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Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Lack of Diversity in Breastfeeding Leadership Means Developing Our Own

In leadership there is the talking and there is the “being.” That is, who you are as a leader or leadership group speaks as much about your mission, core values and purpose as any written or spoken words.  This holds true in the “first food” movement just as for any other. In order to be truly effective, the leadership “being” among advocates and policy makers must be aligned with its stated goals. 

Lately, there has been much conversation about the 40-year long disparity between African American breastfeeding rates and that of non-Hispanic white women. The good news is, a new CDC report shows the gap is narrowing from 24 percentage points between the two groups in 2000 to 16 percentage points in 2008.

Such an improvement is noteworthy. But if the U.S. breastfeeding leadership really wants to close the racial disparity in breastfeeding rates, then the first place it must look is in the mirror. The first group it must evaluate is itself. How can we say racial parity is our goal if it doesn’t even exist among the leadership of the movement?

As we embark on innovative and more community-focused approaches to closing the breastfeeding gap, we need more black and brown faces at the table shaping policy, developing programming and spearheading culturally relevant outreach into our communities.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Funders, Kill the Project Model

As the movement for healthy, sustainable, fair food expands to include visions for low-wage workers and low-wage consumers, the leadership of the movement should likewise expand.  Sustainable food advocates still struggle (consciously or not) with the politics of race and class, and like it or not, these struggles won’t dissipate simply by hiring a diversity consultant and following their prescription for multiculturalism.

To be sure, our work must be guided by critical internal reflection if we are to be effective. At the same time we must avoid extended periods of navel-gazing.  Instead of meeting for an annual hand-wringing, the sustainable food movement needs practical ideas that will move us forward while keeping our political practices in check.  One place to take action is funding.

How?  The idea is simple: Funders, kill the project model.

My proposal is informed by a decade of working alongside grassroots communities struggling for survival domestically and internationally, within and outside of the food movement.  The strategy has two basic steps:  

1)   Kill the project model.  Make long-term funding commitments to organizations and institutions that are driving community-led transformational efforts.

2)   Look beyond advocacy to addressing root causes....

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Faces Like Mine: Developing Young African American Food Movement Leaders

The good food movement seems to have no shortage of young people who are willing to step up into its leadership positions. Traveling the country to various food movement conferences and locations has shown me that many young people are not blind to the health problems and unfairness of our current food system.  And many organizations are reaching out to engage or involved young people specifically.

But in my travels, I could not help but notice the lack of faces like mine; young and African American.

Don’t get me wrong. The pot is not completely empty by any means. There are young African Americans who are doing amazing work as leaders/pioneers within the food movement. Haile Johnston is working to create food access solutions that make good food available to his community as Founder and Co-Director of the Common Market in Philadelphia. Bryant Terry is a nationally recognized eco chef, author and food justice activist. In 2001, he founded b-healthy! (Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth), a five-year initiative created to raise awareness about food justice issues and empower youth to be active in creating a more just and sustainable food system.

There are countless more young African Americans that care about what they and their communities eat. I have talked to numerous young black people like myself that...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Invest in Leaders of Color

As we near the close of our two-year Food and Community Fellowship, I have been reflecting on this extraordinary opportunity for personal development and the possibility that there will not be a next class of fellows. Within individuals and communities, leadership develops as an evolution of thought and practice. Just like good food or anything that grows, good leadership requires nurture and investment.  If our children, communities, food systems, cultures and nation are to grow in a more positive direction, we must find the will to invest in the development of diverse and visionary leaders.

A recent invitation to share my experience in community development and revitalization caused me to reflect on my own growth as a leader.  About ten years ago, the Mayor’s “Neighborhood Transformation Initiative” bulldozers came to “remove blight” from my block in Strawberry Mansion, north Philadelphia.   Buildings came down throughout our low-income, African American community and left vacant lots and blank plaster walls where venerable townhomes once stood.  Many of our neighbors had become anesthetized to our common condition and the deterioration around us.  Blight had become our normal but nonetheless we were activated! 

After sharing our story, I was asked how one becomes a community leader as a relatively new resident of a neighborhood.  The question made me...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Reinvent the Leadership "Table"

In conversing about race, equity, leadership and the future of the food movement, a question was posed to me - “What would it feel like to be at the table?” My gut reaction to that question was a profound disinterest in “the table.”

Firstly, the mere fact that an invitation needs to be extended indicates that the table is not ours to begin with. The “melting pot” fantasy is still just that when it comes to true power and leadership in this country. There is no collective table. And when you sit at someone else's table, the unspoken expectation is that you play by their rules, that you don't rock the boat too much. We very often find that even when our leadership looks like us, change still happens slowly or not at all.

Secondly, I question the foundation of the table, the sturdiness of its legs, whether the material is sustainable and fair trade. Our current food system is simply a microcosm of a greater corrupted US system, which has a firm footing in white supremist imperialism. This has resulted in a country where most farmworkers earn less than $12,000 a year and over half are unauthorized immigrants and therefore vulnerable to mistreatment; where 17.2 million households are...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

More Guides, Fewer Bosses

‘You suffer from the oldest delusion in politics. You think you can change the world by talking to a leader. Leaders are the effects, not the causes, of changes’ – Alasdair Gray, Lanark

I need to make my peace with leaders. I first came across them in the education system, and was unimpressed. They were school bullies. Surrounded by admirers and aspirers, they had their cliques and cults of personality and power. Whether in the playground, or the teachers’ staff room, it seemed clear that these individuals were best avoided.

Stranger still, as I moved through the course of secondary education, were those fellow students who sought leadership not through physical violence or intimidation, but political jockeying. Although hailing from the US and set in a co-ed school, Election’s antagonist, Tracy Flick was a familiar figure in my British boy’s school.

The hack –the British term for a transparent political operative trying to climb the establishment ladder- makes my skin crawl. They embody the worst of leadership. Power hungry, manipulative, self-interested, untrustworthy, yearning to summit the establishment rather than overturn it. These are clubbable people in every sense of the word. They are the ones I imagine constituting the core readership of the books filling airport convenience store shelves, books on the habits of effective...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sharing Our Stories, Listening for Equity

So many initiatives are underway in the movement towards rebuilding a food system that is just as well as socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.  Community gardens, edible education programs, food publications and documentaries are telling stories and reconstructing the social fabric of our food system.  Food policy groups across the country are bringing people together to strategize approaches that address community food insecurities and strengthen local economies.  I believe that our food system is intertwined with our health, values, cultures and identity and therefore changing this system holds the potential for multiple ripple effects to happen in social change on many levels.

Last year I was asked to join the Puget Sound's Regional Food Policy Council as the representative for my community, the Muckleshoot Tribe.  Our monthly meetings are open to the public and include fascinating presentations on research to support food system contributors like famers markets and small urban farms.  The Council’s mission is to “develop just and integrated policy and action recommendations that promote health, sustain and strengthen the local and regional food system.”  So far, these meetings have really helped me to think beyond food policy and more about the process of group...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Want a Better Food System? Help Young People Grow.

One of my greatest joys is watching young people bloom. In my professional life, I am a fortunate witness to this every day. I see the happiness that comes when kids plant seeds for the first time, or taste turnips that they grew themselves, and the confidence that builds in our youngservice members as they become teachers and role models for other youth.

I draw strength from these moments, because when I reflect on the world that young people are inheriting, it can really terrify me. Ecological disaster, climbing obesity rates, impending resource depletion and climate change…it’s a world in crisis. And, youth are directly impacted by this crisis. One in three children and teens are overweight or obese, and they are part of a generation that is likely to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

The work needed to reverse these trends is enormous, and requires not only a multigenerational approach, but also opportunities for young people to be part of the solutions.

I serve as the Farm to School Director atLa Semilla Food Center, a young, community-based organization in southern New Mexico that I co-founded.  La Semilla (the seed) works to foster a local food system that reflects our values and prioritizes community health. Our...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Building a Racially Just Food Movement

The food movement is at a critical moment.  With the changing landscape created by the demise of the Community Food Security Coalition, many questions are being asked about the direction and leadership of the "good food revolution." Foremost among those questions is how do we create a racially just movement in the United States that is led by African Americans, other People of Color, and progressive whites committed to working on elimination of both systemic racism and their own personal racism? 

The system of white supremacy is pervasive in American society.  It results in inequities in education, the criminal justice system, wealth, health, and food access. There continues to be a wide gap between African-Americans and whites in all of the metrics of the quality of life.  Schools throughout America continue to teach from a Euro-centric perspective, which puts the history and cultures of Western Europeans and their descendants at the center and marginalizes the experiences of everyone else.  White skin continues to confer unearned privilege in America and much of the world.  Racism is one of the defining characteristics of American life. 

Because we live in a system of unbridled capitalism, there continue to be sharp divides based on income and wealth.  The wealthiest 1% of the population continues to accumulate obscene...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Whither the Good Food Movement?

The good food movement, which has grown so much in recent years that it now has its own exhibit atthe Smithsonian and a group ofSenators that hate it, is in a leadership crisis. Its leadership circle looks more like the Tea Party than the American populace, which hints at  deeper problems.

The problem is not just the skin color of those in charge (although considering how America began, that matters too). It’s also about the priorities we choose to make. Are languages other than English included in conferences and forums? (Minnesota Food Association does it, but few others do). Are people of color clustered at low-level jobs but absent from management? (I regret to report thatPepsico seems to be further along in dealing with this problem than many food organizations). Does stop-and-frisk of young men of color relate to food? (somethoughtful chefs say yes).

How to solve this? “If you see a short tree, don’...

Meet the Fellows

Don Bustos

Don Bustos is a traditional farmer working on issues of land and water rights using community-based approaches and farmer to farmer training.

Ideas in focus

Cultivating Leadership and Equity in the Food Movement

April 2013

The IATP Food and Community Fellows Program is coming to an end, but it's springtime for our work growing equity in the food system and cultivating diverse leadership in the movement.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

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