Food Equity: Building a Fair Food System For Everyone
America’s food system, from growing food to processing, serving and eating it, matters to our families, our farmers and our future. It is essential for small family farmers to stay on their land in order for them to provide local communities fresh produce and support rural economies.
Children need healthy foods to thrive in school and live long, healthy lives. Food workers need a living wage to afford the very foods they process and serve.
Unfortunately, our current food system is broken. Every day, people struggle to afford food to feed themselves and their families, stay on farms, or earn a living wage while serving, processing or harvesting food. Since 1982, over 23 million acres of prime family farmland has been lost to commercial development [Source: The American Farmland Trust. “Farmland by the Numbers”] Black farmers have been losing family farms at even more catastrophic rates — about 800,000 acres, or 25% of land, compared to the 2.3% of total agricultural land no longer being farmed [Source: Center for Social Inclusion. “Regaining Ground”]
Large agri-business controls over 83% of all foods in the marketplace, dictating what is available in the market [Source: United States Department of Agriculture. “2011 Resource Management Survey”] Thanks to U.S. farm policy, which subsidizes wheat, corn and soy – all crops that big agri-business harvest – it is increasingly difficult for small family farmers to compete. There is no good balance between big and small farming enterprises, nor current policy to support how the two co-exist in the food system. Dependent on the markets that large corporations create, family farmers do not have many options for local and sub-regional markets to sell their produce. Because of this dynamic, in order to survive, many family farms are pushed into contracts to grow for companies like Monsanto. Unfortunately, these deals leave farmers with very little flexibility in what food they grow, how they produce and their ability to own seeds.
Farmers who do not contract with big agricultural corporations must produce crops without the benefits of a large scale operation or easy access to the marketplace. These farmers often specialize in different types of produce such as fruits and vegetables; however they do not reap the rewards of farm subsidies or insurance leaving them one disaster away from bankruptcy. This cuts across all races, but farmers of color often lack such support more acutely. Over 1 in 3 White farms receive direct payments compared to 1 in 4 Black farms, 1 in 6 Latino and Native American farms, and 1 in 8 Asian farms [Source: United States Department of Agriculture. “2007 Agricultural Census”]
While access to the marketplace is increasingly difficult for farmers, distribution is just as challenging. When big box stores like Wal-Mart expand, opportunities for local ownership, innovation and jobs shrink. Research suggests that Wal-Mart pushes out small local businesses that sustain and generate wealth within a community. Three local jobs are destroyed for every two jobs created by a big box store. And these jobs, which tend to be low-wage, like food retail and food preparers, are often occupied by people of color. Among all food workers, 21% of Blacks, 24% of Latinos, 38% Asians earn sub-minimum wages, compared to 13% of Whites. These low wages also limit the ability of workers to pay for healthier produce sold by small farmers who rely on sales for their survival.
Accessing fresh foods at affordable prices is challenging for many low wage workers. Overall, 13 million Americans lack access to healthy foods, contributing to rising obesity rates. Latino, Native American and Black communities are two to four times more likely than Whites to lack access to healthy foods. And for people who can access these foods, not all can afford them. Fifteen percent of Americans rely on SNAP, yet 1in 4 Black residents and 1 in 6 Latinos rely on SNAP compared to 1 in 12 Whites [Source: CSI Analysis of US Census Data. “2011 ACS 5 Year Estimates”]
Building a better food system
Despite the many challenges we face, we can fix our broken system to better benefit and serve all people across this country. Big agricultural corporations have a place in the food system, but so should small farmers and mom and pop food business owners who can produce and distribute food locally. We all need to be a part of the solution if we want to have a sustainable, equitable and just food system. Winning a bright food future requires a set of strategies that are multi-racial and addresses the needs of both rural and urban areas. Rural communities, regardless of race, need viable food economies that benefit rural families. And people of color who are food system producers, workers and consumers, are the fastest growing populations in America, and among those deeply in need of a viable and fair food system.
People of color are already critical agents to a healthy food system. Twenty percent of farmers of color provide our fruits and vegetables, compared to just eight percent of White farmers [Source: United States Department of Agriculture. “2007 Agricultural Census”], while 40% of food workers are people of color [Source: CSI Analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment Survey, 2010”]
Over the last decade, more leaders and communities have been working to create a healthier local food system. The number of farmers markets has doubled. More schools are using local produce in their lunch programs, helping to bolster markets for small family farms and serve students healthier meals to tackle obesity. Communities of color around the country are also producing their own solutions. Whether by rethinking local and regional food supply or distribution or demanding healthier foods in schools, the movement for a more equitable and sustainable food system is underway.
How CSI is Supporting a More Just Food System
As a policy strategy organization, CSI is committed to crafting policy solutions that work for everyone. Food equity at CSI means everyone, no matter their race, can access and afford a basic healthy diet and work to support a food system that produces this vision.
CSI is working in partnership with local and national food justice advocates to develop relationships and craft a set of strategies that support local innovation and national policy change. To that end, we:
- Engage local leaders of color across all parts of the food system to inform and support policy change from the ground up. Learn more about our recent First Food cohort that supports leaders working for equity in the breastfeeding field.
- Collaborate with food leaders, such as the HEAL Food Alliance, Rural Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, to support strategic thinking on equity in food and farm policy, including a structural analysis of how the food system impacts communities of color.
- Support policy ideas that can help transform our food system. This includes linking Farm Bill policies to support small farmers and farmers of color to keep their land, increase access to healthy foods in urban and rural communities and include support for programs like SNAP. It also includes championing efforts by allies like the Restaurant Opportunity Center, who are spearheading efforts to raise the minimum wage.
CSI supports local innovation and connects local solutions to inform national policy discussions through:
- Communications framing and messaging support on how to talk about race effectively;
- Research on the impact of race in local and regional food systems and connected policy ideas; and
- Structural race and food system strategy sessions.
- 2014 Report – Building the Case for Racial Equity in the Food System
- 2013 Policy Opportunity Document – Immediate Policy Opportunities for an Equitable and Sustainable Food System
- 8/5/14- Women of Color Hold the Keys to Transforming the Food System
- 7/31/14- How Do We Create a Food System That Works for Everyone? Here’s How
- 2/14/14 – Living on $2.13 Per Hour
- 2/10/14 – 3 Thing You Should Also Know About the Farm Bill
- 9/23/13 – Cutting Food Stamps: Fueling Hunger, Not Solutions
- 1/3/13 – America’s Farmers Lose in Fiscal Cliff Deal
For more information on how to connect with CSI’s Food Equity work, please contact Jesse Villalobos, Coordinator of Policy and Advocacy at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 212-248-2785 x. 3287.
Presentation to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation – 5/8/2013