Ashley Solis; photo courtesy Emily Cohen

Meet Ashley Solis, one of CAN’s youth leaders. Born in Watsonville, California, to Mexican migrant parents, Ashley juggles schoolwork with jobs in the agricultural fields and packing houses. Ashley knows first-hand what it means to live in the world’s largest producing area of fresh berries where farmworker communities experience food insecurity and are exposed to toxic agrochemicals.

Ashley worked with her family and neighbors to convince the City of Watsonville to turn an abandoned lot into a community garden. As a founding member of CAN’s Growing Justice Youth Team, she documented how community gardens provide access to organic produce and build community. Ashley interviewed family members, farmworkers and migrant youth, and developed an interactive mobile exhibit with her peers to generate dialogue about food justice in Santa Cruz County. The Growing Justice Youth Team is now turning knowledge into action, seeding the vision for a food system that re-directs organically grown produce back to the most food insecure neighborhoods in Watsonville.

Being a part of Growing Justice has been about getting to know more about my community and doing something for it. We could see injustice and engaged everyone in conversation by bringing our data to life. We created a kitchen in a low-income household, added all of our interviews and data into it so people could get a feel for how it is to struggle to access healthy food and pay rent.

Youth like Ashley are organizing their communities to create alternatives. This is critical when rural youth worldwide are migrating out of rural communities seeing little opportunity for dignified livelihoods in agriculture. Who will nurture the sustainable food systems of the future if youth, like Ashley, do not receive the training and support to develop their leadership potential?

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