I attended my first PVGrows Forum last Spring. I had been hearing about PVGrows and its work from my friends and colleagues in the Food Justice movement in Springfield where I live. I was not sure if it would be a good fit for me though. As former PVGrows Intern Kamilah Weeks suggested in her last post my image of the “people” of the food justice movement was mostly white people driving hybrids, wearing vegan shoes while shopping at farmers markets in more affluent neighborhoods and a grocery store that I often refer to as “whole paycheck”, and some fit that bill. I wondered what I, a black mom with an emerging (generous term for struggling) food business, have in common with them? Surprisingly more than I realized. I met farmers, and entrepreneurs and food justice advocates who came from all walks of life. Folks who shared my values around food and access to food and who seemed to care as much about food justice for folks living in the lower pioneer valley as in their own communities.
I also heard PVGrows members and staff talk about the importance of engaging and representing everyone living in the Pioneer Valley and the challenges attached to that goal. Race & racism can be hard & scary to talk about. Sitting in a room full of people who were mostly white but still willing, eager even, to talk about how race and geography can so severely impact food access and choice was surprising and encouraging. Food justice and equity in the food system are for me human rights issues. I was heartened to learn that the leadership and many of the members of PVGrows share my beliefs. So I was hooked. Now I am a member of the Steering Committee and the Race & Food System working group.
The Race & Food System working group has a commitment to helping PVGrows to develop an understanding of what racism is, how it shows up in the food system; and why food justice and racial equity are at the core of a healthy food system. We are also asking what would a racially just food system look like? How will we know it when we see it? At our steering committee retreat, we acknowledged that we can all point to injustices within the food system but we understand that it will take some work to frame out what a truly just, anti-racist system would work. Our hope is that this working group will be a forum, a resource, a space where we can work together to identify and share individually and collectively ideas, strategies and resources that help move PVGrows forward in this goal. To meet that goal we need more PVGrows members working toward it with us. We hope that you will join us.
As a first step toward addressing racial equity in the food system, the PVGrows Steering Committee is partnerning with three organizations to host an anti-racism education/training workshop called Undoing Racism. The workshop will be held May 4-6, 2014 in Holyoke. See more details at www.pvgrows.net. We are encouraging PVGrows members to participate. We believe that going through this process will provide context as we discuss challenges and opportunities in the local food movement. Over 40 PVGrows members have already gone through the training.
I can tell you personally that going through this experience helped me to identify my own internalized oppression & biases. It was not easy. I have close friends and family members of other races and have a fairly high level of comfort with the discomfort that can come when talking about race. The undoing racism workshop helped me to understand how bias can creep in even when we are conscious. I believe that I am now able to show up more authentically in my personal and professional relationships and ensure that I don’t pass this stuff on to my young son. Racism is tough. Even in the midst of progress, I sometimes wonder if it will ever be gone. Going through the undoing racism training and the deeper connections that I have made because of it, gave me hope.