Small Farms and Land Access: Farm Dreams Deferred

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The Berkeley Food Institute broadcasts a podcast called Just Food. A recent episode includes graduate researcher Adam Calo and I talking about land access. You can follow this link for the podcast and transcript, which also includes photos of Adam and I. Or, listen in the file below.

Adam points to structural challenges, particularly racism, as a principle barrier to accessing land. Yes, we can point to America’s long history of land theft, red-lining, and discrimination. We can also point to the many instances of selective application of the law and norms. But, the trend now is that they want to hear a personal story. They want to hear the details of how racism affects an individual. I know that was supposed to be my role in this podcast.

Now, I’ve spoken about the discrimination I’ve faced as a womyn of color trying to gain leases and, despite my due diligence, paperwork preparedness, references, and sometimes trusted working experience with landowners, how ultimately I’m passed over for a less experienced and buttoned-up white person. To me, it’s not a story. Racism is a daily reality and it is painful. When I’m interviewed and asked about my experiences of racism, often as though I’m asked to prove that it exists (see: Summer of 2016 and the world around us), I think to myself, “Is this worth peeling back scabs for? This will cause me harm today, and will it do me good in the long run?” If the answer is no, then I assert that I don’t want to talk about it.

It took me a long time to ask myself those questions. It took practice to recognize that my inclination to trust an interviewer, as though we’re having a personal conversation, needs to be checked. I don’t get to ask questions, so it’s not a conversation.

Fellow POC, we don’t need to make ourselves vulnerable for the benefit of others. We, our ancestors, have already done so much for the benefit of others who seek to extract from us. We don’t need to explain racism because it’s not our problem. Racism is a problem created by white people, and they need to take back their problem.

Rediscovering Grains Panel

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I spoke at FoodInno on how the rediscovery of grains is a process of confronting colonialism, building a just food system, and humanizing our world.

Below is a transcript of my opening talk:

I’m a grain farmer and organizer of th California Grain Campaign, which aims to make California-grown, whole grains widely available. Today I want to talk with you about how those two areas of work are related: which is my mission to humanize the food system.

The name of this talk, Rediscovering Grains, provides a useful framework for understanding how discovery and rediscovery is how we can humanize the grain economy.

I only have 5 minutes, so I’ll briefly touch on 4 areas using this framework of rediscovery: culture, health, environment, and economy.

Culture: European “discovery” of the Americas initiated the spread of European monoculture, as manifest in wheat. Expansion westward involved theft of indigenous seed and grain, replaced by wheat. 20thcentury industrial agriculture accelerated this consolidation of seed wherein a few hands offered a narrow selection of patented wheat seed.

Farmers such as myself are rediscovering and reviving a greater diversity of unpatented grains – wheat, barley, corn, rice – that reflects the diversity of human society.

Health: Europeans discovered wheat is a powerful global commodity. It can be stored a long time, shipped far distances, especially when the bran and germ are removed. That yields a refined, white flour that facilitates the spread of diabetes, obesity, and other diet related illnesses.

We are rediscovering the nutritive value of the whole grain and offering wheat to support human health over profit.

Environment: Europeans discovered America to be a vast grassland. Wheat is also a grass, so to eliminate the competition chemicals and mechanical tillage has been used, resulting in diminished biodiversity, widespread environmental toxins, and increased greenhouse gases.

California farmers are at the forefront of rediscovering grain’s role in an organic rotation that increases biodiversity, soil health, and captures atmospheric carbon.

Economy: We know that European discovery of new lands meant the encounter with peoples whom they enslaved. Slaves built our agricultural economy. We continue to exploit people to produce an overabundance of wheat with which we flood the global market and destroy regional economies.

We in the California Grain Campaign are creating relationships of transparency, accountability, and risk sharing throughout the grain economy so that we are supporting each others’ livelihoods, ensuring we all have a living wage, have good work conditions, and are supporting each other as whole human beings.

Our process of rediscovering grains with respect for culture, health, environment, and regional economies is a radical departure from the past. We are doing the the most innovative work: humanizing the food system.