Browns and Greens: Seeking the Balance of Equity in Local Farming

Browns and Greens: Seeking the Balance of Equity in Local Farming

Perhaps you saw the article last week After a Century in Decline, Black Farmers Are Back and on the Rise.” The article received great attention, as it should. It was published originally by Yes! Magazine, and republished by more than a half-dozen other online news sources. The article was forwarded to me by 5 individuals and came through my inbox via 5 different list serves.  To be honest, I momentarily found it refreshing to know that I’m in the loop on current events involving farming and people of color. Rather, I should say, at least my inbox is in the loop.

I ask myself almost constantly; what are we, Groundswell, doing to change a ‘business as usual’ paradigm in farming?

If you read our newsletter regularly, you know that Groundswell’s mission includes the word “diverse”. In the context of our mission, diverse means multiple cultures, nationalities, races, genders, classes, and ages; however, we have a priority to engage diversity in race, culture and class. Diversity is key to establishing a just and sustainable food system that enhances the lives of farmers, food producers, eaters and our planet.

In my four months as director, I have spent much of my time listening to people and reflecting on past actions of the organization with regards to equity and inclusion. I have heard praises, disappointments and all things in between. What is clear is that we have done amazing work training people to be new farmers and to support the continuing education of existing farmers; and we continue to do so. We have provided land access to New Americans through our Incubator Farm Program, who have in turn been able to start successful farm businesses.  Through our farm business class and one-on-one support, we have helped and supported Cha Cha and the development of the non-profit he has created in Ghana called Ndor Eco Village.  We have involved people of diverse races in planning meetings and hiring processes. We have reached out to communities of color in hopes to bring more diversity to our programs. We have paid consultants to educate our staff and board on equity and inclusion and specifically, to help us understand how to diversify our work.

Yet, most of our program participants are not people of color.  

We are still a predominantly white organization.  

This story is not new. Just last fall, Groundswell founder and former Director Joanna reflected on our inclusion and diversity efforts when she wrote this blog post in response to a staff member of color resigning. It’s important for us to revisit these lessons repeatedly.

Consequently, many questions arise for me at this point in the job. Are the relationships that exist between Groundswell and communities of color synergistic and built on trust? Are we having an impact on “creating equitable food systems” and how do we know? What systems have we developed to hold us accountable to ensuring that priority is placed on inclusion and equity in our work?  What are we teaching in our curricula that recognizes the racist and brutalist history of agriculture in our country or the land-theft in this State? How are we committing to diversity and inclusion in all our work, and not just as a “project” of our work? Does being a mostly white organization mean we are not successful? What does “success” look like in this work?  

I’ve just begun to ask these questions and to establish the foundation to be able to answer them. It feels important to me to keep you well-informed to the work we are doing in this regard.  With time, my hope is that transparency helps elicit trust and provides an opportunity for feedback and support.  Food justice work is complex. It is challenging. It is personal. And it takes a committed community working together.

Here are just some of our current efforts:

  • Learning about, engaging with and participating in food justice efforts in the immediate and regional community that support and celebrate all races and cultures.
  • Continuing to educate ourselves through conversations with others and enrolling staff and board members in workshops and trainings on diversity and race including but not limited to NLI – From Scarcity to Abundance.
  • Developing a set of evaluation tools and preparing to conduct assessments of Groundswell program effectiveness.
  • Including in the job description of all Groundswell staff the responsibility of attending and assisting local or regional groups in ways they say they need support.
  • Drafting a hiring protocol that holds us accountable to create accessible position descriptions that value lived experiences as well as ‘traditional’ experiences, publicizes these positions near and far both online and in person, offers alternative forms of interviewing methods, and requires a team of diverse reviewers who make the final hiring choice. We will be sharing this draft protocol soon, through our e-lists and with our partners, in hopes to receive feedback and improve it before it’s implemented.   
  • Hiring staff members who were chosen in large part because of their commitment to a just food system and the promotion of anti-racist communities. We will share more about these new positions once they officially start this summer.  
  • Beginning the developing of curricula to be included in all of our programs that will include but not be limited to historical information about how the legacy of racial discrimination affects black Americans to learn farming, develop food businesses and secure land and what land-grab efforts were like in New York State and the impact on Native Americans.
  • Planning a series of stakeholder meetings in part with the intention of designing programs with input from the groups for which these programs are supposed to serve.

Though the work of Soul Fire Farm deserves recognition and to be shared far and wide, we hope that stories like this becomes less and less rare. Like you, we envision a society where there is an increase in farmers and food producers of all races, classes, genders and cultures; a society without food insecurity and injustice. We are committed to doing our part to train and support these producers. And furthermore, we are committed to expanding and improving our efforts and behaviors to be more inclusive, respectful and celebratory of diversity.  We look forward to working together to achieve these goals. We will make mistakes.  We will make people happy. And we welcome your feedback and support to hold us accountable to this imperative work along the way.