Food for Thought

A Conversation on Community Microfarming & the Movement for Equitable Food Systems

UCI students and CRECE Microfarm volunteers during their service learning trip on November 16, 2019.

By Esmeralda Hic and Clara Leopo, January 1, 2020. Food for Thought was a collaborative event between the UCI Sustainability Resource Center, the UCI FRESH Basic Needs Hub, UCI Community Resilience Projects, and the CRECE Microfarm in Santa Ana. The event was a two part series, the first part consisted of a panel of three people committed to food sovereignty work and the second part consisted of a service learning trip to the CRECE Microfarm in Santa Ana.


UCI students working at the CRECE microfarm.

Students had the opportunity to learn about food sovereignty work and the many ways in which food justice plays out in our society. They were able to put this knowledge to work by volunteering at the CRECE Microfarm, a space that was born out of the food sovereignty movement. CRECE states their goal is to  “realize systemic changes that provide accessible, healthy food for the residents of Santa Ana regardless of socioeconomic status through the creation of increased community urban agricultural opportunities and policy changes”. To learn more about the panelists please refer to their bios below. To learn more about food sovereignty please refer to the definitions provided by the FRESH Basic Needs Hub below. If you are interested in reviewing the panelist event, click this link to the recording.

Panelist Bios

From left to right: Udara Abeysekera (Program Coordinator, Sustainability Resource Center), Esmeralda Hic (Projects Fellow, UCI Community Resilience), Rachel Harvey (Program Manager, Sustainability Resource Center), Manny Preciado (Panelist, UCI Urban Planning and CRECE), Evelyn Estrada (Panelist, CRECE Community Member), Nikki Oei (Panelist, UCI Asian American Studies), Clara Leopo (Programming Student Manager, FRESH Basic Needs Hub), Gunindu Abeysekera (Outreach and Engagement Coordinator, FRESH Basic Needs Hub)

Evelyn Estrada

My name is Evelyn Estrada, a member of CRECE since August of this year.  I am returned Peace Corps Volunteer, serving in the Children, Youth, and Family Sector from 2016-2018.  I have a bachelors in Human Services from Cal State Fullerton and been in the mental health field since I graduated in 2010.  As a mental health provider, I see the many benefits in working in a community green spaces and having that connection with earth and a social support system.  CRECE provides a space to connect with our roots by learning cultural gardening/farming practices and being familiar with native plants. I am one of two certified yoga teachers and we hope to in the near future provide classes at CRECE.  CRECE has brought to my awareness our detached relationship with food from seed to plate. We are preparing for new project launches and endeavors within CRECE by receiving knowledge from community leaders and learning more farming techniques (among other things) to provide services and organic produce for the community.  

Emanuel “Manny” Preciado

My name is Emanuel “Manny” Preciado and I am a 3rd year Ph.D. student in Urban Planning and Public Policy focused on community-driven planning, urban politics, social movements, and community-based research here at UC Irvine. My current work examines the intersections of space, culture, and politics in urban communities of color inspired by my previous experiences as an artist: a poet and emcee. I became involved with La Granjita in Santa Ana, CA as an urban farmer and researcher through an internship in 2016, and now I have been a member of the CRECE cooperative since 2017. At the microfarm, we seek to transform the local food system through healthy and culturally sustaining foods, community-based stewardship of land, equitable policy advocacy, leadership development, and promoting community ownership. The microfarm is an empowering space in many different ways and I feel fortunate to be a part of it.

Dominique “Nikki” Oei

Nick-ee Oo-ee (like “gooey” without the “g”)

Hello! My name is Nikki (she/hers). I am an M.A. candidate in the 4+1 Asian American Studies program. Food has always been my life: both sides of my family farmed before becoming refugees, and my backyard is still dominated by fruit trees. In undergrad, I researched race, cultural productions, refugees, and literature. My capstone examined food as language and memory in Southeast Asian American poetry. Currently, I am researching women, coalitions, and heteronormativity in the Sanctuary movement, but sustainable agriculture and environmental justice also have my heart. You can find me cooking, ranting on Twitter, or navigating the nonprofit waters.


Key terms for Food Sovereignty:

Food Insecurity- Uncertain or limited ability to get adequate food due to lack of financial resources (USDA)

Leading to reductions in:

  • Diet quality (low food secure)
  • Diet quantity (very low food secure)

Food security as composed of:

  • food availability (production and/or markets that deliver sufficient amounts of food)
  • food access 
  • food utilization (the ability to exercise cultural food preferences and the effective use of food within households and communities to guarantee equitable nutrition) 

Food Systems- The food system is a complex web of activities involving the production, processing, transport, and consumption. Issues concerning the food system include the governance and economics of food production, its sustainability, the degree to which we waste food, how food production affects the natural environment and the impact of food on individual and population health. (University of Oxford)

Food Sovereignty – the right of peoples to fresh and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems (USFSA)

The International Food Sovereignty Movement has developed six defining principles for food sovereignty (La Via Campesina): 

  • Focuses on Food for People:
  • Values Food Providers
  • Localizes Food Systems
  • Makes Decisions Locally
  • Builds Knowledge and Skills of Food Providers and their Local Organizations
  • Works with Nature 

Food Justice– communities exercising their right and practice to grow, sell, and eat food that is fresh, affordable, culturally-appropriate, and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 

Closing circle where students and volunteers discussed what they learned through the event and reflected on their experience

Community-Based Microfarms – a community effort that produces, processes and provides for the local community and for future generations. It is an effort to  challenge the current food system and works to create urban farms that are healthy, equitable, and sustainable.

Food Access- Access by individuals to adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet 

Well-being- experience of health, happiness, and prosperity. It includes having a good relationship with one’s mental health, high life satisfaction, and a sense of meaning or purpose (Psychology Today)

Food Deserts –Urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh and affordable foods 

Climate refugee/migrant- Environmental migrants are people who are forced or “choose” to leave their homes due to sudden or progressive environmental changes that negatively affect their lives or living conditions, and who move either within their country or abroad (adapted from the International Organization for Migration)

Using Refugee v. Migrant is a politically contested issue! 

  • While “refugee” conveys the urgency of their situations and the involuntary nature of their migration, the United Nations definition of a refugee does not include people who move within their own countries or people who relocate due to environmental change.
  • This article does a good job explaining the legal complications with “refugee”:

Food Waste

Food waste refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers. 

Food is wasted in many ways:

  • Fresh produce that deviates from what is considered optimal, for example in terms of shape, size and color, is often removed from the supply chain during sorting operations.
  • Foods that are close to, at or beyond the “best-before” date are often discarded by retailers and consumers.
  • Large quantities of wholesome edible food are often unused or left over and discarded from household kitchens and eating establishments

(Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)