NBFJA Statement: Land Justice is Essential to Food Justice

“Land Justice is Essential to Food Justice: on Black Leadership, Accountability and the Good Food Movement"

 The National Black Food and Justice Alliance (NBFJA) applauds chef Nadine Nelson and the Black farmers and activists attending the recent Stone Barn Young Farmers Conference in what has led to the surfacing of a much needed conversation around race, privilege, leadership and accountability within the food movement. The food movement is often portrayed in the mainstream narrative as predominantly white (and often times male), which is highly problematic given the many organized bodies of leaders, organizations and alliances led by Black and Brown people who are organizing, innovating and leading so much of the food movement.

Black and Brown people have always been the life force of the food movement. From national formations created and led by Black leaders such as the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, to local formations such as Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, groups are organizing and thus positioning themselves in rightful leadership within the food movement. Continuously portraying the leadership of the food movement almost exclusively in the body of white men is not only inaccurate and harmful, but a dated form of hegemony.

Following the Stone Barn conference, the New Food Economy released an article entitled “Young Black farmers to Mark Bittman: We don’t need your land reform.”   While bringing some important conversations to light, we find the sensational framing of the article deeply concerning. Taking one quote from one leader (and perhaps out of context) and wholesale ascribing it to a position of young Black farmers nationwide is disturbing, particularly considering how many Black farmers and organizations are indeed fighting for land reform.

As an organization representing hundreds of Black farmers, activists, organizers and numerous organizations throughout the country, members of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance recognize and understand that land reform is absolutely essential to food justice, hence the focus of our organizing work. With the drastic decline (98%) in Black land ownership due to a variety of reasons including state sponsored discriminatory practices that still continue today, we know land justice is essential. According to Savi Horne of Land Loss Prevention Project and a founding member of NBFJA:

“If we don't do anything about land, the very thing that connects us with freedom, connects us with our civil rights, our food ways, our family life… If we lose all of that then what is there? Why struggle? Land MUST be re-centered in our struggle because it connects us to everything.[1]" (Baxter et al, 106 )

 On Accountability within the Food Movement

In addition to the harmful framing around the importance of land reform to young Black farmers, the article also missed an important opportunity to explore the context of chef Nadine’s points at the conference. The context surrounding her question and the subsequent comments spoke to larger issues of accountability from white allies, the unjust and racially inequitable concentrations of power, and the erasure of Black and Brown people within the mainstream portrayal of the food movement.

While Bittman later issued a much needed apology, we see much of what has erupted following the Stone Barn conference as indicative of larger systemic issues, particularly around who and how the “real” leaders of the food justice movement are decided and selected. While Bittman’s written work has been important within the food movement, we must challenge the antiquated assumptions of white men with a certain amount of privilege and status with no base of people/community to whom they are accountable, as the “leaders” within our movement.

And for those who have historically positioned themselves as leaders of the food movement, Chef Nadine’s question and the incredible amount of discussion following, all indicate that no longer will they be able to continue dominating the narratives and spotlights without any kind of accountability—particularly from those most impacted within the food system.  

As this conversation has called for more work towards defining accountability, we should also consider the definition of a “movement,” which is often co-opted by white dominant non-profit organizations with no real strategy or investment in disrupting existing power structures.  A “movement” entails a number (or mass) of people moving in a particular political direction, through organizing, coordination, strategy, deep organization, and most importantly--- building momentum with a base of people to whom leadership is accountable.

With self-appointed lone white men often times portrayed as leadership, this question and subsequent critique around accountability is absolutely essential. Accountability often entails taking direction, listening to, accepting feedback and criticism, and most importantly--being in deep relationship with those on whose behalf you purport to speak. It also entails challenging power and acknowledging the privilege, positioning and space you occupy.

As we continue challenging ourselves to further define accountability, there are so many organizations around the country that we can look to, and from whom we can learn. Understanding that solutions must come from communities most affected, the most logical course for the food movement is to look toward leadership of color--including the workers, the farmers, the land stewards, the organizers, the cultural workers, etc. and commit to actual movement building.

Additionally, Black and Brown leaders are already doing the work, in our own spaces, and where we aren’t subjected to being trivialized and dismissed such as the reported experiences at the Stone Barn convening. Organizations like National Black Food Justice Alliance, Black Urban Growers, HEAL (Health Environment Agriculture and Labor) Food Alliance, Climate Justice Alliance, Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Soil Generation, Brooklyn Movement Center and so many others are disrupting business as usual and committed to organizing in critical ways.  These organizations aren’t interested in replicating microcosms of the same structural inequities but are instead committed to an intersectional praxis fighting for a system free from white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, and capitalist exploitation. This is where people should be looking for leadership within the food “movement,” where we are deeply invested in collective liberation, democratic leadership, disrupting power, and building our own tables instead of asking for a seat at someone else’s.

 About the National Black Food and Justice Alliance:

The National Black Food and Justice Alliance (NBFJA) is a network of Black-led organizations working towards advancing Black leadership, building Black self-determination, institution building, organizing for food sovereignty, land and justice.   NBFJA seeks to achieve this by engaging in broad based coalition organizing, increasing visibility of Black led narratives and work, advancing Black led visions for just and sustainable communities, and building capacity for self-determination via the lens of healing, organizing and resistance against anti-Blackness.

For more information, contact blackfoodjustice@gmail.com or visit www.blackfoodjustice.org

More from Savi Horne and Dr. Monica White on land justice here:  http://edgeeffects.net/savi-horne/

[1] Baxter, Kirtrina et al, “Womanism as Agrarianism: Black Women Healing Through Innate Agrarian Artistry.” Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food and the Commons in the United States. Eds Justine Williams and Eric Holt-Gimenez, Oakland: Food First Books, 2017. P. 106.