I love a good checklist! As a farmer with Echollective Farm and farm to school coordinator with Field to Family, I have numerous checklists running at all times of the year. From my spring planting schedule to my weekly to-do list for farm to school, it always feels satisfying to cross something I have finished off of it’s list. As much as I like organizing my work via checklists, I think it is important to highlight that building racial and social equity into farm to school and farm to early care and education(ece) cannot be broken down into a simple checklist. This part of the work is continuous.
Farm to school and farm to ece are tools for cultivating racial and social equity in your community. This part of farm to school and ece is not about a specific destination or checklist. Food justice work is ongoing; it asks us to continually listen to others, especially people of color, native americans, and low-income individuals. Additionally, centering our farm to school and ece work around equity requires us to turn the listening of others’ experiences and ideas into practice. To do this we must ensure that diverse voices are given a seat at the planning and decision making tables. If we are starting a garden committee, it should reflect the school community with parents, teachers, administration, students, and community members representing a range of identities, experiences, and expertise. If we are reworking the school’s wellness policy to include new goals for local food purchasing, the discussion of this policy should, again, include diverse representation from the school community. The only way to move toward our goal of growing healthy kids and communities alongside a more fair and just food system is to include individuals and communities who have faced injustice in our food system in finding solutions.
Field to Family recently hosted our annual School Garden Workshop. This workshop included a presentation connecting the idea of school gardens to the value of cultivating racial and social equity. A few of the key ideas highlighted in this presentation were:
Self work before garden work. Before you grab a shovel to dig into your school garden, take time to better understand the history of the U.S. food system and learn more about the community your school garden will be serving. A first step is knowing that your school garden grows -- figuratively and literally -- within the context of a food system in which people of color and low-income individuals & families are more likely to experience diet-related disease and have more limited access to foods that support their health.
Accept and expect non-closure. It is important to commit to continually deepening your understanding of the connection between race, socio-economic status, and health outcomes. There is not a single book, conference, or conversation that will teach us everything we need to know about food justice. We must constantly ask ourselves what our school garden can do to dismantle the racism and classism that exist in our food system.
Step up/Step back. School garden leaders should be aware of the space they are taking up. If you are always setting the committee meeting agenda, make space for others to flex their leadership muscle. If you feel you are speaking a lot, let others speak. On the flip side, if you have been sitting back, try contributing or stepping up to lead. Create a space where everyone feels comfortable and welcomed to share and lead.
Remember your equity lens. Much of our work in school gardens seems to center on worms, dirt, seeds, and growing healthy kids. Truly, what is cuter than a toothless second grader holding up a handful of freshly dug carrots?! However, it is possible, and I would argue necessary, for us to center equity in our work with farm to school and ece. Our work will be more impactful when we approach school gardening with an equity lens. When aiming to grow school gardens while centering equity, ask yourself:
Who has access to the garden? In what capacity do they have access?
Have I listened to everyone who could/should be connected to the school garden community?
Have I involved others and asked them to share their experience and expertise?
What are the garden’s goals and how do these goals reflect the entire school community?
Are the foods we grow in our garden culturally relevant to our students? Who decides what the garden grows?
What partners do we work with and are these partners representative of the school community?
How do we communicate with others about the garden? What languages do we use?
Have we encouraged and made space for local voices to lead our school garden efforts?
How can I do better today, tomorrow, and into the next growing season?
Over the years, I’ve heard many people comment that farm to school and ece can be as simple as planting one seed. I want to “yes, and...” to this. Yes, farm to school and ece can be as simple as planting a seed and we need to make sure that we are planting those seeds with an equity lens. As you sit down to plan out your 2019 school garden, please, make plans (maybe even a checklist) to plant lots of seeds and also, make an active effort to include racial and social equity in your plan.
**For more on equity in farm to school and ece including concrete examples of how to put equity into action, please, check out the full presentation on School Gardens and Equity from Field to Family’s 2018 School Garden Workshop here. Additionally, all of the workshop presentation and materials can be accessed here.**
Photo Courtesy of Echocollective Farm.