Growing Diversity in the Fields

Diversity extends from beyond the landscape and crops to the farmers tending those fields. I just read a couple of chapters from a book called Change Comes to DinChange Comes to Dinner Coverner by Katherine Gustafson.

Here is a little excerpt:

“The 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture reveals that the vast majority of farms in the United States – 1.83 million out of 2.2 million – are principally operated by white males.  But as the diversity of the country increases – with current minority groups set to make up over 50 percent of the U.S. population in about thirty yearWFANs, according to the Census Bureau – the uptick in nonwhite primary farm operators is outpacing overall growth. While many of the farmworkers on the nation’s largest farms are Latino, the number of Latinos who own and operate their own farms in the United States is relatively low but growing particularly rapidly, having increased by 10 percent between 2002 and 2007.  Another important development is an increasing diversity in gender across the U.S. agricultural landscape. The number of women farmers jumped by an eye-popping 30 percent during the same period, and the number of women who gain responsibility for land they inherit from their husbands is startlingly high. So while there’s apparently a good reason I always picture a farmer as white guy in a Monsanto hat, that white-male agricultural picture is slowly altering.  There’s change a-foot: an increase in diversity that could really re-invigorate our food universe.”

…and Rainbow Chard is here to diversify and invigorate our rural landscapes and food movements with our queer identities and queer politics!!

The author goes on to describe two non-profit organizations doing really rad work.  One of them is ALBA – the Agricultural and Land Based Training Association in Salinas, CA.  ALBA is an incubator farm that offers courses in the basics of organic farming and business skills, and helps farmers get started on their own.  The program is geared towards Salinas’ low income Latino population, many of whom are farm labourers on big industrial farms with less than ideal working conditions. The program is run in Spanish and the training occurs in the evenings and weekends to allow people who work to participate.  The goal is to provide participants with the know-how to transition from farm labourers to making a living from running their own farm businesses.

ALBA

The second organization I learned about is the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) based out of Ames, Iowa. The organization facilitates various programs, the goal of which are to “empower women to build food systems and communities that are healthy, just, sustainable, and that promote environmental integrity” and to redress longstanding inequality in the agricultural sector.  One cool program this organization hosts is a mentorship program where older generation female farmers are a paired with new young female farmers for hands on training opportunities.

If Katherine Gustafson’s writing is an indication of her personality she would be a pretty fun guest to have come to dinner, but more likely you will just have to read her book – Change Comes to Dinner.

Farmers of Every Gender, Race and Sexual Orientation

I have been reading up on some young farmer organizations in the US and Canada and while reading the National Young Farmers’ Coalition I happily saw inclusivity of ‘every gender, race, and sexual orientation’ in their list of guiding principles. Supporting the interest of family farms is a foundational guiding principle of almost every farmer organization I have been reading about, and it is at the top of the list of the National Farmers’ Coalition, but it is at least refreshing to see that inclusivity and diversity made it into the guiding principles of this organization.

I have nothing against family farms, only against the heteronormative and conservative family values rhetoric that the concept of ‘family’ brings along with it. Hence Rainbow Chard Collective’s call to “Redefine the Family Farm!” To us family includes all the nontraditional and queer relationships that are out there – from queer couples, to poly-amory, friends raising kids, to intentional communities and chosen families and everything in between.

Copied from list of National Farmers’ Coalition guiding principles:

Farmers of Every Gender, Race and Sexual Orientation. We strongly support inclusiveness in the farming profession, and believe that diversity among farmers is critical to maintaining a strong and vibrant agricultural sector to provide for a diversity of consumers.

Click here
to view the National Farmers’ Coalition’s website.