Racial Healing & Our Call for a Racially Just Food System
January 19 is the 5th Annual National Day of Racial Healing, a time for contemplation and collective action on how we heal from the effects of racism. Racial healing is a process that restores individuals and communities to wholeness, repairs the damage caused by racism, and transforms societal structures into ones that affirm the inherent value of all people.
Helen Dombalis, Executive Director of National Farm to School Network, shares her reflections on how racial healing is part of our work towards our new call to action: By 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system.
"This is Helen Dombalis, I serve as Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network. At the end of 2020, we released a call to action for our food system that by 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially justice food system. In other words, were making a commitment to shifting power in order to achieve a racially justice food system. In the process leading up to that call to action's finalization we kept coming back to the fact that if you don't work differently the gap between our vision and our current reality will continue to widen. We can't keep working on local procurement, gardens, and food and food and agriculture education in the same ways and expect different results. We have to be intentional about shifting power in order to achieve a racially just food system.
We know that our call to action takes all of us at the National Farm to School Network and through farm to school activities, but also across our food system. So, today being January 19th, the Annual National Day of Racial Healing is an important day and in our ongoing work to recognize that we can't make progress without also healing.
In our nation and communities, and in our food system there is a deep history in intentionality of racism including the foundation on which our American agricultural system was built from enslavement of African peoples to settler colonialism and stolen land from Indigenous peoples. We're not just working against that history, we're also saying that there's a history and it continues today in the real and destructive ways that are current unjust food system impacts communities of color.
For example, during the pandemic with food workers having higher rates of Covid and not being given due protections during the pandemic. So as we do this work, we have to acknowledge what got us here and how racism is continuing today to harm all of us.
We're all people with families, with communities, with hopes with challenges, and regardless of our skin color, racism is fueling divisiveness, not unity, difference, not inclusion, and bias, not trust.
So, as National Farm to School Network Executive Director, and on a personal level, as a mother, I'm committed to a world and a food system where all people are valued and respected equally regardless of skin color, income, immigration status, job, or any other criteria. But I also know that it's not enough to just hold that commitment, to have that value system. Action is necessary.
With the National Day of Racial Healing, it's a moment to making a commitment to learning more and taking action, including in the food system and looking at our own contributions to racism and ending it. So, I'm committed to learning more about the history of school meal and child nutrition programs being rooted in survival and power building in Black communities and also looking at and acknowledging that farm to school very much predates the founding of the Network Farm to School Network, when you look at Indigenous communities, for example, and the connection and honoring of land and food and integrating that into learning.
I'm also committed to shifting power, recognizing that there's a spectrum and ultimately we have to defer and ensure that those who are impacted by decisions are actually the one who is making the decision. So, for example, producers of color showing up and working with school districts and their purchasing and the producer saying,"Here's what we have available here. Here's what we will have available," and integrating that in the school meal programs and meeting a price point that's a living wage for those producers. It's not enough to have the school districts be the ones to say, "Okay, we'll buy this from these producers of color." At the furthest end of the spectrum, it's the farmers of color that are making those decisions themselves.
So with that example, I will leave you all with my firm commitment to learning, and also to action, and ask you all to join me in contributing to understanding that we need to heal from our past and in our current reality, in order to move forward and achieve a more racially just food system. Thank you."
Meet Our 2021 Advisory Board Members
National Farm to School Network is fortunate to have an Advisory Board composed of 17 smart and passionate advocates who guide us in the work we do. At the beginning of this new year, we want to extend our deep thanks and gratitude to those who served on our Advisory Board in 2020 and welcome a few new members to this important cohort.
This past year was a significant one for National Farm to School Network, which included navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, deepening our commitment to racial justice, and announcing our new Call to Action. We are grateful to these 2020 Advisory Board members who worked alongside us last year:
- Anneliese Tanner, Austin Independent School District
- Bertrand Weber, Minneapolis Public Schools
- Betsy Rosenbluth, Vermont FEED
- Brandon Seng, Michigan Farm to Freezer
- Caree Jackson Cotwright, University of Georgia - College of Family and Consumer Sciences
- Catherine Compitello, The Beacon Fund
- Erin Croom, Small Bites Adventure Club
- Haile Johnston, The Common Market
- Jamese Kwele, Ecotrust
- Janie Hipp, Native American Agriculture Fund
- Laura Edwards-Orr, Center for Good Food Purchasing
- Ricardo Salvador, Union of Concerned Scientists
- Silvia Abel-Caines, Organic Valley
- Simone Washington, Business for Social Responsibility
- Sommer Sibilly-Brown, Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition
- Wande Okunoren-Meadows, Little Ones Learning Center
- Vanessa Herald, University of Wisconsin - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
At the end of 2020, we said farewell to Janie, Ricardo and Vanessa. We are especially grateful to Janie for advising us on working with Native communities, to Ricardo for contributing his racial justice and policy advocacy expertise, and to Vanessa for her farm to school content expertise and for being a long-time and continued NFSN state partner.
As we say these thank yous and farewells, we are also excited to announce the addition of three new board members in 2021:
- Jennifer Gaddis - Jennifer is an assistant professor of Civil Society and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Jennifer's scholarship centers the perspectives of frontline cafeteria workers and focuses on topics including the history of the national school lunch program, farm to school efforts, food work as a form of care work, and values-based universal school lunch programs.
- May Tsupros - May is a Founding Collaborator of SunTree Collaboration and co-founder of Gardeneers. In addition to her work with SunTree Collaboration, whose mission is to unearth, build, and strengthen connections between many local food, environmental, and health-related stakeholders, May is also Director of People and Partnerships at Partridge Creek Farms where she works to promote food education and improve local access to fresh produce.
- Valerie Segrest - Valerie is a Native foods nutritionist and the Regional Director of Native Food and Knowledge Systems for the Native American Agriculture Fund. Valerie is an enrolled member of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and is a nutritionist who specializes in Native American Food Traditions and has over a decade of experience developing food sovereignty strategies and culturally relevant food and nutrition curriculum and educational interventions.
We are also appreciative of those stepping into leadership positions on the board this year:
- Haile Johnston, Chair
- Simone Washington, Vice-Chair
- Laura Edwards-Orr, Governance Committee Chair
- Betsy Rosenbluth, Strategic Plan Committee Chair
This year, the Advisory Board will be focused on implementing our 2020-2025 Call to Action, which focuses on racial equity and shifting power in our food system; continuing the NFSN Advisor-Staff Mentor Program; taking part in board professional development activities (including racial equity, shifting power, and policy advocacy); and diversifying our funding and increasing support for general operations of our organization. (Want to give them a jump start? It’s easy to make a donation right now! )
Many thanks again to our outgoing Advisory Board members, and welcome to our new members! We look forward to working alongside you these next 12 months towards our vision of a racially just food system for all.
Condemning More of the Same and Working To Change It
By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director
2020 – and now the start of 2021 – are pushing the conversation around race and systemic racism in this country to the main stage. Despite this recent heightened level of attention, what I and everyone around the world witnessed on Wednesday in our nation’s capital is not something that was created overnight nor over the last four years. Racism and otherness are the foundation of our nation, democracy, and food system.
As a white woman in America, I have the privilege of not seeing and feeling the hatred that is prevalent everyday for people of color in our country. I only see it when it is pushed to the main stage, and even then, I don’t feel it because my skin color protects me from that. And to be able to brush aside reality when it’s inconvenient, sad, or otherwise something I want to pretend doesn’t exist is exactly what white privilege is. I must speak out against the very privilege I hold and we saw displayed on Wednesday instead of condoning it through silence.
What unfolded this week is a reminder for us at National Farm to School Network about the necessity and urgency of doing anti-racist work. White privilege, white political power, and white supremacy are forces with long legacies in the history of this country and were undoubtedly on display through acts of intimidation, normalization of violence, and use of blatantly racist symbols and rhetoric by extremists this week, aiming to invalidate democratically cast votes in states with large Black and Indigenous populations.
National Farm to School Network condemns what happened. Also, we know this week’s events are yet another example of the deeply rooted structural and institutional racism and conscious bias that exists within our country. And it’s a reason why as Executive Director of National Farm to School Network – and on a personal level as a human being and mother – I remain committed to refocusing NFSN’s work to shifting power to those who have historically and systematically been marginalized, exploited, oppressed, and excluded. Dismantling racism and upholding democracy are fundamental actions we must take in order to achieve food justice, and to achieve justice in every aspect of our society. Standing up for justice and deferring to the leaderships of Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian, and other people of color who do the essential work of organizing and advocating in their communities every day is what we strive for and what this moment reminds us we must continue to do.