SANTA CRUZ – Mirroring food activism events nationwide on Monday, about 30 people gathered at the Town Clock to try to empower residents about their food choices.
Leaders of the “Hoe Down” event pushed for more local, organic agriculture. They dished up free servings of spicy potato, bok choy and carrot stir-fry to passersby, handed out fliers and listened to lectures about organizations such as UC Santa Cruz’s Demeter Seed Library.
Members of Occupy Santa Cruz organized the event and worked with groups such as Food Not Bombs and the Homeless Garden Project.
“We need to build our local food systems,” said Roxanne Evans, who helped organize the event. “That’s why we wanted to bring these groups together.”
The Occupy camp in San Lorenzo Park served food to activists and the homeless before authorities dismantled the camp Dec. 8.
Since then, its members have tried to keep food issues in the spotlight. Evans said there are many Santa Cruzans who grasp the environmental consequences of eating food that has been treated with pesticides and trucked in from outside the county.
However, she encouraged more people to grow their own organic food or buy from local farms and farmers markets.
Andrew Whitman, a UCSC undergraduate who runs the seed library, talked about its mission to preserve biodiversity on the Central Coast and give free seeds to gardeners. Whitman has tried to gather the most robust, locally adapted seeds for heirloom fruits and vegetables.
The program allows gardeners to borrow those seeds, plant them, and return more seeds to the seed library.
“Our main goal is to get seeds out to people,” Whitman said.
The project is a response to genetically modified seeds. Those seeds have boosted production but have been controversial for their effects on human health, wildlife and the environment.
Some participants at Monday’s event collected signatures for a state ballot initiative that would require foods to be labeled if they are genetically modified.
Evans runs TerraGnoma Community Demonstration Garden in Seabright. She offers produce and educational events in return for a little help with the garden.
Evans said she hoped more people would stop and think about their food choices.
“We don’t really eat, we fuel up,” she said.”The reality is that food is a celebration.”