By Teagan Smith
“Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”
– Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on food sovereignty, Mali, 2007 (Food Sovereignty Alliance)
Last Saturday, 33 people came together for the Food Sovereign-Tea event led by Anabel’s in partnership with the Botanic Gardens Learning by Leading (LxL) teams and the Global Tea Club. In an effort to teach students about ways in which they can control their own food systems, Robert Wesley, a botanist with the Cornell Botanic Gardens led a foraging plant walk through Mundy Wildflower Garden (MFW). MFW is a hidden gem on Cornell’s campus, across the road from the Botanic Gardens, tucked away next to the river, it hosts an abundance of native New York plants. Their goal is to maintain the natural ecosystems and environment of upstate NY through the maintenance of non-native invasive plants, and the continued planting and care of the natives; therefore, maintain the animals/insects which rely on them. Robert showcased a number of plants that could be consumed or foraged and went over sustainable methods of foraging.
One such plant is a ramp, or wild onion (Allium tricoccum). Ramps are spring ephemerals, meaning they begin to sprout in very early spring and have a short lifespan. Both the bulb and the leaf of the plant are edible to be eaten raw or cooked down, but removing the bulb from the ground inhibits regrowth and is an unsustainable method of foraging.
Another common plant that is seen all over campus this week is the dandelion. Dandelion leaves can be eaten raw, mixed into a salad, sautéed, or baked like kale chips. The flowers can be infused in water or other mediums to make tea, honey, vinegar, jelly, and syrup that tastes like dandelion.
Note: Always proceed with caution when foraging, as chemicals could have been sprayed, your plant identification could be wrong, or it could be the wrong season to consume the plant.
The event also was a part of LxL’s biocultural events each month. While everyone enjoyed the food provided by Anabel’s, they were also asked to participate in a discussion about food sovereignty. Provided to each table was a few examples of community farms/gardens like Universe City and Harlem Grown, or Rocky Acres Community Farm. Additionally, background and information on foragers of color like Alexis Nikole Nelson (@blackforager on Instagram).
Some of the discussion questions are listed below. As you finish reading, take some time to think about what answers you might give to these questions, or what privilege you may have that has made you unaware of the importance of this topic, especially to communities of color.
What are some ways you can engage in food sovereignty as a student at Cornell?
How is food sovereignty tied to particular ethnic and racial identities? How has it impacted the history of those identities?
What are innovative, low land-footprint ways for urban areas to incorporate food sovereignty practices?
How does foraging represent ideas of the importance of biocultural diversity and the inextricable connection between people and nature?
How does foraging contribute to food sovereignty for different communities?
Why is it important to engage in food sovereignty beyond just growing food?
What was your relationship with food sovereignty when you were growing up?