Getting to the Root of Racism in Agriculture: An Equity Imperative

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By Nikki Seibert Kelley @Wit_Meets_Grit

It does not take much digging to unearth the racism embedded in the current agricultural system, infecting the very soil from which the industry has grown, preventing entire communities from thriving. Taking many forms, from the denial of farm loans and heirs property disputes to poor working conditions and low wages, the systematic discrimination against minority and indigenous farmers and farm workers is having an incredible impact on farm families, including the loss of thousands acres of farmland. Beyond the fields, the food system’s inequities result in communities without access to the resources for self-sufficiency from food to education. These injustices are only part of the deeper systemic issues negatively impacting people of color and indigenous populations, issues that in recent years have been brought to the forefront of the national consciousness. This awakening to what it means to be a minority and indigenous person in American society has grown into a movement to disrupt and dismantle the practices and processes of institutional racism. From farm fields to food service, individuals and organizations are rising up to identify and address the structural and cultural challenges preventing agriculture from being a safe, inclusive, and equitable industry. In continued support of this movement, the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group has invited several leaders, including Dr. Tameka L. McGlawn, to provide tools and resources at the January conference in Chattanooga, TN.

“There are many people that have been struggling for generations and we are in a time where transformation is possible, when we can harness the collective force for change,” emphasizes Dr. Tameka L. McGlawn. As the Chief of Strategy, Learning, and Collective Impact for the “Leading for Equity Collective Network”, Dr. McGlawn is passionate about empowering organizations and individuals to create institutional equity that directly addresses structural racism. She expressed that across industries, especially agriculture, there is a hunger for tools and resources to address the underlying conditions that historically and traumatically impact underserved and marginalized communities. As the world shines the light on the injustice and discrimination faced by historically marginalized communities, it is essential that all members of the food system, not only food justice organizations, play an active and deliberate role in dismantling racism in the industry. “Whether you are an advocate, an organizer, a consumer, a researcher, or a funder you need to understand the historical and economic dynamics that inform what happens to farms and farming communities across generations,” notes Dr. McGlawn.

Dr. Tameka L. McGlawn brings a unique perspective to the process. Raised on a farm in rural Mississippi, her childhood was rooted in the land and stories of lived experiences, all against the backdrop of a segregated South. “My very first lessons were anchored in a very authentic perspective. In my community, education was a vehicle to economic freedom and prosperity. I learned firsthand the correlation between education, economic opportunities through access, and the value of individual agency and the power of a unified community,” noted Dr. McGlawn. Ultimately, her range of experiences cultivated purpose and passion for directly confronting structural racism and advocating for building and institutionalizing equitable systems. She believes these systems are built through the implementation of community led initiatives that affect education, economic viability and access to opportunities that create thriving individuals, families and communities.

With 25 years working as a servant leader and collaborator, Dr. McGlawn leverages her knowledge and experience to support individuals and organizations as they navigate through the challenging conversations necessary in the process of dismantling racism within institutions and organizations. It is this experience that Dr. Tameka L. McGlawn will be bringing to the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in January for her pre-conference short course: “Dismantling Racism: A Constructive Approach to Solution Building, Community and Agency”. Join Dr. McGlawn for a day and half journey where she will guide participants through learning activities and facilitated conversation using the principles of servant leadership. Through this highly interactive, 1 ½ day course, Dr. McGlawn will create the conditions that nurture the assets of participants, foster creative solutions, and empower the group to strategize and address practices that can disrupt and dismantle the practices and processes of institutional racism in agriculture. “We are all navigating the roles that we each have to play while recognizing that we each have our strengths and weaknesses, “ notes Dr. McGlawn while adding, “Often people don’t realize how much power they have. We can transform something uncomfortable into something empowering and meaningful.”

Register today for this intensive pre-conference short course and sign up for the two-day general conference as well by December 20th to receive the Early Bird discount. Scholarships are still available for Livestock and Poultry Farmers, as of this publication date.

Shari Hawley