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Food Sovereignty: A Response to Food Apartheid

By Brad Henry

Growing Roots founder Julieta Munoz guides a vegetable bed workshop.


Living in a place like California, many of us have heard the term food desert. This is often used to describe a place that has limited access to food. These areas are often many miles away from the nearest grocery store or have limited access to healthy and nutritious foods.

It is a sad reality to learn about — and unfortunately, it is often by design.  But there is research that suggests that another term may be more appropriate – food apartheid. On the heels of Hunger Action Month, this issue requires our undivided attention.

According to the Global Center for Climate Justice, food apartheid is an issue that has been around for a long time. Often, it takes place in low-income areas and in communities of color. These communities have experienced many injustices that limit access to healthy and natural food to both grow and sell to the people who live there.

It may be surprising to learn that lack of food in certain areas of California is intentional. There are large corporations that target (or many times ignore) specific parts of the state in which food and access to it is limited.

So then, what if addressing the problem requires just as much planning and care?

In response to food apartheid, there is a food sovereignty movement that has gained popularity. This movement is working to encourage local farming within these oft-forgotten communities. By supporting farmers in these communities, this helps to fight back against much of the food apartheid taking place. As a result, communities are encouraged to embrace the right to determine how their food is grown and sold. This gives more access to affordable home-grown food to the people who need it.

As part of this year’s Cole’s Fund grantmaking at The California Wellness Foundation (learn more about Cole’s Fund here), I had the opportunity to study the response to food apartheid. In my research, I had the privilege of learning about and recommending two small organizations that are prioritizing food justice in parts of California that are often forgotten. These organizations are taking back control of their food.

Located in Ventura County, Saticoy Food Hub is living its mission by creating programs and services for the city of Saticoy’s unhoused, undocumented, kitchen-less, senior, low-income, and BIPOC community members. They also serve multi-family and multi-generational households. The services they provide include a Saticoy “community fridge,” which is an actual refrigerator at a local food pantry location that provides community members a space to come and take free, natural, nutritious food that they need when they need it. Saticoy Food Hub has also recently started a monthly farmer’s market, where local farmers can sell their food to their own community at low costs. This provides long-term well-being and food access to both buyers and sellers.

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Saticoy Food Hub's community fridge, where residents have access to fresh, healthy, and free food. (Photo credit: Cassie Fuentez)


Growing Roots has created gardens in Pomona, California to create and maintain community gardens. In these gardens, people from the community can help to grow and provide a variety of foods to the local community at low to no cost and support families in need.

Currently, Growing Roots has two garden spaces in Pomona. The first is The Growing Roots Garden, which began in 2019 and is located behind Emerson Middle School. This is a partnership with Pomona Unified School District. The second location is The Center Street Community Garden, which started in 2009 and is located at the center of downtown Pomona. At this specific location, in addition to growing and providing food, Growing Roots is able to host classes and other community events that promote food sovereignty and sustainability.

Growing Roots is able to support 35 families on a weekly basis through their community gardens. Other than the founding farmer, Julieta Muñoz, Growing Roots is completely made up of volunteers from the community.

This year, money from Cole’s Fund is going to support these two important organizations and the great work they are doing within these communities. The need for food justice is not new, and Cal Wellness has previously supported a number of organizations fighting against food apartheid.

One of the most well-known organizations in the movement of food justice is Fresno Metro Ministry. Some of our 2023 Advancing Wellness dollars have gone to support their important work, including the creation of a large-scale “food-to-share hub” (an accessible public location with a community fridge) that addresses food insecurity and public health challenges in southwest Fresno. They have become a model of this kind of work around providing food, resources, and education. There remains a hope that smaller organizations like Saticoy Food Hub and Growing Roots can learn from FMM’s model and grow their organizations in similar ways in order to impact their communities and change lives.

With World Food Day in October, support for food sovereignty as a response to food apartheid will be important to pay close attention to as the movement—and the needs of Californians—continue to grow.

Henry Callwellnes
Program Coordinator Brad Henry

Brad Henry is a program coordinator at The California Wellness Foundation where he provides program and administrative support related to grantmaking under the Equity in Access portfolio.

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