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Dismantling a Broken Food System: Three Possibilities

Through 400 years of plantation enslavement, lynchings, lost years of family history, loss of earning potential through lack of inheritances, and generations of neglected educational opportunities, African American producers and land owners have been placed seriously behind the starting line without the proverbial boots or straps. Given the tremendous losses throughout centuries of state sanctioned plantation agriculture, it is a troubling thought that African American and other farmers of color still do not have racial equity in the food system. For us of color on the front lines in this food systems work, we witness white supremacy operationalized daily in the lack of people of color in leadership in the food movement, and in the lack of land sovereignty and capital to even viably participate in local food systems. 

The time is right now though to confront white supremacy and dismantle the inequities within the broken food system. If we organize together for racial equity, there is hope.  Organizing intentionally together we can repair this broken food system in spite of the historical yoke of white supremacy. One step is to seek out those organizations, led by people of color, that are working toward racial equity in their local food system and that partner with local farmers, local farmers markets, local community supported agriculture (CSA), and U-pick farms, and support their work financially and through volunteerism, over the long term. But we cannot forget that white supremacy, rooted in many hierarchical constructs, is propped up by beliefs in patriarchy, power, privilege, wealth, and capitalism. Here are three ideas to entertain that could shake up this debacle of a food system that colonialism built.

Fannie Lou HamerFannie Lou Hamer was a sharecropper and Civil Rights leader who fought for racial equality.  Hamer ran for the US Senate in 1964 and in 1969 founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Ruleville, Mississippi.  


We have to trouble patriarchy with its destructive tendencies toward devolvement. Women of color have to lead the food movement.  The earth is a womb!  That women were the first farmers and still perform the majority of the world’s farming is because of our wombs.  The absence of women of color in positions of leadership in the food and farming arena is problematic.  It has been said that no nation will rise higher than the status of its women. When women of color rise, we all rise together as humanity!  We can help each other evolve and sustain the earth in the process.


We have to insist on land sovereignty for disenfranchised and traditional farming people.  Freeing the land from destructive hands of corporations that see only profits and not future generations is fundamental.  Farming the land, we need those small farmers and ranchers that maintain heirloom seed stocks, cultivate healthy biologically diverse, agroecological grazing zones, and believe in feeding safe food to their communities. Keeping small and traditional farmers on the land is vital.  Land sovereignty rights, land reform, and heir land titles have to be recognized so that the people of that place continue to be able to access their family land, waterways, and their autonomy. 


Lastly, to deal with massive greed and “rational” capitalism, we all of have to work toward cooperation and shared community benefits.  We need more farming and food cooperatives, grocery store cooperatives, community/church buying clubs, housing cooperatives, educational cooperatives, and neighborhood cooperative think tanks. This cooperative thinking is our emerging collective currency. Engaging local communities towards cooperative benefits for the many and not just a few challenges this colonized white supremacist food system model built on extractive policies resulting in profits for a few.  Fair prices for food, labor, and land are possibilities!

If you believe in racial equity for all, just know that with a few steps taken together WE can demystify white supremacy and dismantle this broken food system.  For a start: 1) bring women of color into the food movement leadership, 2) free the land from corporations, and 3) support more cooperatives at every level.  If we do this today, tomorrow, and the next day, in an organized fashion we can all be Free! 

Have a good meal!

Just a few People of Color organizations to support:

Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association

Black Urban Growers

Farms to Grow, Inc.

Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative

National Black Farmers Association

National Black Food Justice Alliance

National Latino Farmers Ranchers Trade Association

Soul Fire Farm

Southeast African American Farmers’ Organic Network

Traditional Native American Farmers Association

White Earth Land Recovery Project


Dr. Gail Myers is an Agri-Cultural Anthropologist with over 20 years of experience researching, lecturing and writing about, and filming stories of African American farmers, sharecroppers, and gardeners. In 2002, she earned a doctorate from The Ohio State University in Cultural Anthropology. In 2004, Dr. Myers co-founded Farms to Grow, Inc. in Oakland, CA to work with Black farmers locally and nationally. She consults with communities, universities, national organizations, as well as local, state, and federal agencies. She educates communities about the rich historical traditions of Black farmers’ material culture and traditional foodways. Myers continues a wide spectrum of grassroots organizing and coalition building through her work with Farms to Grow, Inc. Her upcoming documentary/multi-media project, “Rhythms of the Land”, is currently in post-production: www.rhythmsoftheland.comRead more and contact Dr. Myers: