Exploring Gaps In America's Food System From The Farm To The Table

Dec 26, 2013

Black farmers protest at Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington, D.C. on September 22, 1997. Protesters alleged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) denied black farmers equal access to farm loans and assistance based on their race. North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford and 400 other black farmers filed the Pigford v. Glickman (Pigford I) class-action lawsuit against USDA in 1997. The USDA settled Pigford I in 1999.
Credit USDA photo by Anson Eaglin. / flickr

Starvation is often considered a problem distant from the American experience.

But for many United States citizens, hunger is a way of life. And many of them live right here in North Carolina.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 636,000 households in the state have been labeled “food insecure” within the past year. This means that over 17 percent of our families lack consistent access to nutritious food. Families hit hardest by food insecurity are Black, Latino and homes led by single mothers.

Many North Carolinians are responding to this, and have been for decades, with their own alternative models of food production, education and exchange.

Pete Daniel, a historian and author of “Dispossession: Discrimination against African-American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights,” has explored the legacy of struggle among African-American farmers to gain equality and access to farming land. On The State of Things, Daniel and Maya Wiley, the founder and president of the Center for Social Inclusion, discussed how after a history of discrimination by the U.S.D.A., the struggle for racial equality in the agriculture industry is still not over.

“Farming legislation may be race-neutral,” Wiley told host Frank Stasio. “But because of a long history of depriving people of color from large parcels of land, it means those people are less able to compete in the market.”

In present-day North Carolina, organizers across the state are coming together and using education as a tool to strengthen our knowledge and understanding of how we fit in our food system.

Shorlette Ammons is the community-based foods outreach coordinator at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems outside of Goldsboro. Ammons said that young people see themselves as stakeholders in the food movement when they are given an education on how the food industry works.

“What we’re seeing in Goldsboro is that alternative models are what are getting our young people re-engaged in a different and energetic kind of way,” Ammons said. “A lot of Black and Latino youth are often left out of conversations about their own bodies and well being…but they’re concerned not only about food, but a larger movement towards economic justice.”

Emily Chavez, a co-founder of Durham's co-op Bread Uprising, also stresses the importance of education surrounding our health and building community.

“It’s so important to teach our children that you may grow up and see that other people have things you don’t have access to right now," she said. "But you can provide for yourselves in a lot of ways, and we can take care of each other.”