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Diversifying NOFA-NY

Diversifying NOFA-NY

By Elizabeth Henderson, Member of NOFA-NY Board of Directors

In our newly completed Strategic Plan, NOFA-NY sets out this fine vision: A just and resilient farming system grounded in a diverse community now and for future generations. Yet NOFA-NY is a largely white organization - not too surprising since farm ownership in the US is predominately white. As millions of family scale farmers have gone out of business over the past 50 years, farmers of color have been five times as likely as white farmers to lose their land due to multiple forms of discrimination. So how do we change the complexion of NOFA-NY? How can our organization, and the organic farming community it represents, better reflect the diverse population of our state? How can we navigate the delicate balance needed to support our present membership, while avoiding tokenism, condescension and do-goodism?

 

First of all, we can take inspiration from the Principles of Organic Agriculture. The Principle of Fairness states:

Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities  Fairness is characterized by equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world, both among people and in their relations to other living beings. This principle emphasizes that those involved in organic agriculture should conduct human relationships in a manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties – farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers. Organic agriculture should provide everyone involved with a good quality of life, and contribute to food sovereignty and reduction of poverty. It aims to produce a sufficient supply of good quality food and other products.

 

As a predominately white organization, we can begin to educate ourselves by building partnerships and alliances to support the issues that are their top priorities. A good example is the resolution members passed at our 2018 Annual Meeting in support of the Green Light NY, a farmworker-led campaign to pass legislation that allows undocumented New York State residents to obtain drivers’ licenses.

We can build towards the future by creating a Next Generation NOFA-NY Leadership Council, so that our organization better serves young farmers and provides mentoring and leadership training. The steady increase in school gardening programs is introducing thousands of young people to organic gardening. Fully half the schools in New York City have school gardens!  NOFA-NY needs to find the resources to support urban youth, welcome them to our conferences and make a place for them in our organization.

The staff of NOFA-NY has been engaging in diversity training. Our conferences now regularly include workshops where farmworker organizers report on their work, and we try to break down some of the barriers between farmers and farm workers. But we still have a long way to go to make our programs accessible and comfortable for people of color and culturally inclusive for Spanish speakers and other recent immigrants. We still do not highlight the contributions to the practices and values of organic agriculture by indigenous communities, agronomists of color like Dr. George Washington Carver and Dr. Booker T. Whatley, or the peasant farmers of the Global South. Their work should be right up there in our canons alongside Sir Albert Howard. We have only taken the first steps in this direction.

The big goal for our New York Organic Action Plan is “Creating an ecological New York State where healthy food and access to land are considered human rights.” That is lofty and inspiring. To make it operational, we have our work cut out for us both internally, to increase our self-awareness, and externally, to build a movement that is broad and deep enough to transform our state.

 

Resources for Further Reading:

Smart Farm Infrastructure with Poughkeepsie Farm P...

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