Creating Community-Run Food Systems

In 2016, Isa Mujahid founded CTCORE to address the historical and contemporary root causes of racial discrimination in a new way. Inspired by the momentum around Black-led movements that were building in Ferguson and beyond in response to the tragic killing of Michael Brown in 2014, Isa recognized the need for a statewide organization in Connecticut led by people of color.

 “Connecticut,” Isa notes, “is the most inequitable state in the country.” In fact, the state ranks number one for income inequality in the United States. It is also one of the most racially divided states, a legacy of discriminatory structures, policies, and practices that include but are not limited to the history of slave trade in the state, exclusionary housing and zoning laws, and segregated schools

The Food Justice Guide

CTCORE’s mission focuses on dismantling the systems, policies, and practices that perpetuate racial inequities. The organization works to break down the barriers that prevent communities from developing and deploying solutions to the problems they face. 

The current food system is a product of these inequities, according to Isa. CTCORE created a Food Justice Guide to describe the problem and to offer a three-pillared solution, called the REAL framework: Reparations, Equity, and Liberation. The guide explains that “The US food system was built on an economic agrarian system that would not have existed if it were not for the theft of land from and attempted genocide of the Indigenous people of America, and hundreds of years of forced slave labor of African people.”

The Food Justice Guide serves as a toolkit, freely accessible online for community organizers to use as a model for achieving community-owned food systems well beyond Connecticut. For Isa, “it’s really important to be able to demonstrate and model in our community that aspirations of freedom, liberation, and alternative ways of being in relationship with each other, with the environment don’t have to remain dreams.” 

Building Robust Local Food Systems 

The organization is helping to drive the shift toward community ownership of the local food systems in three communities where they operate: Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven. “Having community ownership of the food system is really important for justice and equity—whether it’s being able to access the food that the community needs, to start a business in the community, or to ensure that the food system is one that isn’t degrading the environment,” Isa explains. 

As a first step, CTCORE is developing an online resource tool to enable community organizers in these communities to share experiences and move resources to aid in building a community-run food system. Isa is also exploring the ways other technologies might help to provide additional infrastructure and tools for collectively owned, designed, and operated networks. “The awesome thing about technology is the idea that innovation is just baked into the equation, always.” One of the dreams the organization hopes to realize in the near future is the establishment of a growing network of cooperatively-run community cafés across the state. 

Data for the Greater Good

Recently, representatives from two New Haven-based development projects approached CTCORE about including these cafés on premises. One will be a storefront café affiliated with an organization that serves local young people. The café will be run by youth, offering jobs and training to young people. The other project is part of a multi-stakeholder collaboration between the City of New Haven and local food nonprofits, who are coming together to create a community food systems hub. These types of innovative partnerships chart the path forward for collaboration amongst under-resourced communities striving to bridge the digital divide.

CTCORE offers a model for integrating learnings from the community and the data they create into programs to meet their needs. It also offers an example of the huge untapped potential for data to help people and communities reach their full potential. Through his participation in Refresh, Isa is thinking more about the role of data in meeting the community’s needs and considering what community-owned data might look like. He notes, “There’s something in the ability to have community-wide collective ownership of data and to use that data for the greater good.”

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