Connecting the Dots Between Climate, Food, and Health Can Bring Communities Together

S.o.S. Juice, a grassroots nonprofit started in 2012, creates solutions to the community’s biggest problems.

(Photo: Ashel Eldridge)

Apr 17, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Ashel Eldridge is an Oakland-based food justice activist and community organizer.

In 2012 I started S.o.S Juice, which stands for System out of our System, an Oakland-based nonprofit that sells organic raw vegan juice, smoothies, tonics, and elixirs and popped up in areas that lacked healthy options for locals. In the early days, I’d set up a juice bar outside a fast-food restaurant and encourage people to make a healthier choice. Instead of opting for a processed product that was both bad for their health and bad for the planet, I got them to try fresh juice and gave them information about wellness.

Soon, S.o.S. expanded from pop-up juice bars to farmers markets, and my team now hosts monthly food justice, health equity, and spiritual liberation events at a local community center, United Roots Oakland. We bring in a variety of speakers, from activists to hip-hop artists, to educate the community on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Over the past two years, we’ve reached thousands of people.

It’s hard to feel like it’s ever enough. Nearly 50 million Americans are food-insecure, and many of them are low-income individuals and people of color. Yet a full 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted—97 percent ends up in landfills, producing methane and contributing to climate change. It’s clear that we have an infrastructure problem, and our communities need a way to ensure environmental, economic, and health resiliency.

For me, I love educating young people about climate. That’s why for the past five years I’ve worked at the Alliance for Climate Education, a national organization whose mission is to educate and inspire young people to break through the challenge of climate change. However, one day last year after I left a low-income, majority-minority high school, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to get at the root issues of climate change: racism, classism, homophobia, and the many other preventable sicknesses that plague our society.

As I drove away from the school, I reflected on how my grandmother died from diabetes and my grandfather, who was a powerful preacher, died from cancer. I also recalled the way my aunt, a Black Panther, denounced oppressing another animal on so-called Thanksgiving. These issues and the fight to solve them feel like they’re in my blood.

That’s why I want to scale up my efforts to make a larger, more holistic impact. I want to promote health for low-income communities, support sustainable agriculture, and create green career paths. I’ve come to the realization that my community needs something bigger than juice—we need an urban pharmacy.

I’m in the process of launching Urban Fx—Urban Farmacy Oakland—to solve issues of food waste, food security, community health, climate, and employment. The project will be supplied by its own net-zero co-op commercial kitchen and distribution facility that creates community resiliency through a regional food hub, selling locally sourced foods and healing products.

I envision Urban Fx working as a membership-based net-zero facility that processes, stores, and inventories foraged, donated, and locally grown quality organic seeds, starts, food from urban gardens, small farms, and food businesses within a 180-mile radius. We’ll map and register our local food assets. Food waste will then be turned into a compost product via vermiculture stations positioned around the perimeter of the facility.

All told, I want to create a home base for locals to heal themselves, learn about healthy lives, and build a community of entrepreneurs, food justice advocates, urban farmers, nutritionists, and spiritual leaders.

Because it’s tough to ask people to care about climate when they’re worried about food and shelter, Urban Fx needs to create green jobs for low-income, low-skilled individuals and people recently released from jail. Job training will include experiential education in nutrition, agriculture, and entrepreneurship. I even have plans to refurbish an old ambulance into a food truck and mobile education platform.

With S.o.S. and Urban Fx, I’m just one community activist trying to chip away at some big problems. This idea is ambitious—I have plenty of work to do—but I’m not waiting for someone to do something to or for my community. What would this look like in your neighborhood?