New Project! Womxn and Nonbinary Farmers of Color

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Long Hearing Farm, Rockport, Washington

This summer I was awarded the inaugural 2019 Northwest Journalists of Color Visual Storytelling Grant. It’s my first grant ever and incredibly exciting. The funding has helped me launch a series I’ve been thinking of for a long time on Womxn and Nonbinary Farmers of Color. In this post, I’d like to share a little more with you about the project.

Food inequity, environmental injustice, and climate change are among the most urgent social issues of our time. The world’s most disenfranchised communities (e.g. communities of color, the poor, and the global south) are already experiencing the worst impacts of global warming, which include lack of access to nutritious food and clean water. The pursuit of social justice today is inextricably intertwined with the fight for food and climate justice.

In that fight, Womxn and Nonbinary Farmers of Color are extraordinarily important. Project Drawdown, a research group of over 200 scholars, students, scientists, researchers and activists, recently released a plan to reverse global warming over the next three decades. Among Project Drawdown’s 100 solutions to climate change were: educating girls and empowering women; supporting women smallholders/farmers; and protecting Native lands.

Yet where I live, in western Washington, many of the popular farms that youth and schools visit–Remlinger Farms, Jubilee Farm, Maris Farms, Mosby Farms, Thomasson Family Farm, Stocker Farm–are owned and run by white people. 

The visual, narrative, and actual erasure of people of color from what we are told is “farming” has unnerved me for a decade. As a young mother of color, it disturbed me that every farm my child of color was invited to visit was white-owned. Even though people of color have been growing food on this land as long (or longer) than whites. 

Washington farmland was Indigenous far before it was colonized. In the 19thcentury, Native American families were among the first to earn farming wages in Washington territory. Later, it is true, Washington farmworkers were majority white until 1970. But workers of color were disproportionately represented in the fields even when their numbers were small. For example, in 1940, 45 percent of Filipino men living in Washington reported their occupation as farmworker. Latinos and Native Americans have also been over-represented. Important people of color have emerged from Washington’s fields, such as Carlos Bulosan, Bernie Whitebear, and Justice Ricardo Martinez. Meanwhile, women who have historically been overlooked in farming, a male-dominated industry, have become more involved in agriculture and independent since 1960.

But Washington’s children learn none of this important race, class, and gender history when they go on their fall sojourns to local farms. They do not learn about being on Indigenous land, about our state’s first Native farmers, about migrant and seasonal laborers of color who make up so much of today’s agricultural workforce. Neither do they learn about how farming looks different in different hands, from different cultural traditions and purviews. 

Instead, they learn that white people, and predominantly men, run and work farms. What message does this send to our youth about who “deserves”, and has access to, good food and health? What truth does this bias reveal about food inequity and environmental injustice in Washington State overall? And significantly, what does white (male) dominance in farming tell us about the larger ways we are failing as a people in caring for our planet and each other? 

What I have wanted to do for many years to combat this erasure is launch a series on Washington’s Womxn and Nonbinary Farmers of Color. And this summer I could finally do so. Since July, I have been working on interviews and photo essays. I’ve visited with eight farmers so far. Profiles depict urban and rural farmers from multiple racial/ethnic backgrounds across the state. Indigenous, Black, and Brown farmers are centered. It’s been an incredible journey and I can’t wait to share more. Stay tuned…

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