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Push to Reform Food Sector Through BIPOC, Immigrant-Owned Cooperatives


Wednesday, September 28, 2022   

As more farm and food cooperatives pop up across North Carolina, advocates say they are creating a new model for food distribution and landownership that addresses long-standing inequities.

Today, white Americans own and operate 94% of all U.S. farmland. Indigenous people and those of color are less likely to be able to generate farm-related wealth, and more likely to be farm laborers. Meanwhile, the pandemic, inflation, and climate change continue to threaten the safety of food-industry workers, as well as food security overall.

Executive Director of the HEAL Food Alliance, Navina Khanna, argues the nation's industrial food system operates largely on a system of unfair labor.

"There are communities that are most hard hit," Khanna said, "whether that's migrant farmworkers, or folks who are working in meatpacking plants and being exploited by their employers."

But Khanna said BIPOC and immigrant-owned food and farm cooperatives are changing how food is produced across North Carolina. She points to cooperatives like Tierra Fértil -- a Hispanic, worker-owned cooperative in Hendersonville -- as an example of how critical land ownership is to equalizing the agricultural sector.

State and national advocates are looking toward locally-owned cooperatives as a way to boost land-ownership and wealth creation among historically marginalized communities.

Suparna Kudesia is known as the choreographer of collective change at the COFED Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive, which provides funding to BIPOC youth nationwide who are working in coops. Kudesia calls for philanthropic dollars focused on agriculture to prioritize Black and Brown local farm and food initiatives in the South, and especially those in the start-up phases.

"Specifically, the work that we've seen in North Carolina," Kudesia noted. "There are a number of Black and Brown-owned, worker-owned food and land cooperatives in North Carolina that are up and coming."

According to a report from the National Young Farmers Coalition, the number of young people of color interested in farming has increased, but access to high-quality farmland is their one number barrier.

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