A Racial Equity Commitment: Lifting Up Community in Food System Transformation

This post comes to us from Karen Spiller, the MA Ambassador for Food Solutions New England and Principal of KAS Consulting. Contact her at mafsne@gmail.com. It originally ran on the Food Solutions New England website

The non-negotiable commitment made by Food Solutions New England to racial equity and food justice was a critical and bold declaration for its network.  These core values are fundamental guiding principles for restoring and improving healthy ecosystems and a working landscape that supports our quality of life and diverse, thriving communities. Making pathways to a more just and equitable and sustainable food system demands nothing less!

photo: voicejourney.net

In the fall of 2014, one way to demonstrate this commitment was identified. With the official launching of A New England Food Vision scheduled in several states, an opportunity to extend its aspirational message, knowledge of and connection to the Food Solutions New England network, and lift up racial equity in our food system work burst forth!

An Ambassador Team, made up of Network Team members Marilyn Moore, Karen Spiller, and Julius Kolawole, was created to take the regional racial equity and food system conversation to communities across three states: Connecticut (CT), Massachusetts (MA), and Rhode Island (RI), respectively.

Why these three states? In New England, these southernmost states are the most populous and culturally diverse. From the most recent data, New England’s population is 14,670,000, with 22% of the population in the Northern states and 78% the southern states. For the first phase of the Ambassadors’ outreach, positioning the Ambassadors in CT, MA, and RI has served us well. This does not mean that our partners in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are not working on racial equity because they are, and they too embrace this commitment. We are interconnected and understand that as we lift up racial equity, we all prosper!

The Ambassadors’ work officially launched in January 2015 on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Since then, face-to-face interactions took place in large conference venues and small workshops; college and university cafeterias; neighborhood restaurants and coffee houses; churches and classrooms; living rooms and at kitchen tables. This journey thus far has been one that Marilyn, Julius, and I have found humbling, affirming, and illuminating.  Reflecting back, A New England Food Vision is about “…no one goes hungry – healthy diets as a norm; and access to food valued as a basic human right.” Starting there, the conversations that the ambassadors have had with residents across the southern New England states have rung loud and clear with a desire for more racial equity in land and in wealth; more involvement in policy and decision making; more opportunities to learn strategies for land acquisition; more pathways to contribute to creative innovation; and more space at “the table” to shape and create this food system to which we aspire!

So many communities across our states and throughout New England have been thinking about, working tenaciously at creating, and advocating for what would bring a more healthful, equitable food system into their neighborhoods and healthy, local food to their tables. People are coming together and envisioning what that could look like. They are taking action with tangible, resourceful results. That is happening every day!

What we as Ambassadors have been able to do is to make intentional, authentic regional connections – extending and strengthening the power of the Food Solutions New England network. It is liberating and empowering to share with Mr. Smith that his community garden, with Nina and Fulani that their weekly Art is Life Itself and Community Tables events, and with Kafi that her efforts around cooperative development for rural and urban farming are all contributing greatly to the evolving landscape of action happening in places that they may never see!  The Mr. Smiths, Ninas, Fulanis, and Kafis of our region need to know that someone, lots of “someones,” care about racial equity and food justice and about them. Those of us tirelessly working to create this just, sustainable, and equitable food system long for them to know that we care deeply and that we need and want their full participation, in whatever way best serves them!

At this year’s 5th Annual New England Food Summit in Boston, fifteen of those amazing trailblazers that we met during our three-state outreach will be attending.  They will enrich our collective learning with their stories, their experiences, and their knowledge.  During the two days of the Summit, their presence, participation, and contributions will increase the capacity and strength of the room full of thought leaders and movement builders who are part of the Food Solutions New England network. It is our hope that following from the Summit, these trailblazers will join us actively in this regional network and food system transformation.

As Ambassadors, Marilyn, Julius, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to serve in this critical connecting role. We will continue to reach into communities, especially those most culturally and ethnically diverse, helping others see themselves as living it, building it, embracing it, and engaging in it- this vision of a regional sustainable food system that is equitable and just.

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.