Chef Wayne Johnson on Regional Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Farms and Food at FareStart
In 2018, FareStart began the journey to deepen our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) with the intention of being an organization that makes decisions that will create an equitable and just world. Our journey continues and the role of data to support equitable decisions and outcomes has helped us focus.
When I was leading FareStart’s culinary operations, and now as a senior advisor to the organization, I took a good look at the process we used to buy products for our kitchens - namely who we were buying from, how our contracts are awarded and the diversity of our vendors.
One thing was clear to me, we had not applied a DEI lens to contracting and I wanted to understand why we were not purchasing from BIPOC farms. This has led to more than 6 months of conversations and learning, which has helped us set a DEI goal to integrate more BIPOC farms into our food purchasing. I understand that to create more sustainable BIPOC farms and food system, we need to shine a light on barriers and look for a more equitable way for farmers to compete with pricing and distribution.
Through my research, I found that BIPOC farmers are grossly underrepresented in agriculture and face a variety of inequitable challenges and discriminatory policies. Some key challenges include: access to land, racist policies that have stripped BIPOC communities of land, discriminatory lending practices, lack of funding, land trauma, access to agricultural certifications, access to markets and persistent discrimination from agricultural agencies and companies.
Statistics show, “at the height of black farming in 1920, black farmers ran 925,710 farms, about one-seventh of all farm operations in the United States. As of 2012, black farmers make up less than 2 percent of all farmers. That amounted to an 80 percent loss of farmland between 1910 and 2007, often because black farmers lacked access to land loans,” according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress.
Collectively as a city, county and state, we need to find ways to breakdown these barriers which are impeding BIPOC farmers from participating in feeding communities farthest from receiving fresh food.
FareStart began buying from BIPOC-owned farms this year, with funds provided by the King County Farmer Share (KCFS, Harvest Against Hunger) grant. The grant helped us support BIPOC farmer’s pricing and keep it competitive to our current produce purchases.
We began supporting new farm partners like The Bellevue Urban Garden (tBUG) and Terrebonne Truck Patch by buying their produce and engaging volunteers to glean (pick left over produce in the fields). We also glean with partners at One Leaf Farm, and we collect excess produce from six BIPOC-owned farms (AG Family Farms, Alvarez Organic Farms, Big Brother Farms, Mariposa Farm, Neng Garden and Tian Tian Farm) through the Seattle Farmers Market. Partnerships like these are helping farmers distribute, sell more of their product and reduce food waste through FareStart’s volunteer gleaning efforts.
The produce we buy and glean is used in our hunger relief kitchens to nourish adults, youth and families experiencing food insecurity and also in our communities through our mobile market pilot project. Produce for the pilot was supplied entirely from gleaned and donated items, as well as produce bought with grant funding to support BIPOC farms.
There are many ways for FareStart to support and ensure these and other new and upcoming BIPOC farmers are here tomorrow. A few ways you can support are to seek out BIPOC farms near you and purchase from them. Purchase CSA boxes from the farmers; this helps support start up purchases for the upcoming growing season. You also can volunteer to glean, help with harvesting or plant.
With all our support and efforts, we will create pathways to economic mobility for our BIPOC farmers – together in Puget Sound and across the nation.
Read more about FareStart’s DEI work including: economic mobility through FareStart’s employment partnerships, FareStart’s Marcus Bryant talks about equity, inclusion and antiracism and 2021 strategic priorities in pandemic recovery and advancing racial equity.