Uprooting racism in the food system: Communities organize for justice
March 11, 2013

A shovel overturned can flip so much more than soil, worms, and weeds. Structural racism - the ways in which social systems and institutions promote and perpetuate the oppression of people of color – manifests at all points in the food system. It emerges as barriers to land ownership and credit access for farmers of color, as wage discrimination and poor working conditions for food and farmworkers of color, and as lack of healthy food in neighborhoods of color. It shows up as discrimination in housing, employment, redlining, and other elements which impact food access and food justice.

Many people involved in creating food - from Haitian tomato pickers organizing in Florida, to Native Americans saving seeds in Arizona, to Black Detroit residents growing gardens in fractured neighborhoods – are simultaneously chipping away at structural racism. In the Harvesting Justice series we touch on many of these issues, starting with a look at African-American farmers and what they doing to win justice in the food system.

In 1920, one in every seven farmers in the U.S. was African-American. Together, they owned nearly 15 million acres. Racism, violence, and massive migration from the rural South to the industrialized North have caused a steady decline in the number of Black farmers. So, too, has, institutional racism in the agricultural policies of the USDA. By 2007, African-American farmers numbered about one in 70, together owning only 4.2 million acres.

Over the years, studies by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission (CRC), as well as by the USDA itself, have shown that the USDA actively discriminated against Black farmers, earning it the nickname ‘the last plantation.’ A 1964 CRC study showed that the agency unjustly denied African-American farmers loans, disaster aid, and representation on agricultural committees. But organizations like the National Black Farmers Association, the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, the Land Loss Prevention Project, and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives have been challenging racism in agricultural policy through legal action. In 1997-98, African-American farmers filed class-action lawsuits against the USDA for unjustly denying them loans. The lawsuits were consolidated into one case, Pigford v. Glickman, which was settled in 1999. But due to delays in filing claims, nearly 60,000 farmers and their heirs were left out of this settlement. In November 2010, the U.S. Congress passed the Claims Settlement Act (known as Pigford II) to compensate Black farmers who were left out of the first settlement. President Obama signed the bill a month later, making $1.25 billion available for claimants in the form of cash payments and loan forgiveness, though the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association has filed an appeal because Pigford II provides smaller payments and places limits on claimants’ future legal options.

bell hooks wrote, “Collective black self-recovery takes place when we begin to renew our relationship to the earth, when we remember the way of our ancestors… Living in modern society, without a sense of history, it has been easy for folks to forget that black people were first and foremost a people of the land, farmers.”[1]

Some who are still farmers are carrying on the fight for economic and civil rights for land-based African-American people, a fight which dates back to the days of slavery. Probably the most impressive contemporary example of such organizing has been the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. An outgrowth of the civil rights movement, it formed in 1967 when 22 cooperatives met at Atlanta University. The federation has used collective action ever since to support Black and other small farmers and rural communities. Today, their members include over 100 coops in 16 states across the South.

A fast-growing movement is African-Americans reclaiming their connection to their urban land and their food, as part of food justice and food sovereignty movements. People’s Grocery and Mo’ Better Food in Oakland, Growing Power, Rooted in Community, Detroit Black community Food Security Network, and many others are organizing with farmers and connecting African-American growers and consumers. Many of these, such as the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, are working forcommunities of color to have democratic control over their own food systems. Their work includes youth programs and urban gardening in areas where access to healthy, affordable food is limited, as is the case in many low-income and people of color neighborhoods.

These groups are also raising awareness of the ways that African-American communities, and communities of color in general, have been sidelined within the food movement itself. Inclusion and participation of people of color has come slowly and late. Often, African-American neighborhoods are targeted as ‘intervention’ areas by outside organizations that - though well-meaning - are neither led by nor accountable to the community and its most urgent needs and goals. The prevailing white culture of the food movement as a whole creates barriers: the typical image of farmers presented often reflects a white archetype and the types of food solutions presented are not always culturally relevant or practical.

A critical element of many African-American groups’ work thus involves nation-wide education and organizing on structural racism as it impacts health, farming, food, and land. Among other elements, these organizations are committed to knocking down barriers to food production and food access. Some have joined the world-wide movement for food sovereignty, in their own communities and through the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, so that citizen control over food and agriculture can exist across global economic systems.

Ultimately, we all eat, and we are all implicated. Achieving racial justice in the food system is not the sole burden of African-Americans organizing but will take multiracial alliances of people raising awareness of systemic disparities, and working together to end them.


I want to add many Latino & low-income communities have started community farms as well. It’s a huge step toward autonomy, mutual aid & collectivism in these areas where healthy food isn’t readily available or it’s very expensive.

I recently began working with a women’s collective & migrant farm workers to develop a community farm in south El Paso near the Texas/Mexico border. I would really encourage people with the time & resources to start organizing a community farm because food justice is a human right’s issue!

Help Food For Thought Books into and through its 38th year!

Food For Thought Books is a radical paradise, a queer haven, the type of place you walk into for the first time and feel that you’ve come home. I can’t count the number of Saturdays I’ve spent sitting in Food For Thought for hours browsing their amazing selection. I can never leave without at least one book (usually I leave with a lot more). Their events are diverse and inspirational, from monthly letter writings to queer incarcerated pen pals, to the annual zine fest, to open mics and speakers of every variety. I couldn’t imagine the Pioneer Valley without Food For Thought. Please contribute to their campaign in whatever way you can. Help this amazing community hub stay open.


Collective workplaces spell job security, fair treatment & real-life democracy
December 5, 2012

Amid the economic downturn in 2007, economist, professor, and Truthout contributor and advisory board member Richard Wolff laid out a vision for a radical reorganization of labor wherein employees had control of their workplaces. From choosing their work hours to coming to consensus about everyday business operations, employees would act together as their own bosses to combat inequality in the workplace.

The Story of Beyond Care

After facing insecure jobs, low wages and toxic unemployment, Susana Peralta and 19 other women turned that radical restructuring of the workplace into a reality. Their cooperative brainchild Beyond Care blossomed in 2008 as a new way to provide quality employment for their community in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

The alternative workplace provides a necessary service of part- and full-time childcare where the women are their own bosses and chose their own hours and wages, a welcomed change from traditional workplaces.

"Not only did we create a space with fairer wages, but we found a way to employ our entire community," Peralta, the Beyond Care cooperative president said.

Peralta and her coworkers are exactly what Wolff and his new organization Democracy at Work, a collaboration with Truthout and several other partners, conceptualized for the future of employment.

Democracy at Work was born in 2011 after Wolff’s weekly radio show Economic Update, supported by Truthout, became syndicated in ten cities and listeners grew desperate for a solution to the abysmal employment and economic crisis.

"People wanted a solution, so we had to answer this demand," Wolff said. "The answer we came up with is democracy at work that would respond to the criticism we’re making about the failures of the system to solve its own problems, to the failure of the old traditional socialism to be a model that attracts people and excites them."

The fundamental idea of Democracy at Work is to create a society based on workers’ self-directed enterprises. Fully egalitarian in every sense, workers run the business, share the assets and create a workspace that runs in harmony with not only its workers, but the entire community.

Wolff’s argument is that workers in control of their own workplaces are much less likely to ship their own jobs overseas, underpay employees or pollute their own communities. As workers’ enterprises become fully functioning, they benefit those who participate as workers as well as the customers and communities they serve.

But before Beyond Care came into full operation, the women worked every day just to promote the business to get its first clients. Because they had to build up the daycare on an idea alone, with no money, it was completely up to them to gain momentum for the business. They put up flyers all over their neighborhood, trying to spread the word about their cooperative. After four years of word-of-mouth promotion and advertising, the collective got its first client.

Now, Beyond Care has more clients than it can handle; the childcare center now has to turn down nearly seven clients each week because of its growing popularity. Parents love that their children are learning Spanish and that Beyond Care is entirely democratically run, Peralta added.

The women are constantly attending trainings and are currently working on expanding their services to meet the needs of children with disabilities. Unlike traditional workplaces, pleasing its customer-base is vital to Beyond Care’s survival.

"If you work with an agency, you work to please your boss; when you work for a cooperative, you have more incentive to please the customers because your job depends directly on it," said collective developer Emma Yorra.

But perhaps most importantly, Peralta said, is the job security a collectively run workplace provides. No one worries about not having clients or being fired with nowhere to go. There are always clients and work to be done for the community, she said.

"We all have equal benefits and security now," Peralta said. "It isn’t just for those of us who started the co-op; we’re interested in something that benefits the entire community."

This “radical reorganization and democratization of enterprise,” according to Wolff, gives workers complete control of their own workplaces, allows them to decide their wages and work fair hours, just as Beyond Care has been doing for the past four years. In a democratic workplace, no longer do bosses or agencies dictate how much employees should be paid - solving the issue of struggling workers barely able to pay for basic living expenses.

But job security would be the most beneficial outcome of worker self-directed enterprises, adds Jen Hill, co-founder of Democracy at Work.

"When people are secure in their work-life, they have the freedom to participate in politics, home life and have time with their families, which would produce a more educated and creative society where everyone has a voice," Hill said. "Generations would be self-expressed, more equal and more secure. The opposite of what capitalism has done for us: insecurity and inequality."

Red Emma’s Story

The freedom and democratic control of a cooperative gave the founding members of Red Emma’s bookstore in Baltimore, Maryland, the freedom to expand further than a traditional business. Collectivized at the end of 2004, Red Emma’s has flourished into a fully sustainable business, complete with a cafe serving fair-trade coffee, a space for political discussions, a free computer lab and a template for others to begin their own collective.

"We wanted to build an infrastructure that creates the world we want to see and a space that allows us to put our politics into practice," said Kate Khatib, a Red Emma’s founding collective member. "Emma’s is an experiment, a laboratory to see if these things we talk about in our literature actually work, and if not, why doesn’t it work? What can we do instead?"

Owned and operated by 14 collective members and a group of volunteers, Red Emma’s grew into a product of its own politics, giving each member a say in every aspect of the operation. But Emma’s still has a few of the same obstacles many other independent bookshops across the country have. The collective still has times when it struggles with book sales or building repairs.

And although Emma’s is an open collective, it takes six months to become a full member. After three months of volunteering for five hours each week and a series of checkpoints and reviews, the collective must come to a complete consensus before inviting someone to join. Then after three more months of working as a provisional member, they are eligible to become a collective member and officially added to Red Emma’s ownership documents.

"Collectives offer a way to change the way we think of work," John Duda, another founding collective member said. "It’s a space that changes people’s expectations of what labor can look like."

Consensus becomes the basis of each workday. Every member and volunteer knows which lightbulb goes where, how much money was brought in that week and where the cooperative’s produce comes from (local, family-owned grocery stores) and is encouraged to participate in each business decision.

Weekly collective meetings are run so every participant has a chance to speak. Each member focuses on a certain aspect of Emma’s: public relations, book ordering, volunteers and logistics. Direct democracy developed Emma’s into one of Baltimore’s destination bookstores and into a worker self-directed enterprise that’s able to be replicated by other business ventures.

"It’s rewarding to see that it is possible to build something that is sustainable, that has a capacity to reproduce itself as an institution," Duda said. "It opens a space where people learn to live a little differently."

Democracy at Work is spreading this template to make it easier for collectives and cooperatives to sprout in cities where unemployment is deteriorating entire neighborhoods. The organization is developing informational videos to make these methods more accessible, and there are plans to organize a training institution where ideas are manifested into concrete business plans.

"We are developing a movement. We have the basic idea. We have a very enthusiastic audience," Wolff said. "It’s growing, but the trick is how to find a way to glue people together, give them enough to do that they feel part of something because that’s what they want."

- Graciela
for Truth-Out.org

Click here to purchase a copy of Professor Wolff’s “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism”

Understanding doesn’t come free…The task is somewhere between awfully difficult and utterly hopeless for an isolated individual. But it’s feasible for anyone who is part of a cooperative community..Same holds for ‘intellectual self-defense.’ It takes a lot of self-confidence - perhaps more self-confidence than one ought to have - to take a position alone because it seems to you right, in opposition to everything you see & hear.
—  Noam Chomsky, On Staying Informed and Intellectual Self-Defense

white hot.

We’re experiencing freakish weather here in Cali: cool mornings followed by blazing midday heat and windy afternoons.  Did Coachella follow us home??  While our Mickey Mouse tanks and silver lame shorts work for our home office going about running errands and taking meetings require a little more business appropriate attire.

Our transitional dressing to beat the heat and still handle bidness involves light weight cropped white separates with a layer of interesting pattern.  Swap out your winter coat for a long cardigan (coatigan some retailers are daring to call it… let us not revisit the days of jeggings) and go for a light weight sateen bomber instead of wool.  Just because the temp is going up doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice style =)

she:  Cooperative giraffe print cardigan  /  American Apparel turtleneck crop top  /  Vero Moda ribbed pencil skirt  /  Ray-Ban wayfarer sunglasses  /  MariaFrancescaPepe bauhaus necklace  /  Michael Kors watch  /  Wanderlust + Co rings  /  Kurt Geiger leather foldover purse  /  Brian Atwood suede heels

he:  Shades of Grey by Micah Cohen blue + silver nylon bomber  /  Shades of Grey by Micah Cohen paint splatter shirt  /  Club Monaco jeans  /  Salvatore Ferragamo leather drivers  /  Ray-Ban sunglasses  /  HM ear cuff

Why the Left Should Look to Jackson, Mississippi | Truthdig

A new political and economic model is emerging, and it is not appearing where we might suspect it would. In the heart of the South, in a city named after one of the most racist presidents in United States history, in a landscape that resembles parts of Detroit and other decaying industrial centers, an impressive intergenerational collection of community organizers and activists have launched a bold program to empower a black working-class community that 21st -century capitalism has left behind.

In the last two months, I have traveled twice to Jackson, Miss., first for the memorial of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, and most recently, between May 2 and 4, for the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference held at Jackson State University. On both occasions, I have been struck by the amazing individuals and families who have dedicated themselves to developing economic democracy in Jackson.

A Black Revolutionary Mayor in the Heart of the South

Jackson Rising is the brainchild of a coalition of local and national political forces, including the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), the Jackson People’s Assembly and Lumumba’s office. Part of the initial vision was for the conference to catalyze some of the mayor’s economic initiatives, including the goal of helping local workers win government contracts. Unfortunately Lumumba, who won election by an overwhelming majority in June, held office for only a brief period before dying Feb. 25 of unexplained causes.

That Lumumba won the election at all is a testament to his sustained radical human rights work and to the group of community organizers he worked with over many years. Even during his campaign for mayor, Lumumba made no apologies for his revolutionary background, including his commitment to the New Afrikan Peoples Organization (NAPO) and its claim to a homeland in the predominantly black regions of the South (described as the “Kush”), including broad swaths of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Lumumba’s history also included decades of experience as a civil rights and criminal defense attorney, with past clients including freedom fighters and political prisoners such as Mutulu Shakur, Geronimo Pratt and Assata Shakur.

Despite his radical background, Lumumba was embraced by the people of Jackson, where he had long been an active community advocate and youth mentor. Lumumba and MXGM also utilized innovative organizing tactics to activate the local population. They went door to door to recruit participants for the Jackson People’s Assembly, an independent formation that began as a response to Hurricane Katrina. The Assembly now meets quarterly to discuss community concerns and debate issues including participation in the U.S. Census and the curriculum in the Jackson Public Schools. Hundreds of residents have participated in the Assembly, and locals who are unaffiliated with Lumumba or MXGM lead working committees on topics such as economic development, education and public safety.

Perhaps even more important than his impressive history and tactics, however, the conditions on the ground provided the opportunity for Lumumba because the large community of poor and working people in Jackson truly need a radical politics. As I learned in an MXGM workshop at the Jackson Rising conference, the city is 85 percent black, the student body of its public schools is 98 percent black and the surrounding Hinds County is 75 percent black, yet out of the total of approximately $1 billion of annual public expenditures in the region, only 5 percent goes to black employees and black-owned businesses. The vast majority of government contracts are awarded to businesses outside of Jackson and even outside the state.

Lumumba’s administration promised to address entrenched economic inequity through a new approach to government spending. One of the mayor’s key initiatives was to secure a billion-dollar bond measure to rebuild Jackson’s infrastructure, including repairs to roads, water lines and sewage facilities. And although the passage of a sales tax increase was not a revolutionary act standing alone, Lumumba’s goal for the use of the funds was to incubate local worker cooperatives that could win contracts to rebuild the city.

Cooperative Enterprise as a Vehicle for Economic Self-Determination

The South is often derided as a place of destitute poverty, but the Lumumba administration was acutely aware of the tremendous wealth in the region. Today the South, standing alone, would constitute the fourth largest economy in the world. International capital has recognized this fact, and multinational corporations including Siemens and Nissan are expanding in Mississippi. The challenge for a progressive local government is to ensure that the outside investment does not lead to a drain of local resources.

(Read Full Text) (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)


Citizens empowered to enjoy dignity and freedom – this is one of the ways we define democracy. The International Day of Democracy on 15 September gives us an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world.

Fairtrade encourages democratic decision-making and principles throughout our global system. Our experience has taught us that local ownership and leadership are key to increasing impact for Fairtrade farmers, workers and their communities.

When Fairtrade farmers and workers sell their products on Fairtrade terms, they receive the Fairtrade Premium, in addition to the purchase price. Producers themselves democratically decide in their own general assembly how to spend this Premium on projects to improve their communities and businesses.

At a regional level, Fairtrade producer networks are beginning to take over the producer services function, giving producers a greater say in the type of services and support they receive. Fairtrade Africa now handles producer services in Africa and the Middle East, while the producer networks in Latin America and Asia are moving in a similar direction.

At the global level, Fairtrade farmers and workers share decision-making responsibilities in our general assembly, on our board of directors and in various committees. Fairtrade’s commitment is to involve farmers and workers in decision-making, planning and implementation. By uniting all of our members and working together with like-minded organizations, we can and will change the rules of trade and enable farmers and workers to map out their own future.