Farm to Institution New England (FINE) 
Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Fall 2021

I. INTRODUCTION

Farm to Institution New England envisions an equitable and just food system that provides access to healthy and abundant food for all New Englanders, and is defined by sustainable and productive land and ocean ecosystems. Racial and environmental justice are central tenets of a just and sustainable food system. The current system that excludes many for the reward of a few is neither just nor sustainable. FINE is committed to addressing the inequities on which our current food system is built and which we as food systems practitioners perpetuate when we accept the status quo. Our vision and values statement in our strategic plan include this commitment, as noted here.
 

II. PURPOSE

This statement articulates FINE’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in general, and to the urgent issues of racial equity and environmental justice specifically. This statement and the understandings that form it are ongoing processes at FINE. This statement serves to ground our staff, advisors, and partners in a common understanding of these issues and a shared language with which to address them in our work. We welcome feedback as we continue this essential learning journey, and invite your participation in this work. (See below for a glossary of terms used in this statement.)

III. LAND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

For centuries the land we now call New England sustained, and was sustained by, many indigenous communities. We recognize the land on which we live and work as the traditional territory of the following tribes, many of whom continue to seek sovereignty on their ancestral homelands:

Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Wolastokuk (Maliseet), Nanrantsouak, Abenaki/ Abénaquis, Arosaguntacook, Aucocisco, Wabenaki, Pennacook, Pentucket, Agawam, Naumkeag, Massa-adchu-es-et, Pauquunaukit (Wampanoag), Naumkeag, Nauset, Nipmuck, Narragansett, Manissean, Mohegan, Pequot, Agawams, Wangunks, Pocumtuc, Podunks, Tunxis, Wappinger, Quinnipiac, Mohican, Paugusset, Poquenook, Lenape, Nuaset.

Map of Native Lands in New England

FINE acknowledges that we have not directly engaged much with the indigenous communities in New England to date. We are working to change this, and have outlined steps in our action plan (see section VI.) to do so. We look forward to developing stronger relationships and using our resources to learn from and support the needs of these communities.

IV. HISTORICAL ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A long and complex history sets the context for the work we do. In our efforts to create a more just, equitable, and sustainable food system, we must recognize the significant ways in which our current food system has not and does not uphold those values. Broadly, our current economic and agricultural systems are built on a foundation of colonialism and a culture of white supremacy. This system has and continues to actively oppress many Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, immigrant, and other marginalized communities, including women, LGBTQ+, and differently abled individuals.

  1. Enslaved African people built the wealth of the American economy on land stolen from Native American communities by European settlers. Land reparations have never been made, as 98% of land in the United States is still currently owned by white people. Source

  2. “Tribal communities have been separated from their lands and disconnected from traditional foods – putting their tribal culture and health in peril.” Source

  3. Today, U.S. farms are powered by the labor of Latinx and other foreign-born workers of color, but only 7% of farm owner-operators are people of color. Source

  4. Many food system workers take home poverty-level wages, with women, Blacks, and Latinx’s most likely to earn the lowest. Source

  5. Today in America, for every $100 of wealth (income less debts) that the average white family has, the average black family has $10. This wealth gap exists regardless of education and employment status, and is due to systemic barriers and the difference in inherited wealth. Source

  6. Poverty is associated with high rates of food insecurity and diet-related disease, all of which disproportionately impact communities of color. Source

  7. Food insecurity among LGBTQ adults is more than double the national food insecurity rate. Source

  8. Many of our institutions were created with capital generated within a culture of white supremacy, and continue to perpetuate racism and inequality. Some, like the criminal justice system, were designed specifically to force people of color back into a system of extreme repression and control after the abolition of slavery. Source

  9. The sustainable agriculture or “good food” movement in America has often excluded Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American communities, and the central issue of racism. It has not sufficiently recognized the vast contributions made by the expertise of these communities to the field of agriculture. Source

  10. Capitalist economies upheld by a culture of white supremacy have damaged local and global ecosystems on which we all depend, disproportionately affecting communities of color. Source

These points illustrate just some of the deep inequalities and mechanisms of racial oppression within our society, on which our existing food system is built. FINE acknowledges these realities. 

V. RACIAL EQUITY & FOOD JUSTICE

“Racism—the systemic mistreatment of people based on their ethnicity or skin color—affects all aspects of our society, including our food system.” Source Through environmental degradation, economic oppression, land theft, and many other effects of racism, our current economic and agricultural systems actively refuse many BIPOC communities the “collective right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system.” Source In this way, racial equity is at the center of any meaningful effort to improve our regional food system.

Our focus on dismantling racism (and the culture of white supremacy that enables it) through our work, recognizes that these efforts break down the structures that keep all marginalized communities oppressed, and strive to make possible the true liberty and health of all people.

At this time, Farm to Institution New England and the network we currently serve predominantly identify as white and western-educated. We are coming to see how we work within and perpetuate a white-dominant culture. We recognize that this undermines the core purpose of our work to achieve “an equitable and just food system that provides access to healthy and abundant food for all New Englanders.” A diversity of voices shaping our organizational and network culture, sharing power and reward, is the only way we can create a food system that truly nourishes all New England communities and the land that sustains them.

VI. THE ROLE OF INSTITUTIONS 

FINE’s mission is to mobilize the power of institutions to transform our food system. We focus on institutions specifically because of their unique and powerful roles in the food system. Institutions in New England are communities of students, employees, prisoners, and patients from many cultural, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds, at all stages of their lives. Data collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, show that about a quarter of New England’s population (3.7 million people) spends time in New England’s schools, hospitals, and colleges every day. Over 3 million students are enrolled in the region’s K-12, secondary, and post-secondary schools and nearly 700 thousand people are employed by those institutions. FINE’s early research on the corrections sector also shows that there are over 30,000 people incarcerated in New England’s state and federal prisons (data collected prior to COVID-19 pandemic and do not private prisons or county jails). These institutions have a number of responsibilities including feeding, housing, healing, educating, and otherwise engaging a large portion of the population. Institutions influence and perpetuate social norms and policies within our region. Their procurement practices shape entire supply chains, impacting local economies, and affecting community wealth distribution. 

New England institutions are complex systems deeply embedded within an even more complex and unjust economic and agricultural system. Without concerted effort, institutions can easily uphold the status quo and perpetuate the inequality, exclusion, and marginalization that is the natural outcome of this system. At the same time, institutions have abundant opportunity to apply their influence and resources toward an equitable and just society when they invest in building a regional food system. 

Institutions leverage their power toward this end when they:

  • Serve healthy, culturally appropriate, and fresh local food in their dining operations
  • Prioritize purchases from local producers who use sustainable, humane, and fair practices, particularly those owned by black, indigenous, or other people of color   
  • Provide living-wage jobs with benefits to institutional staff (including food service) 
  • Acknowledge that institutions play a role in institutional and structural racism and perpetuating white supremacy culture
  • Center racial, climate, and social justice education for staff, students, and clients 
  • Take transparent, ongoing action to dismantle racism and other forms of oppression and exclusion within their walls and beyond
  • Promote and employ people of color and other marginalized groups into decision making and leadership positions

VII. ORGANIZATIONAL COMMITMENT

FINE understands that undoing racism and dismantling white supremacy culture is a prerequisite for a just, sustainable food system. The food system we are committed to co-creating with our network is one in which the economic, environmental, and social benefits of a sustainable, climate-resilient, regional food system enables communities of color and other historically marginalized groups to thrive. The food system we are committed to building generates the resources and opportunities for communities of color and other marginalized groups to heal from economic, social, psychological, and physical trauma sustained through generations of oppression. 

We recognize that many Black, and Indigenous-led communities have been fighting for food justice and racial equity for generations, sometimes incurring personal cost or harm on top of that normally inflicted by our unjust systems. As FINE steps further into this work, it is our intention to learn from the wisdom and support the leadership of these food justice movement elders.

We recognize that working to dismantle racism and unlearn white supremacy culture in ourselves, our organization, and our work is an imperfect, often uncomfortable process, and that we always have more to discover and do. 

In 2020 we are prioritizing developing more inclusive and equitable programming through all phases (design, implementation, and evaluation) and creating a more inclusive culture at FINE. We look forward to sharing more details about this work and our strategies for achieving these as we go.

In working toward these goals it is our intention to practice the following:

  • Choose Non-violence: We believe in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s definition of non-violence as “a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love”. Source In this work we seek first to do no harm to ourselves, to our partners, or to those with whom we disagree.
  • See Clearly: We do not shy away from the truth. We acknowledge the reality of our cultural, ancestral, and personal histories in order to learn from them.
  • Welcome Discomfort: We know that undoing racism and dismantling white supremacy culture is uncomfortable work. White-identifying people must forfeit their expectation of comfort in order to do this work. 
  • Use Privilege: We understand and acknowledge what privileges we have as a majority white-identifying organization. We apply these unearned privileges to achieve food justice.
  • Invest in Education: We dedicate time, effort, and other resources to our individual and collective ongoing racial justice education at the root of climate and food justice.
  • Expand Inclusivity: We ensure people of all backgrounds and identities feel welcome and able to participate fully in the network. 
  • Share Power: We actively include diverse perspectives in our work and decision making. We make organizational and programmatic changes based on this input.
  • Respect Power: We seek out, listen to, and follow the leadership of black, indigenous, and other historically marginalized communities.
  • Practice Humility: We acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and demonstrate our willingness to learn, engage, and take risks. We agree to listen, accept, and adjust our understanding and process as we do this work.
  • Allyship: As a majority white-identifying organization, we recognize the importance of our role, centering issues of racial equity with other white people and organizations.
  • Create Brave Spaces: We cultivate environments that respect the dignity of all people and that foster empathy, healing, and growth in individuals and communities where division, greed, and hate has endured in the past. We strive to create spaces that do not harm, but recognize the deepest forms of this work may be uncomfortable or traumatic.

VIII. PARTNERSHIPS

We welcome your feedback and partnership as we continue these efforts. Please get in touch with Peter ([email protected]), Dana ([email protected]) or Tania ([email protected]) if you have thoughts or resources to share. 

We are always working to include diverse perspectives in our work. Many of our projects are guided by steering committees and advisory groups. If you are interested in learning more about these opportunities, please contact Peter Allison at [email protected]

Several organizations provided inspiration and learning in the development of this statement, including: Food Solutions New England, Interaction Institute for Social Change, Jeremy Phillips Consulting, Modern Farmer, National Farm to School Network, National Young Farmers Coalition, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Soul Fire Farm, Sustainable Agriculture Education Association, University of Iowa, and others.

IX. GLOSSARY OF TERMS

BIPOC: an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The purpose of this acronym is inclusivity, highlighting voices that hadn’t originally been heard, while recognizing that under colonialism, African and Indigenous people had very different experiences. New York Times We use the term BIPOC to highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African American) people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context. The BIPOC Project

Diversity: All dimensions of diversity, which include (but are not limited to) age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ancestry, gender identity, race, physical abilities, marital status, military experience, religious beliefs, economic class, geography, education, parental status, and/or work experience. These inform a wide range of opinions, traditions, approaches, backgrounds, communities, and ways of knowing. Source: FINE’s Strategic Plan

Farm to Institution: The infrastructure, processes, supply chain relationships, and policies that enable food to travel from producers to institutional consumers within the region. Source

FINE Network: People who are connected to FINE via projects, events, committees, or communication platforms. 

Food: Any item that is a form of sustenance. FINE’s priority is to increase the proportion of local and regional foods consumed that meet healthy diet standards and are culturally appropriate.

Food Apartheid: An alternative term (coined by Karen Washington) for “Food Deserts”, that encompasses a whole-systems approach to understanding community food landscapes and health outcomes. The idea of food apartheid includes race, geography, faith, economics. and other roots of social inequalities. Source

Food Justice: The idea that people of color are the most severely impacted by hunger, poor food access, diet-related illness, and other problems with the food system. The food justice movement works not only for access to healthy food for all, but also examines the structural roots of these disparities — and works for racial and economic justice, too. Source

Food Sovereignty: A term coined by members of Via Campesina in 1996, asserts that the people who produce, distribute, and consume food should control the mechanisms and policies of food production and distribution. Source

Food System: A food system is the interconnected web of people and processes that works to facilitate the growth and distribution of food for a specific community group. The term incorporates and embodies all concepts related to food, from the community’s overall physical and economic health to its sociopolitical and legal underpinnings. The term “food system” can be used to describe systems at a micro level – local food system, a community food system – or it can be used to refer to more macro level systems – a national food system, a global food system. Source 

Institution: Any organized entity that creates a demand for food and serves food to a defined population. FINE’s programs target K-12 schools, colleges, hospitals, and correctional facilities.  

Local food: At this time, FINE does not have a single definition of “local food.” FINE recognizes that many of the New England states and partner organizations have their own definitions of “local food,” as does the USDA. 

Mass Incarceration: the U.S. incarcerates more people than any nation in the world and the U.S. is also the leader in the prison population rate. America’s approach to punishment often lacks a public safety rationale, disproportionately affects people of color (especially black men), and inflicts overly harsh sentences. Source 

Region: FINE’s region is New England. We recognize that for states that border states or provinces outside New England, their definition of region may include those border states or regions.

Regional food: FINE defines “regional food” as food grown, raised, or harvested within the six New England states plus a 50 mile buffer. 

School to Prison Pipeline: a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems through “Zero-tolerance” policies that criminalize minor infractions of school rules. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline. Source 

Social Justice: The view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities. Source 

Stakeholder: A person with some relationship to the institutional food system, including institutions, distributors, food service operators, food system organizations, and producers, including all members of the FINE network.

White Supremacy Culture: White supremacy culture is the idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Source