Remembering Hank Herrera

Food First | 11.24.2020

We were saddened today to learn the news of Hank Herrera’s passing. Hank Herrera was a friend, colleague, fellow social justice activist and a long time member of the food justice movement. This is what brought Hank to Food First in 2005. Hank was a member of the Food First family for the last 16 years of his life. In fact, the organization celebrated his retirement from the Board less than 10 days ago. Thus Hank’s sudden and untimely loss is deeply felt by his many friends here at Food First.

Because of his passion for helping people, and the close connection Hank appreciated between quality of life and the need for access to healthy, nutritious and affordable food, Hank was an active and highly engaged member of the Food First Board. Hank worked to advance the food movement at Food First by serving as a Board member beginning in 2005. Over the years, Hank was called on to lend his skills in a range of ways including serving as the Board Treasurer and as the organization’s interim Executive Director. It is fitting that Hank’s last “assignment”, was slated to be in the role of an inaugural member of the newly formed Food First Council of Elders where Hank was going to continue to lend his insight and wisdom to the organization.

Hank grew up in San Jose, CA and truly loved the Bay Area. He was trained as a medical doctor and psychiatrist but opted to serve people in another way. Hank was an Indigenous activist who fought for over two decades for food and racial justice. He will be remembered for his tireless work in the struggle to build local and just food systems. At an event for Food First titled, “Dismantling Racism in the Food System,” Hank articulated a valuable lesson for everyone in the food movement to remember; it also embodies all that Hank stood for:

“We can’t wait for Whole Foods or the University of California because they aren’t going to do the right thing. They’ll do what is best for them, and that does not necessarily serve our interest. We cannot follow the path that the colonizers wish us to follow, we cannot work within that paradigm. That paradigm doesn’t work for us – it destroys us. To combat our current food system, we have to create our own system.”

Hank’s efforts to create our own system are reflected in his commitment to building institutions that could affect the change he envisioned. Hank began his career working on neighborhood revitalization and focused his efforts on assisting African American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods in the northeast quadrant of Rochester, New York. He co-founded the Northeast Neighborhood Alliance and Greater Rochester Urban Bounty, an urban agriculture and regional food system infrastructure project funded by the Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Initiative.

Hank was the first Director of the Hope Collaborative in Oakland and he directed the Dig Deep urban farming project, funded by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department to employ at risk youth. In addition to being a Food First board member for many years, he served on the board of the national Community Food Security Coalition.

Hank  also founded The Center for Popular Research, Education and Policy (C-PREP)  to conduct participatory action research, capacity-building and policy development with communities seeking to achieve self-reliance. Through C-PREP, Hank provided management services for the New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and the Rooted in Community Network of youth engaged in community food security projects.

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Hank’s fight for justice extended right up until his final days, as he was working to collaborate with The Wind River Indian Reservation in Central-West Wyoming to address the food system challenges which have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Hank was excited by the prospects of  working with a new generation of native american farmers as he dreamed of how farming could provide needed family income while also helping to address the food needs of other families on the reservation.

Malik Yakini, who served as a Board member for many years alongside Hank and was also elected to join the Food First Council of Elders, said  “Hank was a strong, unwavering voice for racial justice within the food movement. I counted him as a friend and comrade. His physical presence among us will be missed.”

Dr. Joyce King, long time Food First President fondly shared, “I considered Hank a friend and a brother. We were both WK Kellogg Fellowship recipients and it was my honor to serve and learn with him on the Food First board. This 2014 interview reminds us of his dedication, his deep knowledge and loving care for our people.”

Shyaam Shabaka, the current Food First President opined, “During my years of service with Hank on the Food First Board and through my work with him in the community and on urban agricultural programs, I observed Hank to be a tireless warrior in the fight against hunger, poverty, white supremacy, and he will be missed.”

We salute you Hank, for your lifelong efforts to overcome the challenges of hunger and poverty!