Sierra Club and Planting Justice to begin creating more environmentally literate and politically mobilized communities within low-income neighborhoods that are able to more effectively achieve health policy change. In my final project, I hope to explore the potential for these cross-organization alliances and position this strategy within the larger environmental health and food justice movements. 

Works Cited 

Barad, Karen Michelle. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. Print.


Butler, Judith. "Bodies in Alliance & the Politics of the Street." Flexner Lecture. Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr. 14 Nov. 2011. Lecture.


"Life and Death from Unnatural Causes - ACPHD." ACPHD Home - ACPHD. 2008. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. <>.


" | Voter Turnout." | Home. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <>.

 Farmer, Paul. Pathologies of Power. Berkeley: University of California, 2005. Print

 Planting Justice | Urban Gardens | Bay Area Permaculture. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <>.

"Port of Oakland." San Francisco Bay Sierra Club Chapter. Web. 04 Dec. 2011. <>.