FlyPaper Celebrates Women’s History With WCW:
As stigmas often go, it’s not very often that vegan and soul food are grouped together. Ms. Ruby White, though, rightly nicknamed Columbus’ Godmother of vegan soul food, has set out to make this anomaly a reality within urban communities, giving healthy, nutrient-dense food options a sensational name.
Even as a child, the Columbus native knew she was destined to be an activist for environmental injustices.
“I was just watching the news with my parents one evening after school, and this news story came on with Tom Brokaw about styrofoam… About how it wouldn’t biodegrade for about 60 years…”
Ruby says she remembers thinking about how often we use styrofoam. What seemed to surprise young Ruby the most was how the news story just of ended with absolutely no mention of a proposed solution.
“And it just hit me hard that no one cares about the Earth… We’re more concerned about convenience…It bothered me and never left me alone.”
Ruby’s social interests evolved into more of a lifestyle, following her well off into adulthood. In college, the once Girl Scout attended Hampton University where she studied Marine and Environmental Science. It didn’t take Ruby long to realize that the kind of science topics she was concerned with didn’t quite line up with that of the all-white, male professors she had at the HBCU.
“A lot of these environmental injustices are occurring in our people’s communities. ‘Why isn’t this even on the table to discuss,'” she remembers racking her brain. Of course, her curiosities were met by her professor’s insistence that those were “social science” issues and we nor to be mixed with that of traditional science.
“I had a problem with that.”
Ruby sought alternative avenues to feed her appetite for social justice, pursuing opportunities outside of her academic program. After college, she worked on public policy issues with both the EPA and National Park Service in Washington DC. As Ruby was finally able to truly explore the realm of environmental justice, it was also then that she noticed there was still so much work that was going undone.
“This was 2004, and environmental justice was still ‘let’s go to the parks and find the bad plants and get rid of them…’ I just realized that I could make more impact on the local level.”
While in D.C, Ruby came across a vegan soul food restaurant and noticed not only the unique meals being served but this sense of togetherness between people who weren’t all vegan or vegetarian.
“I just realized, Columbus could use something like this.”
In 2008, Ms. White moved back Columbus with big plans to open a fabulous, downtown vegetarian soul food restaurant of her own.
In 2008, Ruby participated in the Ray Miller Institute for Change & Leadership, a leadership development program for young black professionals with the desire make an impact in the black community. Together, she and her group decided that their project would focus on food justice, thus giving birth to the beginning phases of Ruby’s grassroots approach to promote food justice, Jazzy Greens, LLC.
Once the program came to an end, her group disassembled and Ruby was left with an amazing concept; one that her passion refused to let die. She began to scale back and looked for new ways that she could ease building upon her concept. Ruby began creating award-winning community gardens, most notably Reynoldsburg Edible Schoolyard Project, children’s stem programs, and conducting food demonstrations throughout the city. Over the last eight years, Ruby has raised over $100k in grant funding for food justice, farm-to-table programs.
Recently, Ruby has expanded her efforts to include a child nutrition program, working with the Children’s Defense Fund University District Freedom Schools Program as a nutrition director. For eight weeks, children attended the summer program focused on literacy and social justice. As an added bonus, Ruby and her staff provided the children with vegetarian and vegan soul food meals, twice a day, every day.
Often, especially in the African-American community, the conversation of healthy eating habits can be difficult to have with adults. But, Ruby says she finds that it’s easier to introduce it to children, and their excitement and over acceptance helps to open the minds of their parents.
“It was an amazing experience…[Once] we did Mediterranean veggie sandwiches… And several parents and interns said ‘well my little brother started asking for them when school started… That’s his favorite lunch to pack.'”
Now, Ruby is looking to expand the children’s nutrition program to Freedom School Programs across the nation.
For over eight years, Ruby has shared her passion for food and environmental justice with communities, but she is ready to see her original vision come to fruition.
“Ultimately, I would like to see a grocery, co-op complex.”
While she has enjoyed the smaller food and agriculture projects, her experience as a 2016 Global Social Impact Fellow with the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Social Impact Strategy rejuvenated her vision to tap into the local, urban farmer market as a means to create visibility and sustainability within underserved communities.
Currently, Ruby and Jazzy Greens are ready to execute child nutritional programs throughout the school year, provide vegan and vegetarian food menu options for events and help organizations and families, start or continue their own community garden.
- Garden Service Day – November 19, 2016 at Summit United Methodist Church, 82 E. 16th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43201. *Volunteers are welcome.
- Ruby will be presenting at the 2016 Winter Kwanzaa Academy – December 26-30, 2016 at King Arts Complex, 867 Mt Vernon Ave, Columbus, OH 43203 on.
For more information on events and to stay up to date on where Ruby and Jazzy Greens are headed next, contact Ruby White at (614) – 816-9118. Also, check out these handles below: