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Greetings from the PAN Minnesota team!
As a woman of color doing food and environmental justice organizing work, I’m at a lot of policy tables and coalition conversations with white-led organizations. These days they are often asking “How do we begin to address racial inequities in our food system?”
This brings on some initial irritation. Communities of color have been fighting for basic civil and labor rights, for land reparations, and for treaties to be upheld and honored for so long — and it’s not like we’ve been doing this work under deep cover. How is it that these organizations are still unsure how to begin this work? Once I get over that frustration (and some days I don’t), I give some answers I hope will engage their minds and engender their labor and resources.
As this year comes to a close and progressives seem primed to take action, I’m sharing those answers here, and posing a question for you to consider.
I believe the real story of the U.S. industrial food system provides an excellent political education about “how we got here,” and how to overcome cycles of oppressive policy, decisions, and thinking. The Sankofa bird, an African symbol of the Akan people (of Ghana), represents the importance of looking back in order to inform the way forward. A look at the past 500+ years reflects the intentional severing of ties between Indigenous and Black people and five critical things: land, food, our culture, political power, and just economic autonomy. These five aspects are essential for liberation and freedom for marginalized (especially BIPOC) communities. While other immigrant groups have been oppressed and discriminated against in the U.S. as well, they were at some point able to assimilate into dominant culture and socio-economic systems. Here are a few good resources for more information: HEAL Food Alliance, Food First, 1619 Podcast, Life and Debt, Let Them Eat Junk.
I’m extremely excited about the mighty Minnesota BIPOC-led groups who are doing incredible work to change the future of food and agriculture in the Midwest and nationally. I have the honor to work directly with some of them, and others I’m proud to work alongside:
Midwest Farmers of Color Collective (Twin Cities Metro/Statewide): MFCC is a collective of Black, Indigenous, farmers of color centered on racial justice and the development of food and farming systems that honor our communities past, present and future.
Indigenous Environmental Work (Bemidji, MN): IEN is an alliance of Indigenous Peoples whose Shared Mission is to Protect the Sacredness of Earth Mother from contamination and exploitation by Respecting and Adhering to Indigenous Knowledge and Natural Law.
Forty Acre Coop (Sandborn, MN): Forty Acre is a nationwide cooperative with the mission to promote agricultural development, as well as economic equity for socially disadvantaged farmers.
MN350 (Minneapolis, MN): MN350 unites Minnesotans as part of a global movement to end the pollution damaging our climate, speed the transition to clean energy, and create a just and healthy future for all.
Toxic Taters Coalition (Callaway, MN): The Toxic Taters coalition brings rural farmers and Native community members together to address direct health and environmental effects from pesticide exposure, due to industrial agriculture. They raise awareness and organize communities to fight for corporate accountability and promote sustainable farming practices.
This is a time for us to get intentional about how we go about this work. Education and actions that support BIPOC-led organizations doing the work are two of those ways. What do you intend to do to deepen your commitment to racial justice in our food system as we head into 2021? I encourage you to think about this question as you go through the holidays and hope to see you in the new year on the frontlines. Finally, here’s a blessing that speaks to the heart of the matter.
“May you never know the fear of having your human rights challenged every time there is an election and may you never know the pain of watching loved ones vote against your right to exist fully, equally and authentically.” —Author unknown
Zoe Hollomon, Minnesota Organizer
The Justice for Black Farmers Act will enact policies to end discrimination within the USDA, protect remaining Black farmers from losing their land, provide land grants to restore the land base to a new generation of Black farmers, and implement systemic reforms to help family farmers across the United States.