CFJC’s Christina Spach visited North Carolina at the end of March to learn more about the local efforts reforming the NC food landscape. She was hosted by Savi Horne of Land Loss Prevention Project, an organization founded in 1982 in response to rampant loss of black-owned land, symptomatic of the structural racism farmers of color have consistently faced over the decades– as seen in a series of civil rights settlements at USDA such as Pigford v. Glickman and Pigford II.
Christina first traveled to Conetoe (pronounced Coneta), a small farming town in Eastern NC where she had the opportunity to meet Reverend Joyner and the team at Conetoe Family Life Center– a faith-based organization focused on improving healthy food access through growing food on church land and setting up roadside produce stands.
When most local residents are living in trailer parks and Section 8 housing, the Conetoe Family Life Center provides an alternative to poverty and an opportunity to build social capitol. They employ youth not because it’s cheap labor, but rather it provides leadership development for social change. Farming teaches a diverse range of skills such as literacy, science, and community resilience. And the youth are helping to run the small Conetoe honey business with the long-term plan that they will take it over. Reverend Joyner believes community transformation is already happening and is proud that “people who used to steal from each other are now growing food side by side for their community.”
While in NC, Christina also connected with Shorlette Ammons of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems — an organization created as an agricultural training facility and alternative to industrialized farming — and observed her team of young farmers in action at the at NC A&T State University’s Small Farmers Week.
South Update Part II
I believe Land Loss Prevention Project reminds us that such work is critical at a time when the number of socially disadvantaged farmers is quickly decreasing. According to the US Census of 1987, there were 3,000 black farmers in NC. As of 2007, there were 1400, over half of which (roughly 800) have farms in Eastern NC. Engaging farmers of color before they disappear, training young farmers and building community inclusion are critical pieces to a healthy and sustainable local food economy.
From CFJC’s perspective, all of us are ultimately seeking a different model because our current food system doesn’t work. To be clear, I’m not focusing on solutions, but rather our starting point. As we build food hubs and other alternatives to the current system, we can’t just answer the question of what’s good for business. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cut-throat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.” We must start from our collective morals and values. In doing so, we honor the lives lost in the civil rights struggle by remembering the history and then collectively deciding to create an alternative food system whose very basis and lifeline is Equity. And when a black urban farmer (and one of our partners) isn’t allowed to walk through the front door of a Southern institution, even when he’s the guest speaker, we still have a long way to go.