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News

Celebrating Black Visionaries in Farm to School & Community Food Systems

Anna Mullen Friday, February 19, 2021

Meet these Black visionaries below! Top: Betti, Brandy, Glyen, Haile. Middle: Jamese, Karen, Krystal, LaDonna. Bottom: Qiana, Rodney, Te’Lario.


February is Black History Month, a dedicated time to celebrate the power and resilience of the Black community and the many Black leaders on whose shoulders we stand. Historic and systemic racism in our country, as well as white privilege and power within the food systems, have unjustly obscured the significant contributions that Black individuals and communities have made and continue to make in our food system – including in farm to school. At National Farm to School Network, we acknowledge and apologize for our role in perpetuating these injustices and the harm that we have caused. We are also committed to taking actions to dismantle structural racism and shift power to those who have been marginalized, exploited, and excluded from the food system. You can read more about our commitment to creating a racially just food system here.

In this spirit, and in celebration of this time of Black History Month, we’re recognizing and honoring some of the Black visionaries, trailblazers, community leaders, and activists who inspire us and whose voices are leading essential conversations around racial equity and justice in farm to school, our food system, and beyond.

Betti Wiggins
“Quality food, the kind which supplies sufficient calories and nutrition to allow focus, learning, productivity, and growth, is the right of every child – really every human being.”

Betti Wiggins is one of the foremost authorities on school nutrition and food service management. She is the Director of Food and Nutrition Services for the Houston Independent School District, which serves more than 280,000 students at 287 school sites every day. Prior to Houston ISD, she was the Executive Director of Child Nutrition Programs at Detroit Public Schools. Under her leadership, the Detroit School Garden Collaborative was established in 2011. Since its inception, the program has grown to support more than 80 school-based gardens and a 4.5-acre school farm. She is affectionately known as the “Rebel Lunch Lady,” determined to use her passion for food justice and agricultural upbringing to ensure every kid has the fuel they need to learn in school. Betti is a former National Farm to School Network Advisory Board member. Hear more from Betti:
> Betti Wiggins on her career journey from segregated hospitals to leading foodservice at one of the nation’s largest school districts (Food Management)
> Betti Wiggins: Changing the way American children eat at school (NBC News)

Brandy Brooks
“We are in the middle of this massive cultural trauma of COVID and racial justice and an unprecedented ecological crisis… as political healers, we aren’t going to bury these things, we are going to bring them forward so we can heal from these things.”

Brandy Brooks is Co-Director of the Political Healers Project, a national network led by womxn of color and committed to centering healing, collective, and creative leadership in movement organizing. Brandy is also the founder and chief executive of Radical Solutions LLC, providing coaching, consulting, facilitation, and training around racial equity and environmental justice to organizations across the country – including us at National Farm to School Network. Brandy's work over the past 15 years has focused on community organizing, power-building, food justice, and food sovereignty, among others. In January, Brandy joined our monthly Coffee Chat series to talk about how we can address racial healing in National Farm to School Network's efforts towards a racially just food system and, more generally, how racial healing should be part of all food systems work – watch below! Hear more from Brandy:
> How Do We Address Racial Healing? (NFSN Coffee Chat)
> We Are Designed to Heal with Brandy Books - Feb. 23 (NESAWG Sankofa Series Webinar)

Glyen Holmes
"It's a tough time for farmers, and even tougher for African American farmers. Farm to school can be a tool for African Americans to get back into farming, and to be able to sustain their farming."

Glyen Holmes is a founding father of modern farm to school efforts. In the mid-1990s, he founded the New North Florida Cooperative (NNFC), a network of African American vegetable farmers near Jackson County, Florida, with a goal of giving small farmers a viable market opportunity by selling their products to local schools. NNFC’s "small farm to school" program found success by selling wash, chopped, and bagged fresh produce to area schools, and has continued its work for more than 20 years, expanding to Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas. During the pandemic, NNFC's processing capability put it in an advantageous position to supply schools with pre-packed fresh fruits and vegetables for grab-and-go school meals. Hear more from Glyen:
> Glyen Holmes Helped Revolutionize Farm to School Programs (Farm Aid)
> Farm to School - Glyen Holmes NNFC

Haile Thomas
“Through farm to cafeteria work, we gain experiences that help prepare us for the world.”

Haile Thomas is a 20-year-old wellness and compassion activist, international speaker, content creator, the youngest to graduate from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach (at age 16), and the founder/CEO of the non-profit HAPPY (Healthy, Active, Positive, Purposeful, Youth). Haile founded HAPPY when she was 12 years old to redefine youth empowerment through holistic education and address the need for free/affordable plant-based nutrition and wellness education in underserved/at-risk communities. Haile was a keynote speaker at our 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2018. Hear more from Haile:
> Why Haile Thomas Wants America’s Kids to Think Different (Heritage Harvest Festival)
> Cooking Up History: Living Lively: Youth Empowerment through Food with Chef Haile Thomas (National Museum of American History)

Jamese Kwele
“Centering equity and advancing racial justice is long-haul work that requires self-reflection, education, difficult conversations, and sustained action. It’s about making change; it’s about learning; it’s about growing as a movement; it’s about shifting, and yes, it’s about dismantling systems of oppression that exist both within us and outside of us.”

Jamese Kwele is the Director of Equity / Food Equity at Ecotrust, where she leads the organization's institutional equity work and a Food Equity initiative developed at the intersections of food and land justice, climate resilience, and economic development. Jamese is also one of the co-founders of the Black Food Fund, sits on the leadership team of the Black Oregon Land Trust, and serves as a board member for both the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition and the National Farm to School Network. Hear more from Jamese:
> Keynote Address: Equity in Farm to School (Vermont FEED)
> Introducing Jamese Kwele (Ecotrust)

Karen Washington
"Food justice represents a transformation of the current food system to change current inequities. It's not a passive movement, it's an active movement. In order for all of us to work on food justice, we must actively be working on socially dismantling the injustices we see."

Karen Washington has been a community activist striving to make New York City a better place to live since 1985. As a community gardener and board member of the New York Botanical Gardens, she worked with Bronx neighborhoods to turn empty lots into community gardens. As an advocate, and former president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition, she stood up and spoke out for garden protection and preservation. As a member of the La Familia Verde Garden Coalition, she helped launched a City Farms Market, bringing fresh vegetables to the community. Karen is Co-owner/Farmer at Rise & Root Farm in Chester New York. Karen was our 2020 Movement Meeting keynote speaker - watch below! Hear more from Karen:
> Keynote: Food Justice is Racial Justice (NFSN 2020 Movement Meeting)
> It’s Not a Food Desert, It’s Food Apartheid (Guernica)

Krystal Oriadha
"There's a true opportunity to leverage school meals in a way that prioritizes local producers and BIPOC farmers who have been left out of the conversation.”

Krystal Oriadha is the Senior Director of Programs and Policy at National Farm to School Network, where she guides the overall strategic programs and policy advocacy activities of our organization. Krystal is a recognized community leader and activist for justice in Prince George’s County, Maryland and the wider community. For more than 10 years, she’s advocated for criminal justice reform, education, women's rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and food justice. Krystal is also the co-founder of PG Change Makers and the LGBTQ Dignity Project. Hear more from Krystal:
> A Shared Vision for School Food Policy (FoodCorps Town Hall)
> White-Led Organizations: Actions Speak Louder Than Words (Written by Krystal Oriadha and Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director)

LaDonna Sanders Redmond
“All oppression is linked. Food is just a tool for organizing. It’s not really about the food. It’s about what the food brings: choice and dignity.”

LaDonna Sanders Redmond is a community activist who began her advocacy for a fairer food system when she wanted healthy, organic food to help combat allergies her young son had developed. But that food wasn’t available in West Chicago. So, she became an advocate for food justice and helped create community access to fresh, healthy, pesticide-free, and GMO-free food. She achieved her vision by converting vacant city lots into urban farms, creating retail food enterprises to sell fresh fruit and vegetables in the community, and replacing junk food with salad bars in Chicago Public Schools. Hear more from LaDonna:
> Food + Justice = Democracy: LaDonna Redmond (TEDx Talk)
> Keynote: Ending Systematic Oppression in the Food System (8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference)

Qiana Mickie
"If this is not the time to dismantle something as big and persistent as food apartheid, when is the time?"

Qiana Mickie has spent more than 10 years fostering a food-based solidarity economy that increases farm viability, healthy food access, and leadership opportunities for small- and mid-scale regional farmers, youth, Black, Brown, mixed-income, and other communities of color. Qiana also brings an equity-driven lens to policy work on issues such as food sovereignty, land stewardship, and health. Qiana is the former Executive Director of Just Food and continues working with the organization as a special projects consultant. Qiana joined our Coffee Chat series last fall to discuss what food apartheid is and how we end it in our communities – it was a rich conversation that our staff continue to revisit and reflect on. Hear more from Qiana:
> How Do We End Food Apartheid In Our Communities (NFSN Coffee Chat)
> Qiana Mickie on Food Justice & Access (Heritage Radio)

Rodney Taylor
“I see it as my mission to ensure that no child feels the indignity of being hungry. Not on my watch.”

Rodney Taylor is an expert and early pioneer in farm to school salad bars. In 1997, he established the first “Farmers’ Market Salad Bar” program while working as Director of Food and Nutrition Services in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. He has also held Director roles in school nutrition departments at Fairfax County Public Schools and Riverside Unified School District. Rodney has served on the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, the University of California (UC) President’s Advisory Commission for Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Network for a Healthy California’s Executive Committee, and National Farm to School Network's Advisory Board. Hear more from Rodney:
> He grew up hungry. Now he wants to revolutionize school lunch. (Washington Post)
> Spotlight on Rodney Taylor, Farm to School Pioneer (Healthy Schools Campaign)

Te’Lario Watkins Jr.
“All kids should have enough food to eat to learn and grow.”

Te'Lario Watkins Jr. is a 13-year-old mushroom farmer, entrepreneur, and food justice advocate in central Ohio. He also founded The Garden Club Project, which has a mission to help end hunger and encourage kids to eat healthier. During the pandemic, Te’Lario has donated seed kits to local daycare centers, helped deliver over 2,000 lbs of fresh produce to a local food pantry, and started work on a community garden to help feed families that may otherwise have difficulty regularly accessing fresh produce. Hear more from Te’Lario:
> Te'Lario Watkins II: Farmer, Activist, Businessman, Youth Leader (Slow Food USA)
> Follow Te’Lario on Instagram

These are just a few of the many Black trailblazers, innovators, and movement makers who are helping power farm to school and community food systems efforts nationwide. There are many more - including on our staff, Advisory Board, in our network of Core and Supporting Partners, and others - who we also celebrate this month.

Our commitment to listening to and lifting up Black voices and leadership in farm to school doesn't stop at the end of February. Every day is the right day for being honest about and addressing the racism and inequities in our work. (You can read more about National Farm to School Network's commitment to centering our work in equity here.) In April, our staff will be participating in Food Solutions New England's 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge - sign up to join us. And, we encourage you join us in continuing to honor the Black leaders who have given, and continue to give, boundless wisdom, vision, creativity and commitment to the farm to school movement.

Racial Healing & Our Call for a Racially Just Food System

NFSN Staff Tuesday, January 19, 2021
 

January 19 is the 5th Annual National Day of Racial Healing, a time for contemplation and collective action on how we heal from the effects of racism. Racial healing is a process that restores individuals and communities to wholeness, repairs the damage caused by racism, and transforms societal structures into ones that affirm the inherent value of all people.

Helen Dombalis, Executive Director of National Farm to School Network, shares her reflections on how racial healing is part of our work towards our new call to action: By 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system.

Video Transcript:

"This is Helen Dombalis, I serve as Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network. At the end of 2020, we released a call to action for our food system that by 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially justice food system. In other words, were making a commitment to shifting power in order to achieve a racially justice food system. In the process leading up to that call to action's finalization we kept coming back to the fact that if you don't work differently the gap between our vision and our current reality will continue to widen. We can't keep working on local procurement, gardens, and food and food and agriculture education in the same ways and expect different results. We have to be intentional about shifting power in order to achieve a racially just food system.

We know that our call to action takes all of us at the National Farm to School Network and through farm to school activities, but also across our food system. So, today being January 19th, the Annual National Day of Racial Healing is an important day and in our ongoing work to recognize that we can't make progress without also healing.

In our nation and communities, and in our food system there is a deep history in intentionality of racism including the foundation on which our American agricultural system was built from enslavement of African peoples to settler colonialism and stolen land from Indigenous peoples. We're not just working against that history, we're also saying that there's a history and it continues today in the real and destructive ways that are current unjust food system impacts communities of color.

For example, during the pandemic with food workers having higher rates of Covid and not being given due protections during the pandemic. So as we do this work, we have to acknowledge what got us here and how racism is continuing today to harm all of us.

We're all people with families, with communities, with hopes with challenges, and regardless of our skin color, racism is fueling divisiveness, not unity, difference, not inclusion, and bias, not trust.

So, as National Farm to School Network Executive Director, and on a personal level, as a mother, I'm committed to a world and a food system where all people are valued and respected equally regardless of skin color, income, immigration status, job, or any other criteria. But I also know that it's not enough to just hold that commitment, to have that value system. Action is necessary.

With the National Day of Racial Healing, it's a moment to making a commitment to learning more and taking action, including in the food system and looking at our own contributions to racism and ending it. So, I'm committed to learning more about the history of school meal and child nutrition programs being rooted in survival and power building in Black communities and also looking at and acknowledging that farm to school very much predates the founding of the Network Farm to School Network, when you look at Indigenous communities, for example, and the connection and honoring of land and food and integrating that into learning.

I'm also committed to shifting power, recognizing that there's a spectrum and ultimately we have to defer and ensure that those who are impacted by decisions are actually the one who is making the decision. So, for example, producers of color showing up and working with school districts and their purchasing and the producer saying,"Here's what we have available here. Here's what we will have available," and integrating that in the school meal programs and meeting a price point that's a living wage for those producers. It's not enough to have the school districts be the ones to say, "Okay, we'll buy this from these producers of color." At the furthest end of the spectrum, it's the farmers of color that are making those decisions themselves.

So with that example, I will leave you all with my firm commitment to learning, and also to action, and ask you all to join me in contributing to understanding that we need to heal from our past and in our current reality, in order to move forward and achieve a more racially just food system. Thank you."

When Words Aren’t Enough, But You Have Words to Say: There Is No Food Justice Without Racial Justice, Part Two

NFSN Staff Monday, August 31, 2020

By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director

I’m writing this nearly a week after Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by police, and after Kyle Rittenhouse murdered two people and injured a third at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha. In the words of the late and great John Lewis, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” So I’m here to say something, even when I know words are not enough, and to do something with the privilege and power I have.

Black people are being killed, Black families and communities are being torn apart, and Black members of our nation are living in constant fear. I know words alone will not make racism and hatred stop, and yet speaking up is necessary at moments like these. My colleagues (and co-conspirators) and I have written this, this, and this in the last three months alone. How many more times is this going to happen? And why did it take us this long to even get to the point of having national attention of systemic racism when Black people have been murdered by state sanctioned killings since being kidnapped and enslaved centuries ago? It took too long to get to this moment. Looking ahead, how are we going to take responsibility for changing the future?

While words are not enough, they do make a difference. After my May 31 statement, I heard from plenty of people suggesting farm to school has nothing to do with racial justice, that our food system is colorblind, and that speaking up about George Floyd’s murder is bringing politics to an apolitical topic. I’ll say again, this simply is not true. National Farm to School Network was founded on these core values and with a vision for a just food system. Farm to school has everything to do with racial justice; our food system is immensely racist, and our country’s politics have become about which humans are valued, and which are not. 

Racial justice is “the systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all…[it]...goes beyond ‘anti-racism.’ It is not just the absence of discrimination and inequities, but also the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity through proactive and preventative measures” (from Racial Equity Tools Glossary). That’s what National Farm to School Network should be about and it’s the direction we’re going in - making our food system work for everyone, from farmers, farmer workers and producers, to children and families, school nutrition staff and educators. And until every person has the opportunity to participate equally in producing and consuming nutritious, local food, and until there are no differences in this opportunity based on race, there is work to be done in correcting the racial injustices in our food system.

When we release our new strategic plan at our Movement Meeting on October 14, we will set forth a bold goal, centered in racial justice. Because nothing less is going to accomplish our vision.

As a white Executive Director of a national nonprofit, I have many privileges. I know sitting comfortably in my home writing this, not living in fear of being killed because of what I look like, is one of them. I don’t carry the constant, exhausting burden that Black people carry always. I cannot change my skin color, but I can evolve my actions. As my colleague Krystal Oriadha told me, being an ally is about taking risk. If you aren’t taking risk, if you aren’t taking even a bit of the burden off of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, you aren’t in allyship. Another of my privileges is platforms like this. Maybe a few people will leave our movement, and that is okay. We are investing our energy in those that are aligned and want to move forward with us on this path. And I am confident we will also gain many new supporters. I heard in recent months from the critics, but I also heard from newcomers and old friends, sharing that our words inspired them. So I’ll keep using my privilege to say something, hoping it will inspire more of you to do the same.

And when it comes to the fact that I also want to do something, we’re committing to shifting power. There’s power in money. Through the second phase of NFSN’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, we made a commitment specifically to Black- and Indigeouns-led organizations, and we will continue to make these types of commitments. In this spirit, today National Farm to School Network is granting $5,000 to the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. These commitments are examples of shifting power, but we know these are not the overall solution, and we know that this is long-term work. It has taken time to build structural racism into all aspects of our society, and it’s going to take time to dismantle it. We also know we’ve been implicated in maintaining these structures. And we know we have power and privilege and are committed to channeling this into actionable steps towards a more racially just food system and society. (If you missed it before, here and here are commitments we’re making and steps we’re taking.) We’re calling on you to take this seriously and do the same. Our contributions may not be much, but little things coalesce into a big difference.

So what are you saying, what are you doing? Join me. Join us. Make a difference today. 

Remembering Philando Castile, School Food Hero

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 08, 2020
By Noah Cohen-Cline – Lead Program Officer, Food Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation – and Helen Dombalis – Executive Director, National Farm to School Network

This blog originally appeared on The Rockefeller Foundation’s website. 


Photo courtesy of Joan Edman, via TIME.
This week—July 6, 2020—marks the four-year anniversary of the police killing of Philando Castile, only a few miles from where George Floyd was killed in Minnesota, during a traffic stop on his drive home from the grocery store with his girlfriend and her young daughter. Philando was many things to many people; in a statement by his family, he was remembered as “an amazing mentor, supporter, friend, son, brother, and Man.”

And to hundreds of children at a small elementary school in St. Paul, he was “Mr. Phil,” the kind and devoted cafeteria supervisor who handed out meals and made sure that kids had the food they needed to thrive. According to his obituary and to reporting at the time, Philando loved his job, loved the children he served, and often paid for the lunches of students who could not afford them.

Philando—like so many other Black people who have died at the hands of police violence recently and throughout our country’s history—was a victim of institutional racism. Because Philando was a school nutrition professional, we also remember him as a champion of racial justice—because school food programs, and the thousands of workers who make them run, are a bedrock of equity in our food system.

We knew before the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent Black Lives Matter protests that our food system is rife with racial inequities and that the current public health crisis has only exacerbated them. Our nation’s economy and our agricultural system are built on a foundation of racism and exploitation. Beginning with the theft of indigenous land from Native people and then the enslavement and forced labor of Africans to build our country’s wealth, the way we grow and produce food and get it from farm to table—both historically and today still—relies heavily on the underpaid and undervalued labor of Black, Latinx, and Native American communities. These inequities in our food system contribute to economic and health inequalities: the same people that provide labor in our food system often can’t afford nourishing food for themselves and their families. As a result, Black, Latinx, and Native American communities are significantly more likely to face hunger and food insecurity than White individuals, and to suffer from diet-related diseases like diabetes.

School food programs play a central role in addressing this injustice. By serving 30 million children every day—22 million of whom qualify for subsidized meals based on family income—school meal and child nutrition programs are delivering critical nourishment to the children who have been most underserved by our economic and food systems’ structural racism. School food alone cannot dismantle systemic racism, nor can any food access program. But schools can play a critical role by providing the nourishment that all children, of every race and ethnicity, need to grow, learn, and thrive.

In addition to providing equitable food access, many school food directors are finding innovative ways to use their programs to drive equity and sustainability in the broader food system. Good Food Purchasing Programs in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, and many other cities are using the collective market power of their school food budgets—totaling $18 billion nationally—to advance racial and social equity on farms and in food businesses and communities. National Farm to School Network’s early advocacy efforts for values-based universal meals—and the team of organizations and schools supporting this model—show promise for a national shift in how we spend our resources, and serve our children, to become a system rooted in racial equity and justice instead of the opposite.

School food heroes show up every day, motivated by the needs of the children they serve. They work tirelessly—often for unreasonably low wages and with limited training and subpar equipment—to serve our children nourishing meals. They’re serving balanced, nutritious meals on unrealistically tight budgets, and they have met the challenges of the global pandemic with innovation and devotion. They do this because they believe every child, everywhere, deserves to eat well and thrive.

Philando Castile was one of these heroes. As we remember his life and honor his legacy, let us also recognize and support school food programs and school nutrition professionals as the essential drivers of racial justice that they are.

View the original blog, posted on The Rockefeller Foundation’s website, here.

How We’re Taking Action for Racial Justice (A Start)

NFSN Staff Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Last month, in the wake of the modern-day lynching of George Floyd, we shared a statement acknowledging that we know we cannot achieve food justice if we're not willing to do racial justice work. We also shared our commitment to being an anti-racist organization and an active participant in the fight for justice. As a predominantly White-led organization, we cannot be silent allies. We must act. 

As a follow up to that statement, we want to share some of the concrete, actionable ways that we will continue to deepen our commitment to being an anti-racist ally in this work: 

  • We will conduct an internal racial equity assessment by the end of 2020. From that assessment, in early 2021, we will develop a racial equity action plan based on where transformational change needs to take place within our organization and our work. 
  • We will build leadership capacity for our staff to take action and meaningfully engage in advancing racial equity through our work. 
  • We will invest our resources in ways that prioritize and center Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. One current example: round two of our COVID-19 Relief Fund will prioritize funding for organizations that serve and are led by Black people and Indigenous people. 
  • We will continue to move forward the other equity actions we committed to taking this year, shared by Helen Dombalis, our Executive Director, in January. See a list of those commitments here
We fully acknowledge that this is not a comprehensive list – there is much more work to be done. However, we aim for these actionable steps to move us in a direction of continuing to build the foundation of our commitment to being an anti-racist organization, and from which transformational actions and goals must follow. 

We share these actions in hopes that other White-led organizations – especially those who partner with us in the farm to school movement – can learn from us as an example. We valued your words of support and appreciation for Helen’s statement on Racial Justice in May. Now, we must move our words into action. 

Honoring Juneteenth - Learning, Listening & Acting

Anna Mullen Friday, June 19, 2020

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to deliver the news that the Civil War was over and that slavery had been abolished. It's important to recognize that the Emancipation Proclamation, signed on January 1, 1863, did not immediately free all enslaved people – it took more than two years for this news of freedom to reach every part of the country. Texas was the last to find out, on June 19, 1865. 

While this Juneteenth celebrates the day 155 years ago that the last enslaved people in the United States learned that they were free, our country still has a long way to go towards realizing its claims of freedom and justice for all. At the National Farm to School Network, we acknowledge that racism, including anti-black racism, persists in our work and the farm to school movement at large. We have a responsibility and a commitment to correct this and to be an anti-racist organization. Our organizational vision is a food system centered on justice, and we know that we cannot achieve food justice without racial justice

Today, Juneteenth, we honor those that can celebrate the rich history, resilience, and joy found in the Black diaspora. Today we honor those who have fought, sacrificed, and died for justice. Today we honor those who cannot celebrate because there is still work to be done.

Today we celebrate with the Black community, including our staff, Partners, Advisors and members. And to White and non-Black people of color, we ask you to spend this day with us reflecting on the history of Juneteenth, what it symbolizes, and the work that still needs to be done to correct the lasting consequences of slavery and ensure justice for all. Here are some of the articles, videos, podcasts, and resources about Black history and resilience that our staff have been digging into and reflecting on together these past few weeks, that we hope might be helpful in your work to being an anti-racist, too. 

LISTEN & LEARN 
Read how Black Communities Have Always Used Food as Protest
. Amethyst Ganaway writes about how Black people in America have used food as a means of resistance, rebellion, and revolution for over 500 years. Here’s a snippet, relevant to our work in school food. "Noticing that most students didn’t eat or had never had breakfast before school, the [Black Panther Party] began to provide free meals for all students in their communities. Despite attempts to thwart the Free Breakfast Program, including police conducting raids while children ate, the government followed suit years later and began a similar program of their own." Read here

Watch The Hunger For Justice Series
. A Growing Culture is hosting a daylong broadcast of The Hunger for Justice Series, celebrating Black voices and the fight for justice in the food system. The broadcast, which starts at 12pm ET, will be held as a live event simulcast across A Growing Culture's digital channels, with over a dozen presenters. Watch here

Listen to Black Farmers and Scholars Talk About Resilience, Survival and Activism. Stephen Satterfield, host of the Point of Origin podcast, has two great interviews with Dr. Monica White, author of Freedom Farmers, and Leah Penniman, co-founder of Soul Fire Farm and author of Farming While Black. Listen here

Learn about Overthrowing the Food System’s Plantation Paradigm. Ashanté Reese and Randolph Carr write about the connections between abolition, prisons and our food system. "As we continue to uplift abolitionist demands, those of us also committed to land and food work must insist on building self-determining food economies and fully commit to overturning the food system’s plantation paradigm." Read more.  

Pick a book to dig into about anti-black racism and food. Epicurious has compiled a list of books that cover the intersection of race and food, and can be helpful ways to learn about anti-Black racism in the food system. Check it out here, and find a list of Black-owned independent bookstores you can order from here.
 

ENGAGE & TAKE ACTION
Listening, learning and reflecting are just one part of the work White people must do in racial justice work. If learning does not propel us into action, then those efforts have no purpose. Here are several ideas of actions you can take to honor Juneteenth today, and into the future. 

Join a Juneteenth event in your community, or digitally. Movement for Black Lives has an easy-to-search database on in-person and virtual events happening across the country on Juneteenth. Find an event to join here.  

Support your local bail fund. Support those protesting for racial justice by donating to your local bail fund. Bail fees further repress and cause harm to communities of color already suffering from structural racism in the legal system. During protests and their aftermath, pretrial detention is often used to suppress dissent and disrupt community organizing. Donate to your local bail fund through this list compiled by the National Bail Fund Network. (Thanks to Tides, our fiscal sponsor, for calling out this opportunity.) 

Start talking. Having meaningful, and sometimes difficult, conversations with those closest to you - including family, friends, and colleagues - is essential for confronting the underlying prejudice in White communities that perpetuates racial injustice, anti-Blackness and police violence. There are many great resources available to help you have these conversations - including guides for talking to children, older students, your parents or an elder, colleagues, and advice on finding entry points for these important conversations. 

Our 2020 National Partner of the Year: FoodCorps

NFSN Staff Thursday, May 14, 2020

Though 2020 is anticipated to be a year of uncertainty and significant challenges, the National Farm to School Network continues to look forward. As always, we’re a national organization that is uniquely situated at the intersection of numerous sectors and communities. Networking and partnership building have always been at the core of our efforts, and they will continue to be so long after this crisis ends.
 
We understand that working together is integral to our success, and is essential to the growth and long-term sustainability of our vision for a just food system. That’s why, in 2017, we launched a “National Partner of the Year” program to strategically align and partner with other national organizations that share our goals of ensuring a nation of healthy kids, thriving family farms, and resilient communities. (Learn more about our 2017, 2018, and 2019 partners.) We know that in order to redesign our food, education, health, and economic systems with justice at the core, we must build a big tent of organizations working multi-sectorally as we do. And in light of the COVID-19 health crisis, we believe partnerships like these are more important than ever. Coordination, collaboration, and working together is key to meeting urgent needs and accelerating our work to ensure a just food system for kids, farmers, families, and communities.  

In 2020, we're pleased to be partnering with FoodCorps as our National Partner of the Year. FoodCorps is a national nonprofit that connects kids to healthy food in school. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced school closures, FoodCorps service members are helping with emergency meal services, remote food, and nutrition lessons that reinforce academic priorities, and garden cultivation for community building and local nourishment. FoodCorps is also mobilizing its nationwide network of partners and allies to advocate for policies that will help schools keep kids nourished through this crisis and beyond. 

National Farm to School Network and FoodCorps already have a long history of collaboration. In 2010, National Farm to School Network was a founding partner of FoodCorps. NFSN had been founded several years earlier in 2007 to serve as a movement building, systems change, and advocacy organization, and recognized that it was also important to invest in direct service of farm to school efforts in communities through FoodCorps. Over the past 10 years, both organizations have naturally evolved and adapted to pressing needs and strategies towards our long-term visions: for National Farm to School Network, a just food system, and for FoodCorps, healthy food for all kids. What’s remained constant is partnership on many activities and projects - from advocacy days on Capitol Hill to story sharing during National Farm to School Month. So why focus on more intentional and coordinated partnership in 2020? Because we know that the visions of our organizations are urgent: we must act immediately and strategically to ensure that all kids - across all races, places, and classes - are connected to a just food system. 

We are joining forces to bolster our advocacy and programming so that we can better serve our communities, especially those most impacted by an unjust food system. And while we didn’t start 2020 anticipating it, our work now is also focusing on how to meet the urgent needs of the school food community in the face of a global pandemic. Read here a post we’ve co-authored about how the COVID-19 pandemic has shown school nutrition to be essential to kids’ health and well-being, and why USDA must uphold strong nutrition standards and build on the progress schools across the country have made to serve healthy school meals. 

National Farm to School Network and FoodCorps share a goal for the future where every child is able to be nourished by healthy food because their community food systems are thriving. We recognize that our collaboration at both the community and systems change levels towards this goal is what will accelerate our collective vision. It’s what the National Partner of the Year program is all about: leveraging our unique ideas, strategies, and resources towards a more just food system for all. 

Learn more about FoodCorps on their website and social media channels: 
And, stay tuned for opportunities to dig into this partnership with us throughout the rest of 2020!

FoodCorps and National Farm to School Network friends at the White House Vegetable Garden in 2016. From Left to Right: Cecily Upton (FoodCorps Co-Founder and Chief Strategist), Michelle Markesteyn (Rootopia and former NFSN Advisor), Curt Ellis (FoodCorps Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer), Linda Jo Doctor (W.K. Kellogg Foundation), Ricardo Salvador (Union of Concerned Scientists and NFSN Advisor), Anupama Joshi (National Farm to School Network Co-Founder and former Executive Director), and Jerusha Klemperer (FoodCorps Co-Founder).

The Common Market’s Mission-Driven Response to COVID-19 Nourishes Communities

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 23, 2020

Photo credit for all images in this blog belong to The Common Market
By Jenileigh Harris, NFSN Program Associate

When the coronavirus started to spread rapidly throughout New York City in early March, Janice, a woman in her sixties from Jackson Heights signed up for a free food delivery service operated by New York City. “Some of the food I had received was poor quality, canned, and sugary,” she said. Then, The Common Market stepped in and her first Farm-Fresh Box arrived. “The box came with fresh bread, dried beans, potatoes, a beet, kale, canned crushed tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. My first thought was that someone wants me to live and it almost brought tears to my eyes.”
 
One of the many things that the COVID-19 crisis has illuminated for our country is just how flawed our food system is and always has been, particularly when it comes to accessing fresh food. This crisis has also illustrated, however, that organizations like The Common Market - with existing infrastructure, relationships and investment in community food systems - are able to adapt and respond. 
 
A mission-driven response to COVID-19
The Common Market, a mission-driven distributor of regional farm products, is partnering with farmer and grower networks, city governments, school districts and other community organizations across the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Texas regions to ensure vulnerable communities receive fresh, healthy food and producers can continue business operations, pay workers and meet community needs. 
 
The Common Market was founded 12 years ago in Philadelphia, PA as a Mid-Atlantic regional food hub and distributor to improve fresh food accessibility in lower-income communities as well as farm viability and community and ecological health. In 2016, they expanded their model to the Southeast (located in Atlanta, Georgia) and Texas (located in Houston, Texas) in 2018. 

Historically, most of their work was with institutional kitchens, including schools (including early childhood education sites, traditional public schools, public charters, and independents), hospitals, colleges and universities, eldercare, stadiums and corrections facilities. 

“Once the coronavirus outbreak really took hold in our regions, our large institutional customers began shutting down,” describes Caitlin Honan, Marketing Coordinator with The Common Market. “Some of our farmers wondered, how would they continue to work with us? How could they follow through with their crop plans?” 

Leaning on their mission to serve, The Common Market acted swiftly and pivoted to a Farm-Fresh Box model in order to keep their commitments with their farmers as much as possible, while serving communities in need. The Farm-Fresh Boxes include a variety of seasonal produce delivered in a food-safe, self-contained box that requires minimal handling and maximum efficiency. Each box is curated by Common Market staff and farmers and represents what’s in season and available locally in each region. For example, in Texas, a typical box may include cauliflower, grapefruit, herbs, button mushrooms, red onions, kale and sweet potatoes. In the Southeast region, a box may include lettuce, shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, kale, asparagus, strawberries, mustard greens and in Atlanta, the boxes also include meat and eggs. And in the Mid-Atlantic region, boxes may include asparagus, apples, scallions, lettuce, radishes and tatsoi along with bread, cheese, and dried beans.


The Common Market Mid-Atlantic Farm-Fresh Box for New York recipients.
They deliver to the most convenient aggregation point for their communities such as hospitals, community centers, childcare facilities and churches. The program provides much needed revenue for their local, family farms and offers flexible pricing for their community partners. The Farm-Fresh Box program has resulted in an unprecedented number of deliveries to families and individuals. The Common Market Texas, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic regions are averaging 200-300, 6,000, and 13,000 boxes per week, respectively. 
 
Honoring existing partnerships and commitments
Trusted relationships in their regions have been invaluable to The Common Market’s ability to respond to current needs. 

The Common Market Texas partners with
  • The Texas Center for Local Food to deliver boxes for families at the Family Health Clinic in Elgin, TX, a community-based clinic that offers free services for low-income families 
  • The Harris Health System to provide fresh food access for Harris County - which includes the city of Houston - hospital staff and patients, with plans to expand into a community curbside pickup with SNAP accessibility
The Common Market Southeast partners with 
  • The Atlanta Housing Authority to deliver Farm-Fresh Boxes weekly to doorsteps of seniors sheltered-in place
  • Enrichment Service Program (ESP) Head Start in southwest Georgia to deliver 165 boxes to ESP Head Start in Columbus, GA for families with young children
  • The Community Farmers Markets (CFM) and a network of small farmers to allow Atlanta-based farmers’ markets to operate out of The Common Market’s facility
The Common Market Mid-Atlantic partners with
  • Greener Partners to distribute 3,500+ pounds of local food to more than 500 seniors and families in Pennsylvania
  • Newark Public Schools in Newark, New Jersey and Red Rabbit in Harlem, New York to distribute local apples among emergency school meals 


The Common Market Southeast Farm-Fresh box drop at ESP Head Start in Columbus, GA. 
Through these regional partnerships, The Common Market has been able to honor existing commitments with farmers and producers and help their businesses weather this crisis. Several producers who were on the brink of laying off their entire teams have been able to keep everyone employed due to the demand facilitated through The Common Market’s contracts. “We’re incredibly grateful. It’s amazing to be a part of the relief effort in New York City. Our farmers are relieved to have a pathway for our produce, to know that our instincts and our hearts were in the right place [when we decided to move forward with our 2020 crop plans],” shared a farmer partner at Sunny Harvest, located in Kirkwood, PA. 

New partnerships and collaborations
While existing relationships and infrastructure positioned The Common Market to readily respond to this crisis, it is the innovative new partnerships and collaborations that have supported their ability to scale up and meet the unprecedented and growing needs of the communities they serve. 

Before the COVID-19 crisis, The Common Market contracted with city governments in New York and Philadelphia to provide specific farm foods to their departments of corrections. For example, in New York they won the bid to provide all of the humane cage-free eggs to Rikers Island prison complex, which demanded a full truckload every other week. 

The Common Market is increasingly seeking contract opportunities with government entities to provide more consistent and significant opportunities for the farmers they represent. “We see contracting with municipalities and school districts as a way to scale positive impact for both urban and rural communities,” explains Haile Johnston, one of The Common Market’s co-founders.*


The Common Market Texas Farm-Fresh Box contents.  
Now, due to an initiative from Mayor Bill de Blasio, The Common Market Mid-Atlantic has partnered with New York City to deliver meals to New Yorkers who are unable to access food on their own. The Common Market tapped into existing models to specifically address areas that already lack access to healthy and fresh food options. 13,000 Farm-Fresh boxes like the one Janice in Jackson Heights received - including a variety of produce, dried beans, cheese and fresh bread - are reaching New Yorkers weekly. 
 
The New York City contract connected The Common Market with the National Guard – a partnership to help with the last mile of direct at-home delivery and curbside pick-ups. The National Guard regularly meets up with The Common Market employees to help break down the pallets and load Farm-Fresh boxes into taxis and limos in order to deliver the fresh food to people’s homes. According to a recent Daily News article, more than 11,000 New York City taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers have become city-employed food delivery workers during the pandemic, earning a $15-an-hour salary. “It’s amazing to be contributing to such a massive effort. It’s very meaningful to be able to maintain outlets for our farmers’ harvests through this partnership” describes Yael Lehmann, Executive Director of The Common Market Mid-Atlantic. 
 

Members of the National Guard loading The Common Market boxes into vehicles for distribution throughout New York City.
Looking ahead
The Common Market has made significant changes to its model to respond to this crisis. However, there are several adjustments that The Common Market regional directors hope will continue beyond the immediate crisis. “I look forward to continuing our Farm-Fresh box program, which we launched in response to the crisis, retaining community engagement and government activity,” describes Margaret Smith, Director of The Common Market Texas. 

All of The Common Market locations have had to pivot their business model to adjust for shifting customer demands, including hiring additional warehouse staff and drivers to help with the increased workload and shifting their outreach approach to the community. “Our outreach efforts have centered around establishing and strengthening relationships with community partners who are serving the most vulnerable in our community: senior care facilities, homeless shelters, food pantries and organizations providing resources to needy families” says Bill Green, Executive Director of the Common Market Southeast.


The Common Market Mid-Atlantic Driver, Erick, wearing a Food Delivery Crisis Response team vest.
The Common Market has also seen that there is a huge role for their organization to play in serving urgent food and hunger needs. “We’ve been fortunate, and have heard directly from individuals receiving our food,” says Lehmann. “They’ve shared how grateful they are to receive high-quality, fresh, healthy and locally grown food during this time. For some of them, until they received our Farm-Fresh Boxes, they have mostly received low-quality, processed and packaged foods that aren’t the healthiest, and unfortunately this is the norm in the emergency food world.” 

Resilient food systems are community-powered 
The Common Market and its network of producers, delivery service providers and community organizations are showing just how resilient community-powered food systems are. Resilient community food systems are designed to manage crises; they have strong feedback loops and rely on strong local economies and policies, robust infrastructure, flexible distribution networks, innovative partnerships and trusted relationships. 
 
It is organizations like The Common Market who are pushing the dialogue around what food justice and health equity means and how we all can emerge from this crisis with the evidence, tools, stories and relationships to push for lasting and transformational change in our food system.

“Now, more than ever, we believe in the importance of resilient food systems that support our health and are strong enough to withstand any challenge,” says Smith. “It’s times like these when our vibrant community must shine the brightest. Our values, our networks built on mutual support, and our innovation will see us through as a community.”

*Haile Johnston, co-founder of The Common Market, is Advisory Board Chair of the National Farm to School Network.

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