While the simple act of growing an edible garden may seem neutral and innocuous, it has the power to be a revolutionary act. Heather Pierini bore witness to this possibility when she saw the community ties her grandparents built by giving extra garden produce away. Tomatoes and zucchinis would find their way over her grandparents’ fence after a friendly chat with passersby, making the garden a “connection point for the neighborhood and a bounteous source of food for those who choose to share.”
Giving away extra food from her edible garden was a common practice for Pierini. She had a small stand in front of her home with free produce from her yard. Once abundant with organic and nutritious plant food, this plant stand grew sparse when she sustained a leg injury last year. Unable to walk on the uneven surfaces of her garden, her free food stand’s bounty dwindled. With low spirits, Pierini was looking out of her window from her couch and saw a quiet and powerful action: a woman putting produce on her free food stand. This inspired Pierini to create a Food is Free Benicia Facebook page for her stand and to encourage networking. The Food is Free Benicia page snowballed – it currently has over 600 followers. The number of free food stands has increased to seven, and now the selection extends beyond produce – there are canned goods, pantry items, books, pet supplies, and more. With this take off of Food is Free, accessibility to healthy food has become a reality for many community members.
The importance of Food is Free Benicia has been highlighted by the effects of the pandemic. As many of us who have grocery shopped during Covid-19 can attest, standard items have gone missing from shelves. Flour, toilet paper, pasta, cleaning supplies, etc. have at times been difficult to procure. This difficulty has revealed uncertainty within larger food distribution systems and overall food accessibility. Not only has the pandemic illustrated unreliability with food distribution, many families are newly financially insecure. Navigating the unfamiliar territory of food banks and aid can be stressful and daunting. Community based free food stands have been an alternative way for many to obtain complementary goods. Small, effortful networking and gardening can act as a remedy for some of the effects of a global crisis. Food is Free Benicia has demonstrated how grassroot efforts can have revolutionary community effects.
If you would like to get involved, “Start gardening!” Pierini says. To learn more about the Food is Free Project, visit Food is Free Benicia on Facebook and foodisfreebenicia.org.