Volume 14, Number 1
December 4, 2014
Pastor Robert Jeffrey is on a food mission in Seattle, WA
By Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad
On December 2, 2017 at the invitation of Pastor Robert Jeffrey, I was blessed to be the keynote speaker at the Clean Greens Harvest dinner sponsored by New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Seattle, WA. Founded in 2007 by Pastor Robert Jeffrey, Clean Greens seeks to educate the community on healthy eating and food justice. In addition to their two farm stands in the Central District and Columbia City neighborhoods of Seattle, they also offer affordable produce through their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Through this program, all residents are able to purchase fresh produce directly from their local farm, located in Duvall, WA, just 25 miles outside of Seattle. Their produce is often harvested the same day it is delivered.
But to be honest with you after having a very long and insightful conversation with Pastor Jeffrey, I somewhat jokingly suggested that he give the keynote while I take notes. He did not go for that option since he brought me to Seattle with all expenses paid, so I spoke. However, I believe that the readers would benefit from his insights on why he does what he does?
Ridgely: Why is learning about food important?
Pastor Jeffrey: I believe that food is the way to bring people into environmental understanding. You’re not only going to learn about food, but you’re going to learn who puts growth hormones in food and why, and what the chemical companies do to other things. It brings up the conversation, and you begin most conversations around the table: around the dinner table, around food. That’s the way to begin to bring excluded people into the conversation as well as to help them begin to grow their own basis of self-sufficiency.
In the African-American community, food has become a liability because that’s what is killing people: High blood pressure and cholesterol, hypertension—these things are just norms in the inner-city communities and people are dying. I grew up in a church where 80 percent of people had diabetes, high blood pressure, or some form of heart disease. And that was back then. They would talk about it like it’s a common cold.
It’s a proximity issue. You choose to eat what is available to you. If that means corner stores that sell fried chicken and corn syrup, then that’s what you eat.
Ridgely: Some say that Black city dwellers prefer fast-food and junk food:
Pastor Jeffrey: People want the best for their children and their grandchildren, but they’re not given the options. It’s the same question for everybody: not just, do African Americans want to eat healthy food? But, do they have opportunities to?
I come from Tulsa, where in the early 1900s there was a thriving business center which was eventually burnt to the ground by white lynch mobs. We called it Black Wall Street, but that whole market system was destroyed: stores, churches, everything.
Those kinds of business infrastructures existed in every city prior to the middle 60s, and now they don’t. In the early 60s, there were a lot of African American-owned stores in the inner cities. But with the coming of integration, that dissolved. These stores were not able to keep up with the bigger ones. You had lawyers, doctors, pharmacies, everything—and it’s all gone. It’s all gone.
Ridgely: So what are some of your long term plans for inner-city Seattle?
Pastor Jeffrey: And the stores we envision will be connected to community-based farms. These stores will help regenerate the whole idea of community-owned land.
These are different times. People now understand the failure of the megasystem. The basic thing we have to deal with is the absence of a capacity to economically do things for ourselves, to even have an after-school program without corporate or government assistance.
When you go to the South and see these huge universities like Howard and Morehouse—these were built by African Americans through the wealth accumulated by businesses. They put that money together and built universities and churches that still exist as monuments to economic capacity.
We can’t do that anymore. We can’t build anything anymore without government help. And that is the thing that I think will drive the African-American community toward self-sufficiency, and will lead it into the movement to save the planet and the larger understanding of what this mega-mentality has done to the earth.
Inner-city people are not going to the farmers markets. It’s not because they’re not interested. Some of it is because of prices, but mostly it’s because they are not community-owned. The issue of community ownership, the idea that this is ours and that the money spent will circulate to help us, is a real issue.
So what we do at Clean Greens is have food stands that are run by neighborhood people. They’re in front of churches, and people know that they’re run by members of the community. In this way, we’re bringing food directly to the people in a way that gives them ownership, so they purchase the food. I think that’s the missing link. Inner-city people are tired of others creating things for them and expecting them to participate with no direct benefit.
And then you move into construction.
That’s what we believe: It begins with food.
Dr. Ridgely’s presentation, “How the USDA Destroyed the Black Food Industry” at https://www.facebook.com/ridgely.mumin/videos/2062031480693833/
Pastor Robert Jeffrey on left in front of a neighborhood food stand of Clean Greens.
Pastor Jeffrey on left at Clean Greens’ farm.
Children volunteering at the Clean Greens’ farm.