Paul Towers has a simple-sounding goal: to enable every Californian to put food—healthful food, that is—on the table. As state director of the nonprofit Pesticide Watch, he plays David to California’s Goliath agriculture industry, fighting the use of pesticides that degrade the environment and endanger human health. There are many ways to force polluters out of business. One of the canniest: Teach people how to take control over their own food production. “It’s important for people to participate in the food system,” says Towers, a soft-spoken 30-year-old who counts as his heroes César Chávez and Erin Brockovich. Participate—but how? Here in Sacramento, he acts as an adviser to residents of neighborhoods like Oak Park to help set up local farmers markets, crop swaps and community tool sheds, and he works with community groups to challenge laws against backyard chickens and front-yard vegetable gardens. His biggest success to date? In 2008, to protest then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to spray aerial pesticides against the light brown apple moth, Towers helped organize a Mother’s Day protest march across the Golden Gate Bridge. After the march, Schwarzenegger reversed his decision. But while Towers may look like a community organizer, he sees himself as a facilitator. “Once people have an understanding of how government works, they are able to push the buttons to make it work for them,” says Towers. It’s the old “Give a man a fish” motto. “People know what they want in their communities,” he says. “I just help them make their voices be heard.” Paul Towers has a simple-sounding goal: to enable every Californian to put food—healthful food, that is—on the table. As state director of the nonprofit Pesticide Watch, he plays David to California’s Goliath agriculture industry, fighting the use of pesticides that degrade the environment and endanger human health.
Photo location courtesy of Lemon Grass
Linda Middlesworth envisions a future in which animals are no longer killed for food. Unrealistic? Probably. But this 67-year-old vegan yearns to make the world a safe place for animals. “We need a cultural revolution to change the way we think about animals,” she says. “They have friends and family, too.” Originally a meat eater, Middlesworth became a vegetarian 21 years ago for health reasons. She still ate eggs and dairy products until a friend gave her Peter Singer’s seminal book, Animal Liberation. “When I read about the animals, that was it,” she recalls. “I went vegan right then.” As founder and president of the Sacramento Vegan Society, Middlesworth gives PowerPoint presentations on veganism at local churches and libraries, and her group hosts a monthly vegan potluck at Arden Park Community Center. Middlesworth has brought top-notch speakers to Sacramento, including Rory Freedman, co-author of Skinny Bitch, Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet, John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution, and Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur. In her role as Sacramento’s leading vegan spokeswoman, she’s not above engaging in a little street theater. She’s held protests outside local restaurants that serve foie gras and handed out anti-meat leaflets alongside a truck that shows a “Meet Your Meat” video. (She gives kids a dollar to watch the graphic film.) “I know sometimes I need to tone it down,” says Middlesworth, who calls herself a meat abolitionist. “My main goal is to help people live their compassion. If they knew what their food choices were doing, they’d choose to be humane.”
After graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in environmental studies and economics, Sacramento native Rafael Aguilera worked on the biggest international issue he could find: global climate change. And he was successful at it, too, helping to pass California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. But after a few years of looking at problems from the macro level, Aguilera did something radical: He localized himself. In 2010, he began working to change the way Sacramentans relate to the natural world and each other. “The environmental movement needs to be about people,” says 32-year-old Aguilera. “The local solution is the permanent solution.” Operating out of Sol Collective, a community meeting space on 21st Street near Broadway, he established a seed library, with seeds from organic, native and heirloom vegetables and herbs; a free seed exchange (all you have to do is promise to plant and nurture the seeds); and a germination lab to show people how to get their seeds started. Aguilera believes everyone should have a backyard food garden, and he thinks Sacramento has the potential to become a “food forest” filled with all manner of edible plants. Even empty lots and abandoned properties could be turned into productive community gardens. “I see barren land-scapes as canvases for regenerative design,” he says. “The possibility for fertility and abundance is everywhere.”