Helping to ensure that the benefits and risks of where, what, and how food is grown and produced, transported and distributed, accessed and eaten are fairly shared.
Building a social enterprise project with an and initial collaboration with the Claremont Colleges, Rising Women works toward an important social goals by empowering women to make a difference in the community.
Empowering Crossroads Women through Food and Entrepreneurship
Rising Women is a social enterprise project run by the women of Crossroads and community volunteers use locally donated fruit to make marmalades, preserves, granola, kombucha, herbed lemonade, and specialty salts. Through working together, women and students learn successful business practices for operating in a sustainable framework. Rising Women not only actively combats the problem of thousands of pounds of fruit wasted each year in California backyards, but also provides revenue for the food justice program at Crossroads.The Rising Women program is a testament to the idea that businesses are fully capable of selling delicious, unique products, building community, benefitting the planet, and still bringing in profit.
Community members join the Crossroads women to garden, harvest vegetables, and tend the chickens at the Crossroads residences.
We also organize field trips to local farms, botanical gardens, and food justice organizations. The garden program teaches participants the necessary skills to grow their own food, provides horticultural therapy, and creates a space for community building.
Crossroads women cook local vegetarian meals.
Meatless Mondays is a program that grew out of the need to use the food grown at the Crossroads garden. Every Monday, Crossroads women and volunteers collaborate to plan a vegetarian meal using fresh, local produce from the Crossroads garden, Amy’s Farm, and the Claremont Forum’s Farmers & Artisans Market. Meatless Mondays serves the dual purpose of building strong community around the sharing of meals and providing knowledge about the industrial food system through cooking sustainably with local vegetables. To further promote strong community ties, participant-led workshops follow dinner, including yoga workshops and making non-edible products like Lavender Bath Scrubs or Blood Orange Hair Clips for Rising Women. Whatever participants are learning, one central takeaway lesson is that food justice and sustainability in action are just as community oriented and delicious as they are necessary.
Equality: All who are involved in Rising Women work together as equals.
Education: Learning takes place in the kitchen and at our selling platforms.
Sustainability: We use seasonal, donated fruit to promote the best interests of the planet.
Community: We build community in the kitchen and at our selling venues.
Opportunity: We provide training opportunities for women.
Kathleen believes the Food Justice component of Crossroads is representative of her experience in the transitional facility. She poetically compared her own cycle through the program to taking care of a little square of soil in the Crossroads gardens. Kathy explained that the whole process of growing food is reminiscent of being able to start a new life on a different path, much like she did while transitioning at Crossroads. From planting the seed all the way to composting, everything is a metaphor for the continual regeneration Kathy experienced at Crossroads, for which she is extremely grateful. She is quick to explain that “Words cannot describe what this program has given me. It has presented me with opportunities that wouldn't be available to me otherwise. I cannot express how sub-human I felt before and during my time in prison. Crossroads has allowed me to start feeling human again,” and to her, that is priceless. This renewed sense of self is largely attributed to the community that Crossroads encourages. Kathleen says, “These women are my family. They have given me things that my own family isn't capable of giving me-- emotional support and encouragement to be successful.”
Margo received guidance and family at a time that she needed it the most: when “you’ve been in a cage, and you gotta come out and learn a whole new life.” During her transition from prison, Margo didn't have that family support that some people do. Crossroads provided the structure that helped her develop the confidence and focus she needed to be successful. Margo admits she had to learn to trust the process that Crossroads has in place. Now, Margo feels she is finally at a place where nothing can stop her from achieving what she wants. “Crossroads taught me skills to see the opportunities that are out there … I just need to look for them!”
During her time at Crossroads, Starla learned how to work with her peers in a community setting, which is an experience she had never had before. For her, Crossroads provided constant support, even after graduating from the program. She always feels welcome back at the house, where she has the opportunity to hang out and mentor her sisters. Starla loved working in the backyard especially the “Finally Free Memorial Garden” which remembers the women who died while still in prison. These are women that Crossroads would have loved to embrace and serve, but for whatever reason, were not released in time. Every woman who corresponded with Sister Terry is represented by a flourishing rose bush. Starla extended the memorial rose garden during her time at Crossroads. She is proud that she could help make a place for them in the free world.
Crossroads aims to “give a woman the security of knowing her basic needs are met and allows her to focus on acquiring new skills and tools for healthier living.”Among the various services that Crossroads provides for women on parole, it helps to reintroduce the women to healthy lifestyles such as cooking and eating meals together. At 6pm every night, the table is set for 12 and dinner is served. In prison, meal times were nothing to look forward to. Women were prodded through lines and rushed to gobble down taste-less carbohydrates day in and day out. At Crossroads, women cook and serve their peers, conversation flows easily across the table, and food regains its ability to nurture and fill. As part of this process, students in Professor Nancy Neiman-Auerbach’s Food Justice Practicum are helping to introduce vegetarian, local and sustainable food into the Crossroads menu in order to encourage healthy eating. Every Monday, seven interns walk over to Crossroads and help prepare dinner with the women from seasonal fruits and vegetables, aiming to serve delicious vegetarian food that won’t leave anyone missing meat. After dinner for two hours, we engage in hands-on or educational activities that bring the issues of food justice into the home and spark conversation and discussion. We hope to not only illuminate the flaws within today’s industrial food complex but also to explore the alternatives that are available to all of us in our daily lives.
The Crossroads gardens we work at provide opportunity for personal recharge, connection to the natural world, and community building. Just like a group of hikers climbing a mountain together, a group of gardeners weaves community by working together in a beautiful space to beautify it more. Knowledge and stories are shared, and community grows in the soil like tomatoes. Grassroots movements promoting urban and community gardening also support community/coalition-building and work towards environmental justice. They help community members reclaim nature, enhance food preparation skills, and build relationships with the land, each other, and themselves. Our gardens and community are significant not only because of their connection with nature, but in the cultivation of food–and possibly even a micro food culture in extension. Growing one’s own food is a political act. We vote with our ballots, our dollars, our forks, and our shovels as we decide to move away from the industrial food system in favor of a community food system.