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National Farm to School Network is committed to advancing racial and social equity and addressing disparities in access to the benefits of farm to school.
Inequities in Our Food System
Troubling racial and ethnic disparities exist in our food system. Access to healthy food is a challenge, most pronounced in low-income communities of color, and disparities exist in the quality, variety, quantity and price of food available.1 More than 1 in 5 children are at risk of hunger, and among African-Americans and Latinos, the number is 1 in 3.2 Black and Latino youths having substantially higher rates of childhood overweight and obesity than do their White peers.3 Native Americans are twice as likely as White people to lack access to safe, healthy foods, ultimately leading to higher obesity and diabetes rates.3,4,5 Many food system workers take home poverty-level wages, with women, Blacks and Latinos most likely to earn the lowest.6 With regards to land ownership, Latinos make up 3.2 percent of today’s farm owners, American Indians or Alaska natives 1.8 percent, Black or African people 1.6 percent, and Asians constitute less that 1 percent.7
These outcomes span both urban and rural settings and are a result of structural and institutional racism, perpetuating policies and practices that put a racial group at a disadvantage.
A Strategy for Change
Farm to school is a strategy that provides opportunities to address these racial and social disparities in the existing food system. The three core elements of farm to school offer distinct approaches for advancing racial and social equity: (1) Procurement of local foods provides access to healthier school meals to more than 24 million students,7 and advances income generation and access to land ownership for marginalized food producers; (2) School gardens offer opportunities for students to develop a sense of responsibility and connection to their community, as well as foster engagement and partnership through those connections outside the school setting; and (3) Education about food and farming is a proven approach for elevating the value of local agriculture and lifting up under-represented stakeholders in the food system.8
As a network of farm to school stakeholders and partners in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and U.S. Territories, the National Farm to School Network has the opportunity to partner alongside communities to address inequities in the food system. We hold significant collective potential to advance racial and social equity as a central tenet to organizational programming, partnerships and policies, which enables accomplishment of our vision and strengthening of the farm to school movement.
We acknowledge that prioritizing racial and social equity in our network structure, programming and operations is only a start. We are acutely aware of our shortcomings and barriers to progress, including the lack of leaders of color in farm to school and challenges coordinating efforts across the network. Our activities need to be informed and vetted by each partner organization but at the same time, the network as a collaborative entity has a role and responsibility in the movement to push uncomfortable conversations and bring equity to the forefront of all work.
While we are experts in farm to school, we still have much to learn about racial and social equity. We recognize that each individual among our staff and partners understands and approaches the need for racial and social equity differently. Concurrently, we must focus on internal organizational changes needed to emerge with a common understanding and advocacy approach to foster a more inclusive, equity promoting network. Our role is to facilitate deeper discussions and engagement with our partners and stakeholders to address racial and social inequities through farm to school. We strive to be transparent in our intent, approach and capacity to advance racial and social equity within the farm to school movement.
Dereca Blackmon from Stanford University says, “Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a practice, equity is a goal.” 9 Join us in working together towards this goal, to make farm to school a reality for every community across our country.
We invite you to be part of this process with us. As a movement, let us hold each other accountable for our shared responsibility to put racial and social equity at the center of farm to school. Share with us your stories of challenges and successes in making farm to school more equitable, so that we are Growing Stronger Together!