In public actions that are as American as the Stamp Act Riots or the Boston Tea Party, organizers and citizens are taking to the streets to demand transparency and community control over their police, and an acknowledgement of the structural racism that is built into every system that governs modern life, a structure that restricts black Americans and other people of color from participation in the economy, in civic decisions, and severely limits access to assets required to live a full, happy life.
But by dint of the work we chose, we get to do much more than that. By choosing to expand the role of local communities through mechanisms such as farmers markets, our intention to be part of a new equitable, community-led and transparent system is in the right place, even if the outcomes are still not where we want them to be. Because of that, farmers market leaders must vociferously acknowledge the rights of Americans to use public space for achieving equity for black lives and to clarify to their communities that the goal of our work is about building new systems rather than just propping up the old.
The 2 loops theory below is one way to describe the type of sweeping changes we are working towards, and even shows some of the steps:
When structural changes are the goal, it is important to know how living systems begin as networks, shift to intentional communities of practice, and can evolve into powerful systems capable of global influence. And that we live with the “old” and the “new” as it happens and that the existence of both at one time is often a point of tension but also allows us to free ourselves from worrying about achieving it all at once.
The process outlined in this video can assist farmers market leaders in understanding how to keep their goals to what is truly transformative.
As food leader Leah Penniman has outlined, education, reparations, and amplification are the strategies necessary for anti-racism work and as allies, we can lead in our own communities to expand those. This start (via the networks and CoP steps outlined above) requires that we shift from the white-led organizations that populate our work to one with diverse leadership, valuing both lived and professional experience, with information flowing back and forth between communities of practices within a new system for our markets and community food outlets to operate. (Please look for upcoming posts around what I find to share what farmers market operators are doing or can do in the anti-racism work that Ms. Penniman has helpfully outlined.)
So I hope that actual structural change and plans for that change are the point of your organization’s (or work’s) theory of change. Start by acknowledging that most DTC leadership (such as my own employer Farmers Market Coalition) are still overwhelmingly white with little or no first-hand knowledge or personal experience in the daily reality of our black neighbors. That lack of experience and therefore of true understanding leads to many lost opportunities in our work including addressing the rapidly decreasing number of African-American farmers. Too often – far too often – the only way that DTC outlets address the racial inequities present in their spaces is by working on access for underserved and at-risk populations, by assuming that successful SNAP programs will accomplish what needs to be done. Don’t take that wrong- the work we have done in DTC outlets to increase access is tremendous work, but we have much more to do to attack the larger inequities that keep the old system purring right along.
I personally commit to full support of these goals by more actively working to eradicate the unacknowledged and unchallenged racism in our present system and to achieve my mid-term work goal to step down from holding leadership positions in order to become a better ally in the new system. And to openly share the knowledge and contacts I have collected over the years with the emerging diverse pool of leaders that represent the new wave of our work.
What are the organizational and the personal choices you will make to grow the networks and the new system? What uncomfortable truths will you commit to amplifying to your community to educate them to begin to shift power and assets to the black community?
I look forward to hearing more from many of you about your work in system change and how I can learn from it.