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Seminar to explore racial and food justice movements in New York

In the late 1960s, activist Fannie Lou Hamer purchased forty acres of land in the Mississippi Delta, launching the Freedom Farm Cooperative. Now, local community organizations, activists, students and researchers will meet April 19 to delve into the historical significance of the movement and spur conversations around the contemporary resurgence of food justice and sovereignty movements in rural and urban spaces.

The seminar, “A Pig and a Garden: Fannie Lou Hamer, Agricultural Cooperatives and the Black Freedom Movement,” will be led by Monica White, associate professor of environmental justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her talk, White will expand on the historical narrative of the Black freedom struggle to embrace the work, roles and contributions of southern Black farmers and the organizations and cooperatives that they formed. 

Monica White, associate professor of environmental justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

The seminar will be held April 19 from 4-5:30 p.m. on Zoom. Registrations can be made online.

Food justice and sovereignty movements have seen a resurgence in New York state and across the country. Today, only 139 of more than 57,000 farmers in New York — less than 1% — identify as Black. White’s expertise on Black, Latinx and Indigenous grassroots organizations engaged in the development of sustainable, community food systems brings insight to local food justice activism, according to Anu Rangarajan, program director of the Cornell Small Farms Program.   

“Dr. White’s work is helping reframe the narratives about Black Americans and their connections to land and agriculture,” Rangarajan said. “Through the collective agency of New York Black farmers and food systems advocates, focused education, training and fundraising efforts have emerged to help Black farmers find their own land, and forge new legacies for Black farming and community wealth building.” 

“Dr. White’s work and experience grounds us all in the power of stories that can motivate and guide us in the path towards more resilient communities,” Rangarajan added.

Active in the food justice movement for over a decade, White’s work in the classroom and community embodies the theoretical framework of collective agency and community resilience, as well as the use of community-based food systems and agriculture as strategies of community development.

“Dr. Monica White is at a leading edge of a growing field of engaged scholars who are supporting and working with leaders in contemporary food sovereignty and justice movements,” said Scott Peters, professor of global development. “Her work is of vital importance in revealing the meaning and significance of powerful food sovereignty and justice initiatives in the long historical arc of the Black freedom movement, up to and including today.” 

“As or even more important, it also helps to open our imaginations to what we can and should do together, working across various lines of difference, to advance dignity, agency, voice, freedom and equity by taking up the work of building new farming and food systems,” Peters added.

“There is no greater cause in this present day than to support Black and Brown people in land access and food production using our own interlinking hands,” said Christa Nunez, founder and director of The Learning Farm in Ithaca. “Dr. White’s work synthesizes the historical record into a dynamic display of possibility and inspiration. She lays out the vital contributions of our Black farming forebears in ways that lift us up and provide meaningful examples of what we all could be doing to make change in this arena.” 

The seminar is co-hosted by the Cornell Small Farms Program and the Department of Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The event unites support from over 30 Cornell units and local community organizations, and it builds upon the theme of rural Black lives within the Society of the Humanities Rural Humanities Initiative. Students and local activists will also have the opportunity to engage with White in private workshops throughout the day. 

This article also appeared in the CALS Newsroom.

Kelly Merchan is a communication specialist in the Department of Global Development.

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