Finding Ground in Lawrence

By: Carrie Watkins and Lauren Clapp

“Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little”                                                                  -Edmund Burke

Lately we’ve been wishing we had a magic wand that could instantly fix every problem. (That might have a little bit to do with our team watching the final Harry Potter movie). In June during our training many of us were mentally preparing ourselves for the conversations we would have with climate change “deniers” when/if we met them. We’ve yet to meet one thus this summer. Every person our team has met has agreed with us (or at least pretended to) that climate change is happening, and that it’s a problem. The biggest issue I’ve been faced with so far this summer has been when talking to people who see climate change as a problem, but not one that urgently needs immediate action. More than a few people have reacted to my summer as, “Oh, you’re into that environmental thing, huh?”

Granted, before this summer, we might have fit in as an outlier in the category of climate change apathetics. We cared, but found the environmental crisis easy to push out of my mind. As we’ve become more involved and invested in this cause we’ve devoted our summers to, though, we feel like climate change is an issue we can no longer conveniently forget about. The reality is that people, right now, are dying for the energy we take for granted. Fossil fuels endanger our health, our national security, and its wasteful use violates our moral consciences.  However, it’s difficult to express that sentiment to someone in a casual conversation without coming off as judgmental or preachy.

The thing about climate change, we’ve spent our summer telling anyone who will listen, is that it affects, or will affect, everything. You can spin it to touch just about any issue people could care about. You only care about our nation’s national security? Here’s why you hate climate change! You only care about bottle nosed dolphins? You should hate climate change, too! We’ve just about convinced ourselves this summer that people need to put down whatever else it is they’re doing and fight against fossil fuels because there could be nothing more important.

We got a wake-up call this past week in Lawrence. We sat down with Pastor Gabriela Garcia from the Christ United Methodist Church and asked her about Lawrence and the work she was doing. She told us about unemployment (Lawrence has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state), foreclosures, high school drop outs, teenage pregnancy, racist police officers, corruption and prostitution and trafficking and drugs, and members of families being deported by Immigration. She works with an organization called Justice For Our Neighbors, which provides free legal services to immigrants seeking asylum or a better life to help them navigate through the near impossible maze of immigration laws. She told us horror stories of people who came to the US to escape terrible oppression only to be sent back with nothing but debt, of people in this country who don’t have heating in the winter because they don’t have a social security number to sign up with the gas company, of families being separated. We were stunned. Most of this we had heard before in some regard, but some of it was entirely new, and we definitely hadn’t thought about any of the issues surrounding immigration at all this summer. Our minds frantically sought to find a connection to climate change, to find some way to say that we were trying to help, but we couldn’t. Sure, with climate change and rising sea waters and changing weather there will be more immigrants to many places, and sure that’ll probably include America, but what does that have to do with the people suffering now? How can we completely ignore them and their suffering in the name of something that hasn’t even happened yet? We were at a loss. Pastor Gabriela left us at 11:30pm, and we went to sleep discouraged.

Luckily for us, the next morning we had a date with Groundwork Lawrence and the Lawrence Farmers Market. GL is really the only environmental group in the city, and they are doing amazing work promoting many environmental issues as social justice issues (which they always are, but people don’t always get that). GL oversees the whole farmer’s market, which was sizable, considering how urban the city is. The Lawrence Farmer’s Market was the first market in Massachusetts to accept EBT cards (food stamps), and has been doing so every week since 2008. Access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which are hard enough to come by in a city enough if you do make enough money to not need government help, was made even easier for Lawrence citizens yesterday. In celebration of the summer re-opening of the farmer’s market, the WIC office down the street was giving out extra, one-time only vouchers on a first come, first serve basis that could only be used at the farmer’s market. Some of my teammates and I walked over to the office to act as “tour guides” to help people waiting in line find the market once their received their vouchers. In this way, we tried to break down every barrier a person may face when getting to the market; we were prepared to personally escort anyone the two blocks to the market if they needed extra assistance. (Plus we got to make faces at so many cute babies!)

Lawrence Farmers Market

We were inspired by Groundwork Lawrence’s effort to put together such a diverse and bountiful farmer’s market, as well as the WIC office’s support in making sure everyone has the ability to utilize it. Allowing those on government assistance to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market solves many problems at once. Farmer’s markets support local economies, by giving small farmers their livelihoods and promoting local businesses. They create community by bringing people together for a very social shopping experience.  Farmer’s markets contribute to healthier people, as fresh produce is healthier than food bought at conventional grocery stores. Finally, farmer’s markets combats climate change, because food has to travel shorter distances to get to consumers (less fossil fuel use!) and because small farms tend to use more environmentally friendly farming practices than industrial agriculture does. Winning all around!

Three of our towns thusfar, Lawrence, Brockton, and New Bedford, have been deficient in governmental-led sustainable initiatives.  However, how can you expect a city, or the individuals in it, to spearhead a CFL lightbulb campaign when many people don’t have adequate food or housing? We can’t disagree with a city government that prioritizes the immediate well-being of its citizens at the expense of looking at the long term picture. There is no magic spell can fix every issue in one swoop. However, we found an answer for ourselves in Lawrence. Groundwork Lawrence tackles many different problems at once, both long and short term, big picture and little. True, they don’t directly tackle many of the issues of immigration that Pastor Gabriela deals with, but that’s why she’s dedicating herself to them. Her work is just as important as ours. Both issues need to be faced now, so we cannot give up frustrated by the fact that problems never end. In the words of Edmund Burke, “Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little.” We must accept that we cannot do everything, but we cannot let that keep us from continuing forward towards the future we want -we need – to see.

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3 Responses to Finding Ground in Lawrence

  1. laureneclapp says:

    Lawrence is not alone! Medford, the city we were in two weeks ago, just got approved to accept food stamps at their famer’s market as well. Many farmer’s markets in North Carolina, where I go to school, also accept WIC and/or EBT cards. Some markets even have the funding to increase the values of food stamps when they are used; for example, a person who normally has $20 in food stamps would be able to get $40 worth of food at a farmer’s market. We also learned about something called a “veggie prescription” in Lawrence- it is what it sounds like. Your doctor writes you a literal prescription for a specific dollar amount and you can cash it in at a farmer’s market for a debit card with that much money on it. I don’t know much about it, and still want to do more research, but it sounds like a really wonderful and intriguing idea! I hope this is a trend that continues to grow to other farmer’s market- access to fresh and healthy food is a right, after all, and not something that only those who can afford it should enjoy. But hey, that’s just my opinion 🙂
    -Lauren

  2. What an awesome program. Did you ask the members of Groundwork Lawrence if they know of any similar food stamp programs at farmer’s markets–perhaps in other states? Or is theirs the only one they know of?

    Keep up the wonderful work! It was great to see you all at the Moving Planet meeting in Cambridge. ~Kara

  3. Pingback: Finding Ground In Lawrence | Peace Love Bicycles

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