On Friday, October 29, the last Log Lunch of the month welcomed speaker Gwendolyn VanSant, the CEO and Founding Executive Director of Multicultural BRIDGE (Berkshire Resources for Integration of Diverse Groups Through Education), a non-profit organization out of Lee. VanSant’s lecture, “Food, Security, Sovereignty and Justice in Berkshire County,” dealt with Berkshire County-specific issues of food access and racial justice and how BRIDGE works with vulnerable communities to meet their needs directly.
VanSant founded BRIDGE 14 years ago in 2007 when she was working as a medical and mental health interpreter for Spanish speakers in Berkshire County, whose population had recently doubled. The new wave of Latin American immigrants in the region was underserved culturally, linguistically, and economically, leading VanSant to develop a non-profit program “dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting cultural competence, positive psychology, and mutual understanding and acceptance.”
One significant aspect of BRIDGE’s work is its Food Sovereignty and Sustainability program, which was the focus of Log Lunch. Launched in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent issues in the food supply chain, the mutual aid program provides regular, fresh, local foods to vulnerable families in Berkshire County. These programs help address food insecurity as a result of increasing poverty and displacement, and give communities the agency to grow their own culturally appropriate, fresh, affordable, and nutritious food.
BRIDGE provides families with plots of land, installs raised garden beds, and implements farm training so families can continuously and sustainably grow their own. Today, BRIDGE’s community-supported agriculture (CSA) model supports over 125 families in total, who represent intersecting issues related to age, ability, and/or socioeconomic status.
“We listened, and we built [the food justice program] alongside community members, we brought in farms… our work right now is keeping that going, because even if the pandemic isn’t at the height that it was then [in 2020], poverty hasn’t shifted and some of the displacement has made the situation even worse,” VanSant said.
BRIDGE’s food sovereignty program operates on a framework that food justice is racial justice. VanSant discussed how many of the most vulnerable low-income demographics in Berkshire County – people who are elderly, unemployed, undocumented, seasonal farmworkers, struggle with addiction, or live with disabilities – are “racially and ethnically underrepresented in the county, causing isolation and further hardship.” These many intersecting identities work to exacerbate already present vulnerabilities, VanSant added. Berkshire County has a 4% Hispanic, 2.5% Black, and 1.5% Asian population, and BRIDGE intentionally sources its food from local farms led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), queer individuals, and women, to support their work.
Food justice work is one of the most critical elements of building community resilience, agency, and sustainability. VanSant ended the lecture by emphasizing the importance of mutual aid and donating, volunteering, and becoming involved in local politics, through which Williams students can participate.
The lunch entree served this week was creamy cashew butternut squash soup accompanied by a sage, rosemary, and flaky salt pumpkin focaccia, and sweet potato wedges with a mint and yogurt dipping sauce. The dessert was carrot cake. This week, the ingredients sourced from local farmers included garlic, butternut squash, and carrots.
BY SABRINE BRISMEUR ‘22.5
Log Lunch is a CES program hosted every Friday at noon. During Log Lunch, a vegetarian meal prepared by Williams students is served, followed by a talk on an environmental topic. Speakers are drawn from both the student body and faculty of Williams, as well as from local, national, and international organizations. Learn more here.