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Toward a More Diverse NOFA-NY

Thank you to Pam Coleman, organic certification specialist at NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC for this blog, and to the Groundswell Center and Soul Fire Farm for the photos.

The NOFA-NY conference, annual meeting, and field days are wonderful opportunities to learn about farming, meet new people, and become inspired, but there may be something missing.  This came to light during a visioning session at the 2016 annual meeting.  A woman stood up and suggested that NOFA-NY actively work to promote diversity – a suggestion that was met with loud applause and smiles of approval. In my inner-city high school, I didn’t know any “farm kids,” but I did know that the U.S. is a diverse country, and wondered why that diversity was not represented in images of farmers.KarenWashington4.jpg

There are valid reasons why some groups are under-represented in agriculture, much of it related to limited access to land and capital. The USDA discriminated against black farmers who applied for loans from the 1960s through the 1990s (read more here, from YES magazine).  Women may have limited capital due to wage inequality, or farms may be passed down to sons instead of daughters. Recent immigrants have language barriers plus the stress of living in a new country. 

While NOFA-NY can’t right historical wrongs, provide land to farmers, or even teach English to new Americans, we can take some actions to foster diversity within the sustainable agriculture community.  For example:

  • Acknowledge the work of minority farmers, particularly those that support diversity as part of their mission, such as Soul Fire Farm in Rensselaer County, NY.
  • Organize field days hosted by minority farmers to address issues specific to minority farmers.
  • At the NOFA-NY Winter conference, get stakeholder input to design future programs.
  • Publicize the work of organizations that support minority farmers. Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming in Tompkins County, NY provides affordable access to land, equipment, and training for aspiring farmers, with a particular emphasis on marginalized communities.

Soul_Fire_farm_copy_copy.jpgWe, as individuals can take action as well. We know that starting a farm can be challenging for anyone; can we also acknowledge the additional hurdles that some aspiring farmers will face?  Can we consider ways to support women, minorities, recent immigrants, and veterans who consider a career in agriculture? In short, let’s work toward a world where farmers and NOFA-NY members mirror the diversity of our country, and “farm kids” come in all colors.

Interested? Read more from Groundswell Director Elizabeth Gabriel, and from Leah Penniman published in YES! Magazine.

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