Agriculture, Food & Justice

Today I am grateful for the contributions that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle of freedom riders, freedom fighters, and freedom “foot soldiers” for a more just society for everybody in America.

Today I am thinking about the connections of food and agriculture with Dr. King’s work on civil rights and poverty.

Today I’m thinking about the intersections–those  between housing, health, and food deserts; between discrimination and land ownership; between slavery and agriculture; between the takeover of indigenous lands and farming.

As I consider the history of US agriculture on this day about justice, it feels heavy. I think about the broken promise of “40 acres and a mule” to formerly enslaved people. I think about the theft of land from indigenous people from coast to coast. I think about the modern discrimination in government lending to black, Latino, women, and other farmers. I think about the abuse and poverty of migrant farm workers through history. I think about the Japanese farmers in Oregon who were interned during World War II and never got their farms back. I think about the immoral dichotomy between the amount of food we grow in the US and the number of people who struggle with hunger and food insecurity.

man hand fruit cocoa
Photo by Pixabay on

I also think about all the many people who are growing and harvesting food in new and old ways to create a more just society. I am heartened by the First Foods movement, the local food movement, food justice movement, and the Slow Food movement. I am heartened by the growing interest in who grows it, where it comes from, and how it was grown or harvested.

Per usual with these blog posts, I have a list of things I think we can DO. Here’s what I think matters when it comes to food and agriculture to make things more just, equitable, and fair.

1. Eat food that is Good, Clean and Fair

Slow Food International suggests focusing on eating food that is “Good, Clean & Fair.” I like the simplicity. You can look for certifications like Equitable Food Initiative, which certifies  labor practices, food safety, and pest management. Equal Exchange and Rainforest Alliance are good certifications for tropical fruits and nuts, chocolate, tea, coffee, and even tourism. Shop local at from local growers and pay a price that supports a living wage for everyone on the farm.

There are also a few foods that our family has been avoiding because we have concerns about whether they are good, clean or fair. We generally avoid cashews, palm oil, imported soy, factory farmed meat and eggs, and now some seafood, as I wrote about in this blog post.

2. Food Deserts

A friend of mine knows a rancher who stops in just about every rural town to buy something at the grocery store. He says it is the best way to keep rural grocery stores open and food accessible. For folks in northeast Oregon, think about stopping at places like the Community Merchants in La Grande, Union Market, Elgin Foodtown, and  Ruby Peak and Dollar Stretcher in Enterprise. Don’t forget the local farmstands like Val’s Veggies, Liza Jane’s, Platz Family Farm or our farmstand in Cove.

Let’s make our farmers markets more welcoming and accessible to all vendors and shoppers. Be friendly, helpful, and inclusive of all vendors and shoppers. Support nutrition programs and volunteer at your market.

Let’s support the treaty rights of indigenous people to harvest first foods.

3. Farm Workers, Farmers & Ranchers

Let’s support local, state, and federal policies and programs that address injustice in food and agriculture. I have benefited from Department of Agriculture programs that to support local production as well as loans for beginning, minority, and female farmers.

Let’s support farms and ranches that have the highest standards treatment of workers such as the Equitable Food Initiative. Let’s have the highest standard ourselves for how we treat the people who grow and harvest our food.

Thank you for reading.

Happy MLK Day!

Nella Mae