By “food autonomy,” we mean the creation of a healthy, local system for growing and distributing food, made available to all — with preference for the most vulnerable to food insecurity — outside of the barriers posed by both the market and government food assistance programs. In other words: we grow and distribute free food to those who need it in a sustainable way.

Food autonomy is our solution to food insecurity, and to the industrial agricultural system that is ecologically destructive, leading to water pollution, soil destruction, and reliant on fossil fuels and fragile global distribution chains. It is a long-term goal — not something built in a year or two. Rather, it provides us strategic orientation, letting us name the kind of food system we are trying to build.

This year, the Food Autonomy initiative has built a coalition of community gardens, built a dozen chicken coops in backyards throughout the area, and distributed hundreds of pounds of fresh, free food.

The Food Autonomy Initiative has organized the sharing of resources and labor among the following growing projects:

  • The Washington Street Garden
  • The Red Hen Garden, operated by Women For Change
  • The Attucks Community Farm, operated by Attucks Community Services
  • The Chestnut St Teaching Garden, located by the housing projects on Chestnut St. and operated by a neighbor
  • The Birch St. Food Forest

During the Spring and Summer of 2020, we have been able to pay workers in these gardens, in addition to coordinating a large volunteer base. Hundreds of pounds of food have already been distributed door to door to neighbors on nearby streets. What has not been distributed directly has been donate to the Southern Illinois Collaborative Kitchen (SICK).

The Food Autonomy Initiative has also constructed 12 chicken coops -- 10 inside Carbondale, 2 nearby. We worked with local architectural designer Jessica Allee, who designed a beautiful coop in accordance with the City of Carbondale's ordinance standards. After building a prototype, our friends at Little River Research & Design allowed us to use their facility to mass produce ten "coop kits," which were distributed to the homes of those participating in the project. Coops were assembled by volunteers, and they will soon all be home to 6 chickens.

These coops and chickens were offered to residents free of charge, on the condition that the chickens are well cared for and surplus eggs are shared among neighbors. 5 of the coops have been built in the Northeast side of Carbondale, 4 in the Northwest side, 1 in the Southeast side, and 2 outside of town.

All this has all been accomplished with hundreds of hours of volunteer labor, as well as a generous $23,000 grant from a local resident. Our aim is to secure from the Carbondale city government funds redirected from the Carbondale Police Department to continue and expand the production of Food Autonomy in Carbondale.


The Board of Directors of the Carbondale Spring Food Autonomy Project have established the following Points of Unity to govern the development of the Food Autonomy initiative.

These points of unity do not necessarily reflect the positions of affiliated organizations, but rather only of the  Food Autonomy Board of Directors and many individuals working on the project:

  1. We are unified in our attempt to build Food Autonomy, defined as, “the production and distribution of healthy food, made available to those who need it free of charge”;
  2. We believe that building Food Autonomy is ecologically necessary in response to an unsustainable system of industrial agriculture;
  3. We believe that building Food Autonomy is morally necessary, in response to the food insecurity and other interrelated deprivations faced by many of us and our neighbors;
  4. We are unified in our desire to cooperate with, rather than compete with, other groups who are working toward the same goal;
  5. We are unified in our desire to treat the work of gardening and municipal food production with the dignity it deserves, paying our workers whenever possible;
  6. We are unified in our desire to educate and support teenagers and young adults in growing both healthy food and healthy communities;
  7. We are unified in our desire to see the process of building Food Autonomy supported with Carbondale city funds, as access to healthy food is a matter of public safety and welfare;
  8. We are unified in our desire to see a reduction in the budget of the Carbondale Police Department, and to see those funds redirected to support Food Autonomy and other community programs.