While Juneteenth – a day of celebration for the end of slavery – is now a federal holiday, the struggle for justice, human rights, and freedom continues. Dismantling systemic racism requires a radical transformation of our society, including the ways in which we grow our food.
No institution has been marked more profoundly by this country’s history and legacy of slavery than agriculture. The American model of plantation agriculture – which focuses on raising a single cash crop on a large-scale – was made possible only by the enslavement and exploitation of millions of Africans, and of course, the theft of land from indigenous peoples. Plantation agriculture continues to this day on the backs of millions of migrant workers who work for little pay and with almost no legal protections. The work is also hazardous: the average life expectancy for a farmworker today in the United States is 49, due to working around heavy machinery, in extreme heat, and with regular exposure to toxic pesticides.
At the same time, agribusiness corporations – which uphold and profit off of monocropping – are growing bigger by the day. As the economy restructures following the financial crisis of 2008 and now the recession caused by the pandemic, more and more Wall Street companies are moving into agriculture and buying up farmland.
The expansion of corporate control is deepening land injustice across the U.S. Today, almost 98% of rural land is owned by white people, and very few farmworkers have any path to acquire land of their own.
That is why, in our five principles for a Just Transition in Agriculture, we call for a model of agriculture that will:
- Ensure food producers earn a fair livelihood through fair prices and fair wages that bring ‘more hands onto the land’.
- Repair the disproportionate injustice done to, and recognize the leadership and solutions coming from, black, indigenous, and people of color communities.
We are proud to share two videos that we produced in partnership with the National Family Farm Coalition as part of their landmark Disparity to Parity project. The videos show that not only do corporations need to pay farmers fairly, but Black farmers and farmworkers also need land protections and programs to help address the long history of land loss and theft in the United States.
Though slavery was officially abolished over 150 years ago, the brutal system of plantation agriculture is still alive and well. It is critical that as we talk about making agriculture sustainable, we also ensure that agriculture is just.