The Rooted In Community National Network (RIC) is a national grassroots network that empowers young people to take leadership in their own communities. We are a diverse movement of youth and adults working together and committed to fostering healthy communities and food justice through urban and rural agriculture, community gardening, food security, and related environmental justice work.
Twenty Years Ago, two high school aged youth from The Food Project were in Seattle attending the 1998 American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) conference. They were engaged in food systems work in Boston and knew that there must be other youth doing that type of work around the country, but none were present at the conference. They voiced their idea that there should be a conference for youth and by youth to connect the many young people taking action for food justice. The Food Project and ACGA then teamed up the following year to host the first annual Rooted in Community Conference. With just over 70 attendees gathering in Boston for that first gathering, it was clear that something important was hatched. Over the last two decades RIC has hosted 20 National Conferences, facilitated numerous regional gatherings and youth leadership trainings, mentored over 100 organizations while facilitating the sharing of best practices in the field, and supported youth in crafting the Youth Food Bill of Rights. RIC functioned as an all volunteer run organization for it’s first decade of work. In 2010, RIC hired its first part time Co-Directors and created an Advisory Council made up of youth and adults in the RIC Network.
RIC ADVISORY TEAM
Ari Rosenberg is a passionate activist working to create a more just society through community building, anti-racism trainings, and radical financing. She currently lives and works in Philadelphia with her amazing cat, Opal. Ari has been growing food for over 15 years in both rural and urban environments and supporting urban youth in connecting with their food, gaining entrepreneurship skills and developing and enhancing leadership skills for over 11 years. She is involved in a number of community initiatives that center leadership of color including Rooted in Community and Soil Generation, a black & brown led coalition of growers in Philadelphia. For paid work she is the Finance & HR Manager at Greensgrow, a nonprofit focused on food, flowers, and community. When not growing, cooking, or preserving food you can find her biking or running around the city, reading a book, or writing letters to dear ones.
Beatriz is an organizer and human rights activist with over 15 years experience who works tirelessly along side grassroots groups domestically and internationally to organize for social change. Beatriz supports the development of campaigns lead by grassroots leaders on the front lines of the struggle for equity and social justice. She currently serves as a Campaign Director with MomsRising specifically working on Juvenile Justice, Criminal Justice, Sentencing Reform and Food Justice issues. Beatriz is also the Co Founder and National Organizer for the National Black Food & Justice Alliance and contributing author to the Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform. Beatriz collaborates with US and International based partners and allies to organize for the food justice movement. She works to provide grassroots coalition building support to communities across the country, and to develop strategic partnerships that strengthen communities power and self determination. Beatriz centers intersectional movement building, transformative organizing, institution building, coalition building, allyship and accompaniment, storytelling and campaign development as key strategies in her work. Beatriz is committed to lifting up the leadership of historically marginalized communities and to build power and capacity for grassroots groups to organize effectively, developing strategies rooted in the collective wisdom of grassroots communities. Beatriz has elevated critical conversation on racial equity, intersectional movement building and organizing through several radical story telling publications including the Youth Food Justice Zine, and Food Justice Voices: What Ferguson Means for Food Justice Series. Beatriz's most important role is being a proud mother to a wonderful little boy, and when she can squeezes in creative work as a visual/design artist, urban design enthusiast and craft nerd.
Travis McKenzie was born in San Diego, California, and grew up in New Mexico. He has dedicated his life to serving mother earth and the many people that care about life. He has gone to conferences, visited the legislature to participate in making positive change, and has created and maintained gardens in Albuquerque and across New Mexico. He works at many gardens and provides seeds and knowledge to anyone who wants to plant. He also works at eight after school programs and helps facilitate gardening at schools. He is currently a garden coordinator for S.W.O.P. (the Southwest Organizing Project) with Project Feed The Hood.
John Wang works as the Regional Director for The Food Project’s North Shore site in Massachusetts. John has worked at TFP since 2005 and served as a founding staff member of the North Shore site. Before coming to The Food Project, John traveled widely and lived in many different parts of the United States. After graduating from the University of Illinois, John worked for City Year in Seattle, participated in AmeriCorps VISTA at an HIV clinic in San Diego, and earned an MS in international health policy and management from Brandeis University. John also holds a certificate of Non-profit Leadership and Management from Boston University. Outside of work, he loves to disconnect and backpack, capture unique perspectives and moments on film, and continue to cook and try many different and tasty things. John first became involved in RIC in 2005 and helped to organize the 2009 Maine and Massachusetts RIC conference.
Ayisah worked for the Rural Coalition as a fellow in Washington, D.C. for 3 years. She helped with the organization of the office and did computer work and social media. While in her position, she got to do Hill drops, participate in a gala at the Press Club and to sit in on Small Farms Conferences. She’s traveled to North Carolina to be apart of the American Indian Mother’s Conference and helped at an important GOAT meeting on the Farm Bill. Throughout her childhood, Ayisah traveled to many different places all over the world. From Guatemala to Prague to South Dakota and loves to travel. She is very involved in her culture and spirituality being both Indigenous Native American & African American and participates in many cultural relevant events. In 2015 she helped to create the Youth Food Justice Zine and works with the DC based group Ecohermanas a women’s group working with Mother Earth and apart of creating a radio show for women of color called Spirit of Resilience. She runs her own blog IceTurtleGirl.blog where she writes about social justice issues and events she participates in. Ayisah first became involved with RIC by attending the 2012 Iowa RIC summit and then in 2013 being part of a panel of youth of color with Will Allen. She has been a board member ever since.
Doron Comerchero is the co-founder and director of “Food, What?!”– a youth empowerment and food justice program in Santa Cruz, California, using food and sustainable agriculture, as the vehicle for growing strong, healthy, and inspired teens. Roots deep in the East Coast, Doron spent most of his 20’s bouncing around the South Bronx as a community organizer and outreach coordinator for NYC’s community gardening program, GreenThumb. It was during this time that Doron attended the second Rooted in Community Conference in 2000 and became deeply inspired. Following that event, Doron joined the board of the American Community Gardening Association and chaired the youth committee. At that point, Doron joined a team of two other individuals repping RIC’s early support structure to help lead and guide RIC for the next five years. Rich soil called, and he found himself having transitioned from city life to living in a tent on a beautiful piece of farmland in Santa Cruz as an apprentice at the UCSC Farm and Garden. To continue to build his toolkit to eventually create “Food, What?!” he decided to try on his hat farming full time as part of a crew on a 50-acre site in Western Massachusetts called Food Bank Farm. Doron returned to Santa Cruz in 2007 to start FoodWhat at Life Lab (a local non-profit). Doron rejoined the RIC Advisory Council that same year, and FoodWhat was part of the Bay Area Collective that led the 2008 RIC Summer Summit. Doron continues to serve on the Council and is often stirring up impromptu dance parties or motivating folks to get out to roller skating jams.
Few things in life excite me or inspire me as much as RIC! In the summer of 2000, at the pivotal age of 18, an opportunity found its way to me to participate in a summer job training program at a small garden in Olympia, WA. A seemingly whole new dimension opened me up in tremendous ways; connecting me to the land, food, people in the community, and most profoundly, finding hope in addressing my depression and personal trauma. The following summer of 2001 I was asked to return and mentor the next cohort of youth at GRuB. It was the perfect chance to explore my leadership and nurturing skills with that crew, and was also privileged to attend the RIC Summit in Detroit! Wow, what a game changer! Meeting teens, and adult allies from across North America, doing similar work in their community, sharing space and knowledge with positive vibes and building camaraderie was a recipe for love; I was crushing hardcore on RIC, and have been ever since. I jumped at the chance to join the staff at GRuB in 2009, which gave me an opportunity to start sending, and often accompanying young adults in our programs to RIC, and offer them the same chance to find kindred spirits, camaraderie, and most importantly, a richer sense of what the youth food justice movement is about. I'm ecstatic and humbled to now be on the planning team with people that rampantly trade inspiration, education, and humor!
Bevelyn Afor Ukah
Bevelyn Afor Ukah is dedicated to co-building multi-generational learning spaces that focus on building humanity and justice in community. She received her BA in International Studies and Sociology/Anthropology and MA in Intercultural Service, Leadership and Management. Bevelyn coordinates the Food Youth Initiative (FYI) Program of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), supporting a network of youth who are doing food justice work across the state. She also works heavily on supporting a statewide network of practitioners who are committed to racial equity in our food system. Bevelyn loves to travel. She has lived in three countries and has been committed to exploring ways to support youth travel as a platform for developing mindfulness and global awareness. She serves on the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm Board, the Renaissance Community Co-op board, the NC Climate Justice Summit Leadership Team and the National Rooted in Community Leadership Team.
Keely Curliss is a queer indigenous farmer, youth worker and community organizer in Boston, MA. She is a member of the Nipmuc Nation and currently works at The Food Project with a team of rad teenagers. She dabbles in sexual health education, childcare and postpartum doula work always with a lens for wellness and health accessibility. She has spent the past ten years working on farms ranging from .5 acres to 31 acres and has a deep love for connecting over good food and sweaty summer days farming. She's grateful to be a part of the steering fam after being inspired by RIC Summer 2011 in Philly where she was apart of the crew that wrote the youth food bill of rights.
Noah McDonald is the grandchild of tobacco and cotton sharecroppers from Harnett County NC. He grew up farming and gardening in central Ohio under the watchful gaze of his forestry scientist mother, educator father, and neighboring farmers. He currently serves as the Hamer-Hayes Fellow at SAAFON, identifying working models for intergenerational farm transfer and communal land holding among Black farmers in the Southeast. While serving as a FoodCorps member in High Point, NC, he had the amazing opportunity to attend and co-emcee the 2017 Summer Youth Summit. After finishing up his service term in NC, Noah worked as a policy intern at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a D.C.-based organization that advocates for federal policy reform towards sustainable food systems. He is an avid gardener, hiker, and reader and is committed to cultivating a deep love for the land and the people. He is deeply honored to be on an advisory team that full to the brim with brilliant, inspiring, and dynamic people.
“Food had always been a way to break the ice for me.” Rebuilding community using food as a tool to do so, Sam Vergara has been working in the Lawndale Neighborhoods in Chicago with Windy City Harvest to cultivate the power of plants! I was introduced to Rooted in Community in 2015, and it gave me a chance to see other amazing organizations performing the same work. Now he is focused on connecting Roots in the Mid-west, and comedy relief from time to time.
Irene Juárez O’Connell is a xicana visual artist, youth advocate, community organizer, and cultural worker committed to collective and personal healing, justice, and resilience. She believes in building traditions that center and nourish young people. Originally from San Fernando, California, Irene currently serves as the Programs Manager for "FoodWhat?!" in Santa Cruz, CA.