#HEALIllinois: Examining Racism in Agriculture, an Educational Exploration

A just food system will not be possible until we reckon with the legacy of harm to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) in the U.S.—forced migration, enslavement, and centuries of violent intimidation, disenfranchisement, and discrimination.

The Alliance is launching a series on our Facebook throughout the month of June to put a lens on racial inequity in the food system; potential solutions; and programs and policies in Illinois that you can support right now. 

To kick off we wanted to lift up the voice of Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm, and her Keynote Address at the 2020 MOSES Conference. A farmer and author of “Farming While Black,” Leah shares her insights on uprooting racism in agriculture.

America’s food and farming systems bear strong the imprint of chattel slavery and colonization. At the end of the Civil War and the beginning of emancipation, the plan to provide each freed family with 40 acres and a mule collapsed under a deficit of political courage. In fact, the only government sponsored land redistribution was from indigenous peoples to White settlers under the Homestead Act. 

Today, those decisions are reflected in who owns farms, and who works them. The descendants of those historically denied land now face enormous wealth gaps and the highest per capita food insecurity in the nation. This model of agriculture was spread across the United States, extracting land and labor and creating environmental crises like the Dust Bowl of the 1920s, and rampant soil depletion across the country.

Several organizations in Illinois, including Chicago Food Policy Action Council, Food Chain Workers Alliance, The Illinois Environmental Council, and Illinois Stewardship Alliance have begun working together to address the policy suggestions presented by the National HEAL Alliance and adapt these suggestions into state-specific policy solutions.

The HEAL Food Platform is a 10-point policy platform crafted by 50 organizations representing rural and urban farmers, fisherfolk, farm and food chain workers, rural and urban communities, scientists, public health advocates, environmentalists, and indigenous groups. This 10-point platform serves as a call to action and a political compass for transformation. This platform is our roadmap, path to walk together into a future that truly nourishes our health, our economies, and our environment.

Learn more about the history of racism in the food system and what policies you can support to bring justice and healing: