Food, By and For the Community

Reflections on the Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute’s Rural Food Forum In Honor of Black History Month

Crowd of forum attendees at tables

Photo: Green Rural Development Organization

Food, By and For the Community

Reflections on the Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute’s Rural Food Forum In Honor of Black History Month

Photo: Green Rural Development Organization

Today’s food systems work for nearly no one. Here at Farm Sanctuary, we are working across movements to fight the worst harms of animal agriculture and to “build the good” – just and sustainable food systems that support animals, people, and the planet.

To do this equitably and effectively means listening to and supporting the community-based organizations that have been fighting for just and sustainable food system transformation, often for decades. As we enter Black History Month, the following staff reflection serves as an opportunity to celebrate progress, but also recognize how far we have to go.

Driving into Henderson, North Carolina to attend the Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute’s kick-off forum, we couldn’t help but think about the history of the county. The State of North Carolina created Vance County in 1881 to limit formerly enslaved persons’ political power. Just 13 years later, in 1894, a multiracial coalition elected George Henry White to Congress, the only member of the 56th Congress who identified as Black. White would go on to propose the nation’s first anti-lynching legislation in 1900, 122 years before lynching became a federal crime.

Henderson, North Carolina pushed progress forward, even if progress did not come at the pace justice demands. That continues today. What we saw in Henderson is building the future of more just U.S. food systems. At the Green Rural Redevelopment Organization, the parent partner of the Institute, micro-farmers come together to nourish their community through food hub-style aggregation and medically tailored meal distribution. The food is produced, processed, and distributed by and for the community, advancing health, wealth, and racial justice.

At the Institute’s forum, held January 12th this year, more than 200 people of all walks of life, from policymakers to farmers, funders to workers, came together. We worked and learned across movements. We saw, in each other, community members working together to build more just and sustainable food systems. We learned through honest conversation, through listening and valuing lived experiences and the expertise of farmers who identify as something other than white, male, industrial producers.

Loading boxes of fresh vegetables

Loading fresh vegetables onto the “Wellness on Wheels” truck at the Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute’s Rural Food Forum.

These conversations continue. Farm Sanctuary was thrilled to host the Institute at our DC Roundtable on Universal Nutritional Security and Sustainable Farmer Opportunity, sponsored by Representative McGovern. There, the Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute and Harlem’s Corbin Hill Food Project (CHFP) joined lawmakers and advocacy organizations to build towards shared priorities.

We can build food systems that work for everyone – animals, people, and the planet. To do so, we have to recognize the injustices of the status quo and work together to dismantle them. To paraphrase the immortal words of civil rights leader Lilla Watson, our liberation is bound together. We’re thrilled to be in community with organizations like the Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute and the CHFP to support a shift in resources and power that advances more just, sustainable, and community-driven food system supply chains.

Woman speaking from crowd of participants at forum

Participants shared their experiences and engaged in thoughtful conversation during the forum, which included guest speakers presentations, breakout sessions, table facilitation, and more.

It’s a big year for food. If the 2023 Farm Bill reflects the priorities of organizations like the Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute and CHFP, it will be a transformational year for food. This Black History Month, that’s part of what we’re reflecting on. What if, in the words of the Institute’s Earline Middleton, we “recognized rural communities’ capacities and built on the ways our rural communities flourish”? What if we entrusted organizations like the CHFP to not only feed their neighbors, but invest in food infrastructure to address community needs?

What if the U.S. government shifted its approach from prioritizing production-above-all to advancing shared purpose? How can we, as a Farm Sanctuary community and as individuals, do better to advance racial justice in our food system, whether through the food on our plates, in conversation, or in community? How can we extend these values throughout the year?

(All photos in this blog shared with permission from the Green Rural Development Organization.)

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