The keynote panel of the MA Food System Collaborative’s discussion series demonstrated the ways that Massachusetts organizations are working to address racial equity in their local food system work. Systemic racism is like bad soil, said facilitator Liz Wills O’Gilvie. Until we improve the soil, we won’t be able to grow good food or do good work.
Jen Faigel, director of CommonWealth Kitchen, explained that the food business development center’s work supports the BIPOC community in building wealth through business ownership, and that they have changed their mission statement to reflect their dedication to racial equity. She said that commitment is reflected personally in her efforts to create authentic relationships with the business owners she works closely with, and organizationally by having a diverse board of directors and working to hire from the BIPOC community.
Maria Moreira, executive director of World Farmers, has been working with immigrant and refugee farmers since 1984, and said that challenges around access to land are reflective of racial injustice. “Racial equity will only happen with true access and ownership of land,” explained Maria. The organization currently serves 322 farmers, and the organization has had to purchase more land to keep up with the growing demand. There is still a long way to go to make opportunities for land access and ownership equitable, she said.
John Waite, executive director of the Franklin County CDC, said the organization recently recognized it wasn’t serving communities equitably with their technical assistance and food processing center. This led to a decision to address systemic racism, beginning with the board and staff educating themselves about the issues. They have since looked at how to make their programming more inclusive and have investigated ways to ensure more people from the BIPOC community have more decision making and financial power.
The 130 attendees discussed the challenges surrounding the issue of fair wages for food system workers, and then moved into breakout groups to discuss individual challenges and successes. Actions needed that were reported out from the small groups included: