New England’s burgeoning local food movement is something to celebrate. It allows small farmers across the region to reach new markets and inspires renewed interest in working the land, especially among younger New Englanders. Even as we applaud this rediscovery of fresh wholesome food from down the road, we also must remain vigilant to ensure that this movement doesn’t leave behind those who have historically been marginalized when it comes to land use and food access.
Across the food system, from consumers to producers, too many people of color are trapped by systemic racism that has disinvested in communities of color and dispossessed Black farmers of their lands. The challenges of the pandemic have only deepened those inequities. The Legal Food Hub and countless other organizations in our region are working to support these historically marginalized groups.
Access to land is the foundation of an equitable food system, but a historic source of injustice in farming. Throughout U.S. history, unjust laws, policies, and industry practices have stripped people of color of their farmland. In 1920, Black farmers made up 14% of the nation’s farmers. Today, that number has dwindled to just 2%.
In the Northeast, the legacy of racist land use and housing policies like redlining have left communities of color dealing with historic disinvestment. Although discrimination remains rampant in the farm sector, many communities of color in our region have pioneered urban agriculture as a way to promote access to healthy food and reclaim the soil.
By breaking down barriers within the farming world for those who have been marginalized, we can work together to transform the way we think about and grow food here in New England. We are inspired by the incredible Legal Food Hub partners like All Farmers, the Food Project, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, and the Somali Bantu Community Association that are working to ensure that farmers of color, New Americans, and other historically marginalized groups have access to the land, resources, and support they need to start successful farming enterprises. However, many barriers still remain.
The Legal Food Hub connects small farmers with volunteers who provide free legal services. The Hub also offers workshops and other educational resources to make starting and sustaining a farm in New England accessible to all, while also supporting policies that will make farming more equitable. Now, more than ever, we must support an innovative farming workforce and uplift those who face barriers in agriculture.