Training Northeast Farmers to Confront and Dismantle Racism and Inequity in Food and Farming Systems

Final report for ONE19-328

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2019: $26,712.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: National Young Farmers Coalition
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Caitlin Arnold
National Young Farmers Coalition
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Project Information

Summary:

Racial inequity pervades American agriculture; young farmers in the Northeast know this. Because of anti-racism trainings facilitated by Soul Fire Farm and provided by the National Young Farmers Coalition (the Coalition) free of cost through a NE SARE grant (ONE19-328) in partnership with Northeast chapters in 2020-21, young farmers in the region are equipped to name and act against anti-Blackness in their communities and economies. The grant likewise supported the Coalition’s 2020 Racial Equity Toolkit, which catalyzed similarly critical conversations across more than 25 chapters nationwide and has been downloaded more than 7,000 times. More than 30 sustainable agriculture and food justice organizations across the country have reported successful use of the Toolkit as well. Created in response to requests from our members to expand resources for racial equity work, the trainings and Toolkit have produced a desire amongst our coalition to harvest action from knowledge. The impact of the work funded through this grant continues to proliferate throughout our Coalition and our movement ecosystem. 

Project Objectives:

This project seeks to demonstrate the power of young farmers to confront and dismantle racism and inequity in food and farming systems when offered comprehensive anti­racism trainings and resources.This project has three main objectives:

  1. To provide young farmers in the Northeast the opportunity to attend one full day anti­racism training at no cost;
  2. To complete the Coalition’s Racial Equity Toolkit, a resource for young farmers nationwide who wish to begin the work of addressing racism and inequity in the food system.
  3. To connect Coalition chapters with Black and Brown-­led organizations that are doing this important work in their regions; and to ensure that resources funding this work are going directly to these organizations. 

The full day anti­racism trainings will provide young farmers in the Northeast with a shared understanding of racism in food and farming, and opportunities for their chapter to support farmers of color in their regions. The Racial Equity Toolkit will be a resource for Coalition chapters to begin regular discussions on racial equity and develop action plans for their chapters. Young farmers not part of a Coalition chapter can also use the Toolkit in their farming communities.To complete the Coalition’s Racial Equity Toolkit, a resource for young farmers nationwide who wish to begin the work of addressing racism and inequity in the food system; To connect Coalition chapters with Black and Brown-­led organizations that are doing this important work in their regions; and to ensure that resources funding this work are going directly to these organizations.

Introduction:

In April 2019, the USDA released the results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture, a count of our nation’s farms and ranches. The Census found that the number of Latinx and non­white primary producers did not increase between 2012 and 2017; ninety five percent of U.S. primary producers surveyed identified as White; and the number of Black, Latinx, Asian American, and Native American primary producers all decreased between 2012 and 2017 (USDA 2019). The many challenges that young farmers face today are not experienced equally; centuries of marginalization and systemic racism prevent many young people of color from pursuing careers in agriculture.

The National Young Farmers Coalition (the Coalition) is a national organization that holds space for many different kinds of farmers: urban and rural, large and small scale, with identities that cross or blur lines of race, class, and gender difference. These young farmers-- Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers in particular --represent a more just future of US agriculture. Our national organization works to secure policy change and shift resources to equip young farmers to seed this future and dismantle racial inequity in the food system. Racial justice is not a simple inclusion of diversity, but rather for a shift in power and values informed and led by people who have been historically marginalized from land and power in the U.S. food system. We invite our chapters to join us in doing this work.

In the Northeast, young farmers of color experience racism on a daily basis. These young farmers are seeking the same opportunities as white farmers in our region­ access to land, capital and resources to build successful farm businesses. However, when moving to rural communities, farmers of color are confronted with barriers built by systemic racism­ everyday aggressions, exclusion from existing rural networks and a lack of resources that acknowledge their unique experiences and needs.

A just and healthy food system for all people won’t be possible if we don’t reckon with legacies of harm to people of color in the U.S.­ forced migration, enslavement, and centuries of violent intimidation, disenfranchisement, and discrimination. Young farmers in the Northeast are uniquely positioned to create a different kind of rural farming community­ one in which all young farmers have an equal chance to feel accepted and to succeed, regardless of race. By confronting racism and supporting young farmers of color, we are building more diverse and resilient farm communities.

Coalition chapters are ready to engage in the work of racial equity and racial justice. However, most Coalition chapters have limited access to funding for trainings and resources. The Coalition currently provides trainings to our chapters around advocacy, policy, leadership and a variety of business services. In recent years, our chapters have been requesting funding from the Coalition to add trainings and resources on racial equity work. Many of our chapters have specifically requested funds from the Coalition to partner with professional trainers such as Soul Fire Farm or Soil Generation to provide full day anti­racism trainings to their chapter members. Coalition chapters have also requested the creation of a Racial Equity Toolkit to help them begin this important work in their farm communities. This project aims to meet these requests.

Cooperators

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Research

Materials and methods:

Method 1: Uprooting Racism Trainings

In each of our three Uprooting Racism trainings, facilitators from Soul Fire Farm guided farmer participants from across the Northeast through a theory and action workshop to uproot systemic racism on our farms, in our organizations and society. Participants built shared understandings of and vocabularies around historical and contemporary articulations of racism. These shared vocabularies proved instrumental in developing collective awareness, mobilizing around anti-racist work, and laying foundations for the subsequent discussion of collective action toward racial equity in individuals’ agricultural communities. 

80 members from our Coalition’s New York and New England chapters in Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut attended the first two training sessions, held in-person in Winter 2020 in New York’s Capital Region. Participants accessed pre-work and arrived equipped with a baseline racial equity literacy. Soul Fire facilitators describe their methods; “we delve deep into the history and structural realities of racial injustice and develop an understanding of the movement strategies of frontline communities struggling for food sovereignty. We examine our personal and societal roles of complicity in and resistance to the system. Much of the time is spent developing tangible action plans to uproot these oppressions.” Post-training resources were circulated, in addition to an end of day survey, the results of which were shared with the coalition. Six months later, our Coalition circulated an impact survey to participants.

Though we had initially planned to partner with Soil Generation to host our third, in-person training in Pennsylvania in Spring 2020, COVID-19 forced us to reschedule and go virtual at a later date. In August 2020 Soil Generation informed us they would not be able to plan the training virtually and needed to step away from the project. We contracted with Soul Fire Farm to complete the final training, as they were prepared to offer the Uprooting Racism Training virtually in January 2021; 84 farmers registered, gesturing to the usefulness of virtual platforms for busy farmers. 

Method 2: Racial Equity Toolkit:

The Racial Equity Toolkit was completed in May 2020 and published in early June 2020. To date, the Toolkit has been downloaded by more than 7,000 users. We received an overwhelmingly positive response to the Toolkit from both farmers and service providers. Many similar food and agriculture focused organizations have started using the Toolkit amongst their staff, and 25 of our farmer chapters across the country have convened study groups inspired by the toolkit to deepen their knowledge of racism in agriculture and take action.

Throughout the process of creating and deploying the Toolkit, our Coalition benefited from the generous feedback from BIPOC farmer members, peer organizations, and stakeholders. This and other instances of valuable, intentional engagement from farmers and organizers on the frontlines of racial equity has informed our Coalition-wide racial equity transformation and new strategic plan, the beginning stages of which are outlined in our 2021 Young Farmers Accountability Report. We hope this document can act as a model for other historically predominantly White organizations seeking to root racial equity more substantively in their work, both internal and external. 

Research results and discussion:

Consciousness-raising is an ongoing, lifelong process. Developing awareness around systems of oppression can be difficult and uncomfortable; it can also be vitalizing and joyful. It includes both individual work and collective action. Thus, it is difficult to quantify. We can assess the impact of our programing by attendance numbers, qualitative feedback from participants, depth of engagement from participants and leaders, and enduring impact of the trainings and toolkit as evidenced by ongoing participant engagement and downloads. 

Advertised to our Northeast membership via chapter listservs and meetings, the first two Uprooting Racism trainings were held in person held in-person in Winter 2020 in New York’s Capital Region. Attendance reached a combined 80 farmers. 86 farmers registered for the final training, held one year later on Zoom. Overall, programming reached a total of 166 farmers. In general, attendance numbers were inline with expectations laid out in the proposal; the largest takeaway being the popularity of a virtual event for busy farmers distanced across the region. 

Soul Fire facilitators administered post training surveys. Of 30 respondents, all reported positively on the impact, organization, and content of the training. Six months later, our Coalition polled participants about their experience. Waiting to evaluate allowed us to measure the longer-term effects of the programming, and to check in with participants about the racial equity work unfolding in their communities as a result of the trainings and toolkit. 

Of 10 participants who responded to our poll, 100% reported taking action on racial equity in their community in the six months following the trainings, with the most popular specific actions being; educating others towards racial/food justice in their communities and improving practices on their farm to increase equity. Participants shared examples of the racial equity actions supported by the program, including; sharing resources and starting conversations with partner stores to support more BIPOC artisans and suppliers, setting aside designated farm time to discuss racial equity concerns, and worked with their Young Farmer chapter to build a racial equity statement into their mission. Several farmers reported using Soulfire Farm’s Organizational Self-Assessment tool to evaluate their own organizations for racial equity and further action. 

Farmers continued interest in 202-level opportunities for engagement with anti racism work through our Coalition also speaks to the success of the initial trainings. Leadership development opportunities like the Young Farmers Food Policy Certification Course offered virtually through Arizona State University and our annual National Leadership Convergence have been consistently popular, particularly among Northeastern farmers. Farmers’ passion for racial equity work grows each year; gesturing to the ways in which the seeds planted at the trainings in 2020 and 2021 continue to grow and branch through agricultural communities in the region. 

Covid19 impacted our initial methods somewhat; because of the pandemic, we were unable to work with our second facilitator contractor, Soil Generation. Also as a result of the pandemic, our third training was postponed, made virtual, and facilitated by Soul Fire Farm. This change to our schedule and subsequent increase in farmer participants served to show us the upside of online programming; more farmers registered for the virtual option than had for the in-person.

Research conclusions:

Recognizing the pervasive racial inequality rooted in our food system and hearing our chapters’ requests for more support on racial equity education and action, we set out to engage our membership and, by extension their communities, through racial equity training. To reach an audience beyond our membership and amplify their interest in food and racial justice, particularly among our white peer organizations, we also developed a racial equity toolkit to guide learning and action on racial equity in agriculture. Despite disruptions caused by the pandemic, we achieved these goals; serving a combined 166 farmer participants through the trainings and circulating the toolkit to our following of more than 200,000 supporters across all platforms. The result; the National Young Farmers Coalition is more prepared to work in solidarity to dismantle the barriers faced by the young, BIPOC farmers who lead our movement for a more just future in US agriculture. 

Participation Summary
166 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

1 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Online trainings
2 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

166 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

We hosted three anti-racism Uprooting Racism trainings through Soul Fire Farm; 80 members from our Coalition’s New York and New England chapters in Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut attended the first two training sessions, held in-person in Winter 2020 in New York’s Capital Region. 80 farmers registered for the third session, held virtually in January 2021 and facilitated by Soul Fire Farm. 

The Racial Equity Toolkit was completed in May 2020 and published in early June 2020. To date, the Toolkit has been downloaded by more than 7,000 users. We received an overwhelmingly positive response to the Toolkit from both farmers and service providers. Many similar food and agriculture focused organizations have started using the Toolkit amongst their staff, and 25 of our farmer chapters across the country have convened study groups inspired by the toolkit to deepen their knowledge of racism in agriculture and take action.

Racial_Equity_Toolkit

Learning Outcomes

166 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

All 32 farmers that responded to post-training evaluations and surveys reported one or more of the below adoption of and/or changes of behavior:

  • Further my farming/food/justice education 
  • Educate others about farming/food/justice issues
  • Apply the skills I learned to my current job
  • Deepen relationships between members of our farm/chapter/group/organization
  • Bring renewed energy, hope, and inspiration to the work
  • Improve practices in my farm/chapter/group/organization to increase effectiveness and/or equity
  • Take action toward racial justice/food justice in my community
  • Transfer resources or power to people targeted by oppression
  • Build upon the healing and joy experienced in the program 

Below are some of the success stories shared through the 6-month post-training survey:

“I’ve shared resources and had several conversations with a store I partner with. As a result they have made a commitment to supporting more BIPOC artisans and suppliers, as well as stocking more BIPOC authors in their book section, with proceeds from those books being donated to the Equal Justice Initiative.”

“We share conversations as a team weekly over lunch specifically dedicated to these things and daily in smaller ways. It’s also shifted how we organize ourselves and make decisions.”

“We have included a racial equity statement in our chapter mission. Some members of our chapter are meeting biweekly via zoom to discuss how we can improve inclusiveness and racial equity within our chapter and communities. We plan on working through the racial equity toolkit from NYFC.”

“I facilitated a workshop about food justice and environmental racism. I also facilitated a staff meeting at an all-white organization where we talked about how the organization can move forward with anti-racist aims.”

Project Outcomes

32 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
5 Grants applied for that built upon this project
Project outcomes:

7000 downloads of the Racial Equity Toolkit occurred 

25 additional racial equity study groups have been convened under the model outlined in the toolkit

All 32 farmers that responded to post-training evaluations and surveys reported one or more of the below adoption of and/or changes of behavior:

  • Further my farming/food/justice education 
  • Educate others about farming/food/justice issues
  • Apply the skills I learned to my current job
  • Deepen relationships between members of our farm/chapter/group/organization
  • Bring renewed energy, hope, and inspiration to the work
  • Improve practices in my farm/chapter/group/organization to increase effectiveness and/or equity
  • Take action toward racial justice/food justice in my community
  • Transfer resources or power to people targeted by oppression
  • Build upon the healing and joy experienced in the program 

Below are some of the success stories shared through the 6-month post-training survey:

“I've shared resources and had several conversations with a store I partner with. As a result they have made a commitment to supporting more BIPOC artisans and suppliers, as well as stocking more BIPOC authors in their book section, with proceeds from those books being donated to the Equal Justice Initiative.”

“We share conversations as a team weekly over lunch specifically dedicated to these things and daily in smaller ways. It's also shifted how we organize ourselves and make decisions.”

“We have included a racial equity statement in our chapter mission. Some members of our chapter are meeting biweekly via zoom to discuss how we can improve inclusiveness and racial equity within our chapter and communities. We plan on working through the racial equity toolkit from NYFC.”

“I facilitated a workshop about food justice and environmental racism. I also facilitated a staff meeting at an all-white organization where we talked about how the organization can move forward with anti-racist aims.” 

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Overall, the methods and approach associated with both the 2020/2021 racial equity trainings and Toolkit proved effective; they have provided not only a resource to individual farmers, Young Farmer chapters, and peer agricultural organizations across the country, but a model for our Coalition’s continued racial equity programming. Action-oriented racial justice education by farmers for farmers remains at the heart of much of our programming nationwide, including our annual National Leadership Convergence, our fellowship programs, and training held by chapters nationwide. Feedback from participants on the weaknesses of the course-- namely, it’s accessibility to full-time farmers and its limited scope --lead us to expand our audio content and to deepen our racial equity offerings. 

The concurrence of the racial equity trainings with the COVID-19 pandemic, while inconvenient, also ultimately an important lesson on the uses of virtual programming to reach more farmers in the region. In the months since, we’ve adapted much of our programming to not only comply with pandemic safety measures, but also to accommodate farmers’ needs and desires. 

In addition to the lessons learned from it, the impact of the project is clear; farmers want the tools and connections necessary to build racial equity in their own communities and when they get them, they succeed. Young farmers from the Northeast and other regions continue to engage with our Coalition’s anti racism work and drive change in their communities. This year, Young Farmers debuted a new, five-year strategic plan that makes explicit our commitment to racial equity as an organizational value and reorients our mission, vision, and core values to more adequately account for it. We believe that uprooting racism is a precondition for the brighter future for US agriculture that we envision; our members believe that, too. Their generous feedback, continued enthusiasm, and passion for racial equity are the foundation of our racial equity commitment, which has only grown since the initial training.

Just as the Racial Equity Toolkit has served as a resource for farmers, Chapters, and other organizations, the results of the trainings and Toolkit are useful models. Organizations within our Coalition’s broader movement ecosystem would benefit from the results contained in this report, as they indicate the farmers’ desire for action-oriented racial justice education as well the long-term impact such education can have on farmers’ communities and trajectories as leaders for equity in the field. 

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.