An Interview with Artha Jonassaint
Artha Jonassaint is an Administrative Intern at the Florida Food Policy Council. In this interview, she discusses her interest in food policy, current projects and her hopes for the future.
Watch her full interview here:
Please introduce yourself.
Hi everyone! My name is Artha Jonassaint. I'm 20 years old and I am a rising sophomore at Harvard College studying government and global health and health policy. Long term I hope to attend law school and then pursue a career in which I contribute to more equitable food and health systems in the United States. I'm from Okeechobee, Florida, and I'll be here for a while because we will not be heading back to campus because of the coronavirus pandemic, but I'm really excited to re-engage with my hometown and stay connected to my roots.
Before matriculating at Harvard, I was the Florida FFA state president. The FSA is a really robust organization that engages young people and students with the agriculture industry through leadership opportunities and their education happening in their classrooms. I am of Haitian descent, my parents immigrated from Haiti to the U.S. in the eighties and then they got their family started right here in sunny South Florida. I am just so excited to be a part of the Florida Food Policy Council team this year.
How did you become interested in food policy?
My interest in food policy started in high school. I was enrolled in agricultural education courses and I was also a member of FFA, which stands for Future Farmers of America, however that organization kind of has morphed into you the national FFA organization to reflect that the members of our organization become more than just farmers. My involvement within that organization coupled with my course load in high school revealed a passion and affinity for our food system.
I always thought it was baffling that we grow so much food in the United States, and we grow so much food across the globe, yet people don't have access to that food. Sometimes it's not affordable, sometimes they don't have cars to get to that food, and I thought that policy was the best way to solve those kinds of issues. And, I also had a natural affinity for the legislative process. I really liked government and I remember being in my seventh-grade civics class and so engaged in everything that we were learning then, and that's me all the way through my career throughout the FFA and in college. That's really what led me to the word of the policy council as well.
What topics excite you most?
There are so many topics that I find so enticing and so exciting about the policy but I think something that I learned recently that has really stuck with me is something called a food swap. We talk a lot about food deserts and people not having access to healthy foods or a grocery store or farmer's market, but there's also people who live in a food desert which is also a food swap. So, while they may not have access to a farmer’s market or grocery store, they have access to McDonald's and Papa Johns and all of these really fatty foods that make it hard for people to get the nutrients that they need for a healthy diet. And I think it's just so crazy that these food swamps often are in rural areas like Okeechobee, and they are also in the inner cities. So, with that you see different demographics disproportionately affected by having access to only exclusively unhealthy foods. So, whether that's low-income people, people of color, or indigenous people, they don't have the same access to healthy foods and that is just so unfair. It's something that we can totally solve as long as we're working together.
What is one of your favorite current projects?
One of my favorite current projects is something that I did very recently and it had to do with urban agriculture in with it growing food within localities and what that looks like. For me that was super interesting to see just how much our local governments have in giving zoning ordinances and what can happen where, like building a community garden isn't such a streamlined process. If you are going to sell food for profit, there are certain things and obstacles and hoops that you have to jump through in order to make that happen. So, I thought that was very interesting because in the state of Florida alone there are 67 different counties, meaning there 67 different rules of the land that someone has to understand depending on where they are. So, I thought that was really interesting and it's something that I really enjoyed working on because I didn't know a lot about it going into the project.
Another project that I really liked was to get the Florida Food Policy Council’s LinkedIn page started, being able to connect on that and seeing all of the great articles that are shared on LinkedIn.
How can young people get more involved in food policy?
I think the first step to getting young people engaged in food policy and agriculture and accessibility, all of these kinds of issues, is letting them know that it is an issue that is of relevance to their lives. I really didn't know how food policy affected me until I was in high school and I realized that free and reduced lunch is something that is a part of a government program in that people in my class had access to food every single day because of something the government put in place in regards to food policy. So I think first and foremost, agriculturalists, policymakers, lobbyist, whomever is a stakeholder within the food industry, we just have to do a better job of letting people know that it affects their lives, that it affects their families, that it affects their friends, and once they know that it's an issue, then it's really easy to get them involved.
I mean, we can see just how incredible the younger generation of people are in wielding change and fighting for what's right, so when they know that there is something that isn't right, it's easier for us to come together to go in the streets, to lobby, to go advocate for ourselves to our congresspeople about these issues.
So, I think that the first problem is that we don't know it's a problem. Once we know, then we can do a better job of rallying together with stakeholders in the food industry. We have already done it for so many different issues. Young people are leading the charge in gun reform in so many other industries within our country, so here we are with the food industry. I think as soon as people see that light turned on, we can see change and get young people involved.
What are your hopes for the future?
My hope for the future—I'm just going to be bold and say that I want to see food insecurity eradicated. There's just no excuse that every single person does not have access to an affordable, safe, abundant, and healthy food supply, and I think we can get there. I think we need as many hands on deck as possible, as many allies, as many people actively fighting that fight, but that is something that I want to see for the future.
In a similar vein, I would love to see more people of color, more Black people, and more indigenous people re-engaging in agriculture. So many of our agricultural practices, back when this country was incepted to now, are because of the formative work at those groups of people put into our country and into our agriculture industry. Whether that's land redistribution or other kinds of policies to ensure that they get back to their roots and growing food for this country, I would love to see just more people who were once involved in agriculture come back. I think with that comes going to schools, telling students that agriculture is relevant, that it's fun, it's fresh and we need all kinds of people in all kinds of places to be engaged. So, a more diverse agricultural sector more generally, as well as an eradication of food insecurity, would be my two hopes for the future.
Bio: Artha K. Jonassaint is a lifelong Floridian with an affinity for agriculture and a long-term interest in creating legislation to provide for more equitable food and health systems in the United States. Artha is a rising sophomore at Harvard College studying Government and Global Health and Health Policy with the intention of attending law school upon graduation. Prior to matriculating at Harvard, Artha served as the Florida FFA State President, a role dedicated to the promotion of agriculture and agricultural education. Artha is excited to join the Florida Food Policy Council team this summer to further her knowledge of the intersection of policy and food systems in our state.
Disclaimer: The views of the interviewee do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.