By Jiyoon Chon, Communications Associate
Happy National Farm to School Month! As this year’s theme, we are reflecting on the valuable perspectives of the various contributors involved in the farm to school ecosystem. Needless to say, one of the most vital contributors, not only in farm to school but in our entire food system, are farmers and farmworkers.
Small-scale farmers and farmworkers are stewards of our land, experts in caring for our soil and crops to deliver nourishing meals to our tables. But despite their essential roles in feeding the world, farmworkers are often the ones most affected by the disparities and injustices entrenched into our food system.
The current food system in the United States is built on unsustainable foundations. Large-scale agriculture has been designed to prioritize profits over people, overproducing while keeping food inaccessible to many. These inequities in our current food system are as old as the history of settler colonialism, in which our American agricultural system was built on the backs of stolen land from Indigenous peoples and forced enslavement of African peoples. Even after abolition, the U.S imported Asian and Mexican immigrant laborers to hold up the growing agricultural sector. The social and environmental ills that we see in our food system today are not accidental byproducts—they are the intended consequences of a system that protects corporations over people.
These deeply-rooted injustices in the food system undermine the agriculture sector itself. The sector contributes about 11% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, mainly due to large-scale animal agriculture and improper manure storage, over-application of nitrogen-based fertilizers, large-scale single crop agriculture, and other practices like irrigation and soil drainage. Such practices contribute to climate change and deplete soil health—this negatively affects crop yield, especially for fruits and vegetables, requiring even more fertilizer and pesticides that fuel this negative feedback loop. Mainstream agricultural practices are damaging our ability to nourish future generations for the sake of short-term profits.
The Consequences of Industrial Agriculture
Farmworkers are some of the lowest paid workers in the United States, even though they are doing some of the most important and essential work. Farmworkers also suffer a high rate of occupational injury, mainly from chemical exposure through pesticides. They also tend to work in tough conditions, with high heat, stress, and physical demand.
This is an equity issue—although white farmers own 98% of the land in America, many farmworkers tend to be low-income BIPOC populations, who are already most vulnerable to climate emergencies and air pollution. As the stewards of the land, farmers and farmworkers are acutely aware of the solutions needed to heal our land through regenerative agricultural practices and Indigenous knowledge. However, their freedom and agency to practice these sustainable models are undercut by a host of factors, including the lack of access to resources and funding, unjust policies, and corporate control over land and resources.
How Can We Collectively Work Toward a Radically Just Food System?
A just food system would equitably compensate, celebrate, and empower farmers and farmworkers as vital leaders of our food system. Society cannot survive without farmworkers, yet they are systematically excluded from decision making, access to financial resources, and worker safety protections. Working toward a just food system starts with redistributing power to allow farmers, farmworkers, and BIPOC communities to lead the change.
At NFSN, we see farmworkers and small farmers as vital to the farm to school work we do and to the larger food system as a whole. For this year’s Farm to School Month campaign, we are asking the question, “Who’s at the table?” to highlight the cross-sector community benefits of equitably sourced and nourishing food. Schools have immense purchasing power for food, and we are advocating to channel those dollars toward local procurement, smaller-scale and BIPOC farms, and the redistribution of decision-making and power back to communities and workers. Join in on the movement and celebrate with us with our resources for Farm to School Month!
- Who’s at the Table?
- National Farm to School Month
- Advancing Racial and Social Equity at NFSN
- Values-Aligned Universal Meals
- National Farmworkers Awareness Week blog post
Thank you to our 2022 Farm to School Month Sponsors, Farm Credit, CoBank, and National Co+op Grocers, for supporting this work.