UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) hosts a farm apprenticeship program that trains aspiring farmers in organic farming. A subset of past and current apprentices participate in a group called the Farmers of the Global Majority, and they invited me to informally speak at the farm.
It was a treat to see the beautiful rows of weed-free crops that lead to an ocean horizon. Before our informal meeting, I ran into apprentices who came to the Small Grains Field Day and my EcoFarm presentations. They showed me their wheat trials, and we nerded out about tillering and maturity stages.
I had a moment to walk the gardens that reflect curiosity, biodiversity, and social justice.
Unfortunately, I was developing bronchitis and felt my head was in a vice, so when it came time to talk I spoke mostly of difficulties and what work needs to be done. I left regretting not saying more of what is being done and what can be done, of what we might do together.
So, for the first time, I committed myself to articulating what I’m working towards. It’s difficult to look past day to day efforts, past trouble shooting, and anticipating someone else’s next move. Moving through the world that way is defensive, not proactive. It allows others to make decisions that you respond to. What if we decided?
I wrote them a letter, and I think it’s worth sharing with you, too.
Dearest Farmers of the Global Majority,
I deeply appreciated the chance to visit with you and see the abundance of life you’ve nurtured. I’m particularly grateful to Leigh for coordinating my visit and to Mo for taking care of me — bronchitis was the culprit after all!
A part of me regrets that our time centered so much on travails and less so on solutions. You and I already know that this system does not work for us, does not mean to include us. People of color in America’s farming system are dehumanized and dispossessed of land, knowledge, seed, skills, product of our labor, and political power. We know and have experienced that our whole lives.
So, I think it’s important for us to think about the world we want to create. Our conversation brought up how to connect urban-rural, increase food sovereignty- and security, support our communities, and, at the heart of it all, gain power to thrive. I spent July 4th considering America’s history, mortality, and potential — typical birthday thoughts!
What I’d like to share is a vision of what’s possible: Imagine you’re in a city and you want to buy food for cooking. You walk into a grocery store and find a produce section stocked with amaranth leaves, pea shoots, chrysanthemum greens, huauzontle, okra, makrut limes. The deli offers injera, fuol, mitmita, banh cuon, tamales made by people in the neighborhood. It turns out the whole store is made by neighborhood residents. It’s a food co-op like where the members and employees live in the area, decide on what food to carry, and create a workplace that provides a true living wage.
With your goods in hand for a killer curry, you wonder how the store had so much food diversity. That’s when you pass by a community farm with bounteous biodiversity of annuals and perennials. The annuals come from the community’s seeds that are steadily grown out to eventually go to farmers who can grow them on a larger scale. The city provides protection from cross pollination from GMO crops. Those farms have secure seed and customers — the co-ops, cooks who make culturally-relevant food for the deli, schools, and restaurants. The perennials capture environmental toxins and atmospheric carbon to store them deep in the soil, while bearing fruit for passerbys.
Passing by is someone who stepped out of their cooperatively-owned home. The low cost of entry enables low-wage workers to secure a home and be protected from landlord evictions. The local credit union, a cooperative bank, works with residents to finance homes, businesses, and community investments. This neighborhood has resilience, continuity, and sustainability because it connects farmers, eaters, workers, everyone.
We can create a food system that provides quality jobs, promotes health, uplifts cultural foodways, secures homes, and encourages democratic ownership of our basic needs. As we build an equitable food system, we need to protect it in policy. We have been purposefully pushed out of voting centers, district zones, and political education so that we cannot institutionalize our social movements. Our political involvement would create policies by the people and for the people — all the people. True democracy is what this society is most afraid of.
Whatever you do after CASFS, I hope we will stay in touch. I’d love to hear your vision for the future and work with you towards a collective good.