Racial Equity Learning Lab

Advancing Racial Equity Within the Farm to School Movement 

The National Farm to School Network is excited to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to convene the Racial Equity Learning Lab (the “Lab”). In 2020, NFSN launched the pilot Lab and co-developed curriculum to advance the understanding of racial equity in farm to school with a 13-person, cross-sector cohort from across the country. Now, in partnership with the USDA, NFSN will build upon the program to deepen the understanding of how racial equity can be integrated with farm to school.

The Fall 2023 Cohort will begin engaging in the learning experience starting September 8, 2023—meet the inaugural cohort below

What is the Lab?

The Lab will be a collaborative space, designed for small groups to foster an intensive learning and co-creation experience. Cohort members will be immersed in a racial equity-based curriculum, called the “Lab Roadmap.” Through a series of facilitated learning sessions, paired with ongoing peer and mentor support, cohort members will dive into literature, resources, and discussions to build the foundations of shared understanding of racial inequities in the food system. While the Lab sessions will follow a general curriculum, they will be dynamic, meaning discussions will rely on the unique narratives and experiences of the participants throughout. As a result, Lab alumni will emerge better equipped to engage diverse, multi-racial audiences in their own organizations, networks and communities. The Lab will have a total of two successive cohorts, beginning Fall 2023. 

The Lab sessions will cover topics such as: 

  • Historical racism in the United States food system
  • Approaches to addressing racial inequities in the food system through farm to school
  • Strategies on building a resilient food system that uplifts the essentiality of working towards racial healing

Goals and Purpose of the Lab

The purpose of the Lab is to advance racial equity within the farm to school movement, mobilizing partners in the movement towards a deeper understanding of how to apply racial equity in our collective work and providing the necessary tools and resources to do so. It is intended to be replicable and tailored to fit the unique assets and needs of individual organizations and communities, and the curriculum will constantly evolve as new cohorts participate in the process.

The Lab supports NFSN’s collective Call to Action: 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system. NFSN’s approach is reflected here, building authentic relationships valuing connections over transactions.

Word cloud generated from the first public webinar in response to the question, "What is a community you are representing in this space today?" 

Meet the Fall 2023 Cohort

National Farm to School Network is excited to announce that the first official cohort of the Lab has been formed and will begin engaging in the learning experience starting September 8, 2023. Please join us in extending a warm welcome to our inaugural cohort members! 

Kirsten Blackburn (they/she)
North Carolina, Farm to School Outreach Coordinator at Center for Environmental Farming Systems
Michelle Week (she/her)
Oregon, Farmer at Good Rain Farm
Michelle Howell (she/her)
Kentucky, Farmer/Owner of Need More Acres Farm
Stormy Soza (she/her)
Hawaiʻi, Food Access Manager at Mālama Kauaʻi 
Patrilie Hernandez (they/she/elle/ella)
Washington D.C., Educator, Advocate, Consultant and Founder of Embody Lib 
Tracey Kimura (she/they)
California, Regional Producer Engagement Specialist (SoCal) at California Department of Food and Agriculture, CA Farm to School Network 
Monae Wilmore (she/her)
Pantaleon Florez III (he/him)
Kansas, Farmer/Owner of Maseualkualli Farms
Jade Clark (she/her)
Tennessee, Director of Agriculture at PURE Academy
Martine Hippolyte (she/her)
Washington D.C., Director of Community Engagement at FreshFarm
Tristana Pirkl (she/her)
Texas, Executive Director, School Garden Support Organization Network
Yaza Sarieh (she/her)
Georgia, Community Collaborations Coordinator at Georgia Organics 
Marcus Glenn (he/him)
Texas, Houston ISD Nutrition Services-Food and Agriculture Literacy Program

Meet the Lab Advisory Council Members

In anticipation of new cohorts starting in Fall 2023, NFSN had formed an advisory council to help plan the curriculum. The Advisory Council consisted of stakeholders who have been immersed in applying a racial equity lens in their work in the food systems and/or have long-established expertise in farm to school. We are excited to announce the following Lab Advisory Council members:

Alena Paisano (Equity Consultant)

Alena Paisano is an experienced practitioner of farm to school dedicated to the development of just and local food systems serving our youth, families and communities. Alena is deeply invested in her work with the New Mexico Public Education Department, where she serves as the NM Farm to School Coordinator. She partners with nutrition professionals, community advocates and food producers to increase access to local foods in meal programs serving our littlest eaters through elders.  Her past work has been focused on supporting diverse partners to reach their goals for improving community well-being and access to healthy local food by engaging in development of food policy with schools and farmers to achieve their vision for farm to school in action. She is passionate about working with partners in Native American communities to uplift the many unique assets highlighted in their efforts for others to learn from; promoting indigenous knowledge and supporting community leadership as foundations to movement building throughout Indian Country.

As a multicultural indigenous woman with roots in the Pueblo, Apache and Dine cultures, Alena is deeply committed to working in the SW region. Based out of Santa Fe, NM she is active in local/state food policy efforts as a community advocate and a mother, seeking to contribute to a healthier, more equitable future for our next generation.  

Yousef Buzayan

Yousef Buzayan is a Farm to Market Program Manager at Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), a California statewide non-profit that builds sustainable food and farming systems through policy advocacy and on-the-ground programs that create more resilient family farms, communities, and ecosystems. Yousef provides technical expertise and assistance to farmers, food hubs, and food service operators on supply chain logistics, regulations, and best practices for Farm to Institution sales. He studied Agricultural Economics and International Agricultural Development at UC Davis and has interests in food systems, food justice, and agricultural supply chains, specifically regarding how capitalist structures have created inequity in food systems. He has had several past experiences in food systems, from working at local farms, greenhouses, and farmers markets to selling organic produce.

Joshua Yuen-Schat

Joshua Yuen-Schat’s Atayal name is Xilan, and his Chinese name is 陳顏書亞. Joshua is Indigenous Taiwanese from the Atayal tribe in 拉拉山,上巴陵. Originally from Taiwan, Joshua’s family immigrated to Hawaii when he was nine years old. His maternal grandfather was the first peach farmer in Taiwan. Over multiple decades, he adapted peaches from Japan with the goal to support the economic and social well-being of rural mountainous indigenous communities.

Joshua’s upbringing and heritage are the foundation to his passion for equity in the food system. He graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder, Masters of the Environment program in 2021, where he studied sustainable food systems and worked with community organizations such as Boulder County Farmers Market, SAME Cafe, and Frontline Farming. Joshua is grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with the Racial Equity Learning Lab Advisory Council and looks forward to creating equitable access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate foods for all.

Tessa Thraves

Tessa uses she/her pronouns and identifies as queer/lesbian. Tessa was born in the South, and after a childhood of annual/biannual moves with her mother, has rooted herself on a homestead in NC with her wife and a passel of critters. Tessa’s ties are to place and to the roles of wife, friend, sister, and auntie. 

Formally, Tessa’s education and training is in writing, folklore, oral history, and cultural ethnography, combined with racial justice work, somatics, and mindfulness. Tessa has decades of experience in coaching, designing and leading trainings, developing curricula, developing and coordinating communities of practice with multi-organizational coalitions including businesses, state agencies and institutions, and community-based organizations. For the last fifteen years, Tessa has worked for a state agency in community food systems, focusing on racial equity, youth, and schools. Before this, Tessa had taught university for eleven years. Currently, Tessa is the principal/owner of practice well consulting, llc. Her work in the world is relational and centered in the body—how we can move our values into daily practice. Find more at http://www.practicewellconsulting.org

Tina Wong

Tina is a sustainability + DEI leader focused on systems change for social change. She is currently an Equity Advisor for Sierra Club and an individual consultant at greenprint ethos, supporting leaders navigating organizational transformation and leadership development grounded in social and racial equity. She began her career in the private sector at a change management consulting firm, working for, and learning from leaders in the industry. Tina then used that skillset to lead cultural and sustainable changes in NYC public schools and its local communities grappling with a legacy of environmental pollution, while advocating for equity in education. 

Tina created opportunities through innovative science by introducing hydroponic farming to classrooms. She helped design interdisciplinary, place/nature + project-based learning and created a K-5 Green STEM program. She continues to stay connected in education for sustainability as a part of an advisory team to a Farm to School National Adaptation Program funded by the USDA with Shelburne Farms and Vermont Feed. Tina has a BA in Philosophy and Psychology from Boston University and a MS in Sustainability from the City College of New York. She practices compassionate leadership and is committed to creating a just and equitable world.

Jamese Kwele

Based in Portland, Oregon, Jamese Kwele serves as VP, Organizational and Food Systems Equity at Ecotrust, a nonprofit that works in partnership towards an equitable, prosperous, climate-smart future. At Ecotrust, Jamese works in partnership with colleagues and teams across the organization to support Ecotrust’s transformation into an antiracist organization, while also providing support and strategic oversight across a variety of programmatic efforts including statewide farm to school, Black and brown food systems leadership, and equitable food economy development.

Jamese is also one of the co-founders of the Black Food Fund, which is building resources to fuel transformative, Black-led change primarily within the PNW regional food system. The Black Food Fund operates within an ecosystem of Black-led partners and organizes its work across three main strategies: land justice, climate resilience, and restorative capital. Jamese is a board member of the Black Oregon Land Trust, the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition, and the National Farm to School Network. Jamese believes in the power of Black people reclaiming our connection to the land and feels deep gratitude for the love, wisdom, and fortitude of her community and ancestors who make this work both joyful and possible.

Mark Becker

Mark Becker, Illinois 4-H Food Systems Specialist, has been involved in Education and Positive Youth Development his entire career with experiences in traditional and alternative school environments. Mark’s Master's degree is in Education Policy and focused on Restorative Justice programs in Middle School environments and how they related to youth gender expression. Collaborating with colleagues and youth leaders around community service and research opportunities is what Mark loves most. Mark spends much of his time building relationships on campus with Food System and Equity professionals in order to provide high-quality content to food production and food security-related programs statewide. Mark is also establishing youth clubs in Brazil and is always eager to work with colleagues on diversity, equity, and inclusion-related projects. 

Have Questions? 

Please contact Trisha Bautista Larson, NFSN Program Manager, at trisha@farmtoschool.org.