Today, I had the pleasure of participating in US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Listening Session for the 2012 Food and Farm Bill at Hostos Community College right here in the Bronx. Senator Gillibrand is the first US Senator from New York to sit on the Senate Agriculture Committee in over 40 years. This gives New Yorkers a strong voice in the next bill which is set to replace the current Farm Bill that expires this year.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand opened up the talks and spoke about the need to increase food stamp benefits and SNAP benefits which she and her colleagues would like to increase it by 30%. She says that this would be a great step towards assisting families in need especially those in food deserts to be able to spend more money on healthier foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and produce.
The Senator further went on to speak about the disconnect that exists between Hunts Point Market and the Bronx. Here we have the world’s largest food distribution center right in the Bronx yet there is a disconnect with the neighborhood where it is located. She spoke about how the area is intimidating and generally inaccessible to Bronxites due to its truck stop-like appearance. The floor was soon opened up to those attending and the first one to come up and speak was none other than Karen Washington, our very own urban farmer from the Bronx.
Karen spoke about how the Bronx is on top when it comes to hunger. She pointed out how we need to have more funding for food than to keep people incarcerated and that more is spent on incarcerating people than spending on keeping our people healthy. Karen voiced her dismay at being able to look across to Hunts Point but not being able to access it. All of these issues are issues that disproportionately affect people of color in our borough.
Senator Gillibrand responded enthusiastically to Karen’s speech saying how she looked forward in working together on some of the key issues such as expanding community gardens and connecting with local schools. Karen is a strong advocate of teaching kids starting at kindergarten on up about agriculture and growing food and why it is good for you to eat such foods versus the processed foods that are so readily available.
There were other speakers, one in particular who mentioned that the Bronx was burning in the past but now the Bronx is growing in reference to the hundreds of community gardens out here. Then there was Steve Ritz, a NYC Educator who has successfully worked with high school students installing and maintaining green roofs and walls, who challenged Senator Gillibrand to work on enforcing the ban of selling soda and junk food / candy in our schools.
The one thing that was very discouraging to me and several other Bronxites was that this is a “listening session” to hear the voice of the Bronx yet there were barely people of color or Bronxites in attendance. Thus why I decided on the title, “Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Visits The South Bronx But No One’s Home”. To have such an important meeting to “listen” to the voice of the people at 11AM when people are working is a disservice to the community and constituents which you serve. I mean no disrespect or to belittle her hard work and I actually applaud that she eventually made it to the Bronx but we need to have this listening session after business hours so that BRONXITES can attend, BRONXITES can voice their concerns, BRONXITES can be part of the process and not just the usual suspects who are always in attendance at these meetings because it is what they do. A true listening session in the Bronx would have been made up of a vastly different crowd than was in attendance today at Hostos Community College.
Are you interested in attending such a listening session that will affect policy in the United States for the next 5 years? SOUND OFF in the comments below!