Originally published on Colorlines on October 24, 2013.
Natasha Bowens describes herself as a “young, brown female who likes to farm.” And while she didn’t grow up doing it, she’s now dedicated her career to creating a network of other people of color in farming and food justice.
Like many people Bowens became an activist in college, and focused her early career working on the 2008 elections, and on health policy for the Center for American Progress. Along this path she began connecting the dots between politics, social justice, the environment, health and food and was inspired to start farming. But the more she got involved, the more she began to notice a lack of people of color heading farming or food justice initiatives.
“I saw this disparity. I thought food justice movements were being led by communities of color. They were leading movements on the ground but they were then being taken over,” she says. “There are organizations that are supposedly supporting communities of color, but their funding is not going to communities of color.”
In 2010 she began a blog titled Brown.Girl.Farming, and soon after started working on The Color of Food, a multimedia project that gathers stories of people of color leading farming and food justice initiatives in their hometowns. Bowens traveled across the country, doing interviews and taking photographs, and is set to publish a book in the spring. Based on what she learned in her travels she also developed the Color of Food map–which charts farms and food justice initiatives owned or operated by people of color. Anyone in the world can add to the map. There are already 272 organizations featured on this list. Below is a sampling of organizations Bowen has mapped:
Real Food Challenge Located in: Cambridge, Mass. Founded in: 2008 What they do: Real Food Challenge aims to activate youth to become key stakeholders in creating a more green and just food system in the U.S. Based in Massachusetts, Real Food is a national organization with regional chapters across the country. Using a social justice model that encourages participation between youth, educators, business leaders, and government officials, the Real Food Challenge works with youth and college students to advocate for policy changes that would shift money away from industrial food systems and toward community-based food initiatives. “We hope that through developing young leaders who understand the food system and issues of power, privilege and oppression, we foster a larger and longer-lasting racial and economic justice movement,” says David Schwartz, campaign director for Real Food.
Huerto de la Familia (The Family Garden) Located in: Eugene, Ore. Founded in: 1999 What they do: Huerto de La Familia aims to create a space where Latinos can connect with their cultural roots and develop employable skills through farming. According to the American Community Survey, the Latino population in Eugene has grown by 85 percent since 2000. Huerto de La Familia aims to increase healthy food access to this growing community, which continues to be low-income. The organization operates a farm, garden and food justice project that works with these local Latino families. Sarah Cantril, Huerto’s executive director, says racial and economic justice principles guide their work. “The political environment in Latin America drives many Latinos to come to the U.S., and once here they become part of one of the most food insecure communities in the country. We aim to acknowledge their backgrounds in agriculture and use it to create a space where Latinos can produce healthy food and also further their economic wellbeing.”
People’s Grocery Located in: Oakland, Calif. Founded in: 2003 What they do: People’s Grocery improves West Oakland’s economy and the health of its residents by creating a vital local food system. The organization operates the California Hotel Garden and Greenhouse, run out of the California Hotel public housing development in West Oakland, as well as an education institute on food justice. In addition they have an internship program, which they call an “allyship,” where participants run workshops and trainings that the organization hopes will foster “the development of equal relationships (everyone is a peer) and equal participation (everyone has agency) for working cross-racially and cross-culturally in food systems change.” At a recent talk at the Commonwealth Club, executive director Nikki Henderson talked about her personal experiences with the intersection of food justice, racism and health. “Part of what I want people to latch onto, and feel in their guts around food and health, and African-American communities, is that the things that we experience every day, the survival mode, the rat race that is experienced by so [many] of us every day is not divorced from these other issues we deal with. Housing and health, and education and policy all live close to the surface,” she said.
*Post has been updated to reflect the proper spelling of Mecklenburg County.