As a Peace Corps volunteer living in Guyana, Katie Miller found that the best way to engage with the women in her community was through food.
“I would talk with them around the fireside as they were cooking. I would go on Saturdays to help them harvest their crops and prepare them for market,” says Miller, 27. “Food is something that has a lot of potential for community building, and breaking bread with your neighbor is a good way to start to bridge community divides.”
Miller, who has a degree in elementary education and Spanish and has her master’s in geography and environmental systems, has always been interested in food culture. So it is no surprise that her OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship, the Latino Food Alliance, has to do with something about which she feels so passionate.
Working with We Are CASA, the Latino Food Alliance will help increase engagement and participation in initiatives related to food access and food justice among Baltimore’s Latino immigrant community.
Latino immigrants undergird the food systems in our country, Miller says. “From picking lettuce in fields in California, to those in chicken processing plants in the Midwest, all the way to Baltimore where you have individuals working in the back of the house in restaurants.”
Such food-related jobs don’t provide a lot of upward mobility for Latino immigrants in the United States, Miller says, or real pathways to sustainable livelihoods.
That’s why one goal of the food alliance is to create a cooperative ownership model that would help Latinos thrive in food businesses.
“I would like to see economic opportunities for these folks to invest in their families and make decent money without having to work 70 hours a week,” Miller adds.
Another aspect of the fellowship is to help some of the city’s Latino-owned corner stores get involved in and educated about the citywide Healthy Corner Stores Initiative, which is designed to help owners make healthy changes for their customers and their businesses.
Miller also will be piloting programs that help Latino youth think about food justice and how they can partner with local corner stores to do a community-focused project together.
“When you go to someone’s house and they have prepared food for you or prepared a meal, it says more than just they thought you were hungry. It says, ‘You’re welcome in my home and I want to sit down and break bread with you and share what I have.’” Miller says. “That connection to food culture is still important and I think if it’s something our Latino immigrants want to maintain then they should have the opportunity to do so.”
Listen to Miller talk about the Latino Food Alliance on WYPR’s On the Record.