At the Root: Cultivating Community, Cultivating Activism

by Krysten Cherkaski

Coming into the Belle H. Bennett Fellowship, I was admittedly apprehensive and anxious. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and further than that I wasn’t sure what the extent of my work at a local nonprofit would come to look like. I can’t exactly say my anxieties were swayed upon learning that my site placement would involve a topic I had been previously ignorant to: food insecurity. I had known about the presence of food insecurity, the fact that it existed and was a relatively untouched issue in the broader sphere of social justice. I did not know, however, how omnipresent and intentional food insecurity was, how it targets very specific populations, how it works directly in conjunction with broader systems of oppression, and how it ultimately acts as yet another insidious form of disempowerment.

Even in my short time with my placement at local nonprofit The Nashville Food Project (TNFP), I have already developed not only a better understanding of the pervasiveness of food insecurity, but a growing curiosity and connection for the work which seeks to alleviate hunger. TNFP operates under the mission of: “Bringing people together to grow, cook and share nourishing food, with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city”, and achieves the goal of “bringing people together” not only through their meal delivery and community garden program, but through Growing Together. Growing Together, the program with which I will be spending the bulk of my internship, works with refugee farmers from Bhutan and Burma by providing land on which the farmers may grow produce that is then sold both online to local restaurants, as well as at the farmers market.

Through my work at TNFP, I hope to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the ways in which food insecurity functions as a social identity, much like someone’s race or gender. Part of understanding this social identity would also involve a more developed analyses of the ways in which capitalism and white supremacy work together and function as the root causes of food insecurity. Ultimately, my desire is to learn how such large and systematic structures of oppression may be addressed and understood in a meaningful way through nonprofit work and grassroots organizing.

I look forward to not only aiding in growing food, but to growing my activism and advocacy. In moments of doubt or unease, I will always revisit a conversation I had with Christina Bentrup, Garden Manager at TNFP. “Do you know where the word ‘radical’ comes from?” she said, as we drove to one of the production gardens, “It’s Latin, it means ‘root’ or ‘from the root’…I always thought that was amazing.”


garden 2


Krysten CherkaskiKrysten Cherkaski is a 2016 graduate of Fresno State University. She is currently a Belle H. Bennett fellow at Scarritt Bennett Center where she is exploring social justice at the Nashville Food Project.