Support Urban Creators (Instagram), the group that runs Life Do Grow Farm in Philadelphia.
Agriculture is in full focus this year with people gaining awareness about how their foods are cultivated. As people across the country found themselves spending more time at home, home and community-based gardening started to rise (MLive).
This trend is not limited to adults. It also includes the education provided for students. Agricultural education is a powerful component of racial equity that should be promoted for students across the country.
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives’ Darnella Winston told Anti-Racism Daily that “[many people] don’t see the other side [of farming], or the beauty of being able to grow what it is that you want to eat, to be able to sell it at a price that you want, to be able to sell it regardless of market expectations.”
The Baltimore City School System operates Great Kids Farms as part of their school curriculum (Great Kids Farm). Miami-Dade County has a Food Forests for Schools program that helps students plant and maintain edible gardens on school grounds (Education Fund). The Green Bronx Machine is a school-based curriculum to teach students how to grow vegetables in their schools and communities (Green Bronx Machine).
Agriculture education is undertaken outside schools by groups like Urban Creators, a North Philadelphia organization started by youth organizers that operates the Life Do Grow Farm (Urban Creators).
At a basic level, agricultural education involves teaching students the science of growing and cultivating foods. Connecting students of color with this knowledge supports healthy communities today and begins to right historical wrongs.
There were 1 million Black American farmers in 1920 but only 45,000 in 2019 (The Guardian). In 2012, less than 60,000 Indigenous Americans worked as farmers (Census of Agriculture), a steep decrease for communities in part historically focused on sustainable agriculture.
Some of this decline can be attributed to negative modern ideas about agriculture, particularly in communities of color with histories of forced farming. Teaching young children of color farming helps them to connect with history that has been systematically stripped away over many years. Many food trends of today emerged only 50 years ago. It’s important for children to learn that while you can get an apple from a supermarket, you can also grow one like many of their ancestors did.
Agricultural education also helps low-income communities of color access healthy food. In the mid-twentieth century, supermarkets became the predominant way for Americans to buy food (Washington Post). Their rise largely bypassed low-income communities and communities of color (CNN). Even in neighborhoods with similar levels of poverty, communities with more Black and Latinx people have fewer supermarkets and less healthy food offerings (Johns Hopkins). When grocery stores do come to low-income Black and Latinx neighborhoods, the relatively high cost of healthy produce still keeps families buying lower quality options (The Counter).
“It’s not so much that we want to [just] teach about agriculture, but we want everybody to see and understand and feel the ways that food and agriculture and land are tied into every part of who we are and what we do and how we learn,” Laura Menyuk, Farm to School education specialist at Baltimore City Public Schools, told Anti-Racism Daily.
“And no matter their culture and heritage and family background, if [kids] live in the United States, they are part of a society that has forced a disconnection with land and food in large part upon us by how our food system operates.”
Less healthy food translates to worse health. Black, Indigenous, and Latinx youth have a significantly higher prevalence of chronic conditions due in part to food inequality (NIH). Food injustice denies children of color the right to develop physically and mentally in the healthiest way they can. It’s a particularly insidious form of systemic oppression.
This is why teaching students about agriculture and how to grow healthy foods such an important aspect of undoing deep-seated racial discrimination. Teaching children of color about growing foods teaches children that they can be part of solutions to food injustice.
Unequal access to healthy foods impedes the health of children of color.
Agricultural education teaches children how to grow healthy foods that many cannot afford to access in supermarkets.
Schools and community organizations are creating programs to help students reconnect with farming and food production.