We’re proud to be a sponsor of Farm to Fork, whose events benefit beginning farmer programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS). This month, the annual sustainable agriculture lecture featured Dr. Monica White, speaking on “Freedom Farmers: Black Agricultural Cooperatives and the History of Food Justice.”
Local Food Heroes
The evening began with the presentation of awards to local food heroes. The winners included people doing inspiring work across the Piedmont and in eastern NC.
The first winner was the farmers of Piedmont Progressive Farmers Co-op, whose eggs we carry in Hillsborough! In addition to sustainably raising chickens for eggs, with a set of certification guidelines that farms must meet, and members use the co-op model to market the eggs as a group, providing a steady supply to places like Weaver Street. The co-op provides educational opportunities to its farmers. Currently, co-op farmers produce eggs, beef, goat meat, mutton, and vegetables.
Other winners included LaShauna Austria, director of Benevolence Farm, a nonprofit in Alamance County where women leaving prison can live and work to grow food, nourish themselves, and foster community. Or Davon Goodwin, who works with Growing Change, a nonprofit that transforms former prisons into therapeutic farms and community centers led by youth and veterans; he also mentors youth impacted by the juvenile justice system and manages the Sandhills Ag Innovation Center, a food hub in Ellerbe, NC. Or Randolph Keaton, who directs Men and Women United for Youth and Families, a nonprofit in Delco, NC that helps youth and families be independent and self-sufficient. He also advises the Youth Ambassadors for a Better Community, a youth food council, and serves on the board of Feast Down East, a food aggregator with a focus on uplifting the work of people of color and minority farmers in southeastern NC.
You can read about all the winners on the CEFS website, here: https://farmtoforknc.com/local-food-heroes/
Dr. White is a professor at the University of Wisconsin and the board president of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. From the CEFS website, “Her research investigates communities of color and grassroots organizations that are engaged in the development of sustainable, community food systems as a strategy to respond to issues of hunger and food inaccessibility.”
Dr. White spoke about material from her book, Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement. The book describes co-ops formed by black farmers as a way to fight racism and better their economic situations during the Civil Rights era. Co-ops were a way to build the world as the farmers wanted it, especially after Mississippi began passing a bevy of laws in 1964 to undermine the Civil Rights Act, such as Senate Bills 1607 and 1545, which effectively outlawed economic boycotts against businesses that discriminated by making it illegal to try to impede another from shopping or to distribute leaflets about economic boycotts. Some of these groups still exist; for example, last fall, we carried pecans from New Communities in Georgia.
Four figures appear in the book: W.E.B. Du Bois, who worked on cooperatives; Booker T. Washington, who led the Tuskegee Institute; George Washington Carver, whom Dr. White described as the true founder of organic agriculture; and Fannie Lou Hamer. From the CEFS website, “In May 1967, internationally renowned activist Fannie Lou Hamer purchased forty acres of land in the Mississippi Delta, launching the Freedom Farms Cooperative (FFC). A community-based rural and economic development project, FFC would grow to over 600 acres, offering a means for local sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and domestic workers to pursue community wellness, self-reliance, and political resistance. Life on the cooperative farm presented an alternative to the second wave of northern migration by African Americans–an opportunity to stay in the South, live off the land, and create a healthy community based upon building an alternative food system as a cooperative and collective effort.”
“Freedom Farmers expands the historical narrative of the black freedom struggle to embrace the work, roles, and contributions of southern black farmers and the organizations they formed. Whereas existing scholarship generally views agriculture as a site of oppression and exploitation of black people, this book reveals agriculture as a site of resistance and provides a historical foundation that adds meaning and context to current conversations around the resurgence of food justice/sovereignty movements in urban spaces like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, and New Orleans.”
For a detailed review of the book and interview with Dr. White, look here.
The book is available from UNC Press here: https://www.uncpress.org/book/9781469643694/freedom-farmers/