Hearing the news reports of George Floyd’s death made me feel nauseous, angry, and then drained. As tragic as his story is, it is not unique. I’ve struggled to find the right words to express my thoughts on the events of the last couple weeks, and how they relate to my work on the farm, but I keep coming back to three simple truths:
1. Farming (and eating) are political acts
2. Our food system was built on racism
3. Black lives matter
Beginning with the violent theft of land from indigenous people, through the birth of an agricultural economy built on the backs of enslaved people, up to the present-day reliance on low-wage, immigrant labor, our food system is structured in a way that systematically exploits and disenfranchises people of color.^ This structural racism is a consistent undertone throughout American life, and the tragic death of George Floyd is a symptom of a much larger, more pervasive problem.
Not only do I love the work of farming, but I was drawn to agriculture as an active way to create positive change. For me, this positive change isn’t just about promoting agricultural practices that are environmentally friendly, it is about structuring our food system to center human communities and social justice. That’s no easy task, and I’ll admit, this is a learning process for me. I spent much of my younger life blind to the privilege afforded by my skin tone, and unaware of the insidious undercurrent of white supremacy that has permeated the fabric of our society. Today, I’m learning…listening, and pledging to do better.
I often feel powerless in the face of such a long history of injustice, and that sense of powerlessness leads to inaction. Will something I do or say really make a difference? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I offend or hurt someone by speaking carelessly? But, inaction is not an option. Inaction is complicity, and we as a society must do better. As a farmer, I must become an active part of dismantling the inequities of the food system, or I am enabling their perpetuation.
I write this to say that I am here in solidarity with friends and strangers alike who have a different complexion from mine, and therefore, a different lived experience in the world. I write this also as a way of inviting us all (particularly those of us who benefit from white privilege) to have the tough conversations. We all come at these issues with a different perspective, and a different comfort level discussing topics of race, but having the conversation is essential. I don’t presume we all agree on the path forward, but we must actively move forward. Talk. Listen to each other. Educate yourself and, most of all, seek out the perspectives of those who have different backgrounds and identities. Make a point to support and lift up the businesses and the work of people of color. I’ll do the same. Change doesn’t occur overnight, but I’m committed to being part of it.
^Our Food System was built on racism. For more on this topic, superstar farmer and activist, Leah Penniman gives a clear and concise overview of the issues in this article. For the podcasts fans out there, I also recommend listening to 1619. The whole podcast is great but see episode 5 for the story behind how discriminatory lending practices resulted in land theft from Black farmers.