LSP and Racial Equity, Justice & Collaboration – An Overview
Part of the Land Stewardship Project’s mission is building healthy rural communities. We believe in social justice for everyone – and that means even the newest members of our rural communities. And to reach social justice, we also need to explicitly talk about racial justice and racial equity. Historically, LSP has also always been concerned with land tenure issues -- working more closely with people of color is certainly aligned with that, be it farmworkers forced off their land in Mexico, blacks discriminated against by the USDA and denied the opportunity to farm, Native Americans forced off their ancestral land, or refugees from southeast Asia that left their farms due to war and oppression.
The Land Stewardship Project believes that we can’t have a healthy food and agricultural system in this nation without creating opportunities for all. That certainly means helping long-established, conservation-minded, small and mid-sized farms to survive and flourish. It means helping young farmers find land to rent or purchase. It means taking on the corporate powers that put profits ahead of the care of the land and the well-being of ordinary people. It also means ensuring that immigrant farmers and farmers of color have access to the same farming opportunities as white farmers, and that people of color and low-income people have access to fresh, local and healthy food.
LSP’s Initial exposure to racial justice issues:
The Land Stewardship Project’s significant awareness and involvement in racial justice issues began in the mid-1990’s when our members and staff began learning more about the historic injustices faced by black farmers in the southern United States. For decades, black farmers were discriminated against by the USDA. They were routinely denied loans, information and access to USDA programs. During 1997 Farm Bill deliberations, when lobbying for sustainable agriculture changes at the Capitol in Washington D.C., LSP farmer-members and staff met southern black farmers who were members of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Rural Coalition. Upon learning of their challenges, our LSP members joined with the southerners in calling on the USDA to rectify their past discriminatory practices. In 2011, after many years of struggle and organizing, the USDA finally settled with the southern black farmers in the historic Pigford Discrimination Settlement.
LSP’s growing interest in racial equity, justice and collaboration -- background and understanding
In recent years, LSP has been taking a deeper, more intentional approach to our work with immigrants and people of color. This has come due to a number of import reasons:
1) The recognition that Minnesota’s racial demographics have been changing dramatically in the last 20 years, in rural, suburban and urban communities.
• Minnesota has 14.7% people of color according to the 2010 census
• 25% of the children currently in the k-12 schools in MN are children of color
• Minnesota is projected to have a population that is 25% people of color by 2030
2) Despite being “Minnesota Nice,” the State is home to huge racial disparities in high school graduation rates, who is stopped by the police, employment, health care, access to land and good food.
• Education: Minnesota is 49th (2nd worst in U.S.) in racial disparities in education
• Unemployment: While underemployment and unemployment levels are significant for whites, they are dramatically higher for people of color.
• Criminal Justice: Drivers of color are 7 times more likely to be stopped for a drug search than white drivers in the State, despite the fact that white drivers are 3 times more likely to have drugs in their possession.
• Health Care: In 2008, 5% of white Minnesotans did not have health insurance. 10% of farmers in the state lacked health insurance, as did 25% of Blacks and 30% of Latinos. And this was before the Great Recession!
• Healthy Food and Access to Land: Availability of healthy food in communities of color is poor. Access to land for immigrant farmers and farmers of color is a huge challenge.
3) Many of LSP’s farm and rural members, some for the first time, are getting to know people of color on their farms and in their communities.
4) Many of our area’s immigrants come from farming backgrounds in their home countries, and have tremendous agricultural skills. A growing number of immigrants and people of color are interested in LSP’s work, and some still want to farm.
5) The same government and corporate policies that have worked against the small and mid-sized farm in this country have also economically devastated farm families and rural villages in places such as in Mexico. And that has been a huge driving factor in people coming to the U.S. for work.
6) On some farms, particularly some larger livestock operations, some immigrant workers are taken advantage of, giving those farms an unfair advantage over family-sized operations where workers are treated with dignity and respect.
7) Increasingly, LSP leaders recognize that we don’t have the power to accomplish our mission and make the changes we want to make without engaging and involving a much broader cross-section of people than we have historically done.