Featuring Farmers of Color: The Color of Food


I will always remember the moment I realized I had to become a storyteller. More specifically, the moment when I knew I had to tell these stories. It was when I realized I could never eat okra the same way again; At least not in the blissful, greasy ignorance which I always had. Biting into that green, fried deliciousness now, I know that its tiny, easy-to-miss seeds have a long, hard-to-swallow story.

Ripped from the earth and clenched in tight fists, my seeds once sat hot and mixed in with the sweat and blood lining the palms of my ancestors.  Crushed in their hands as they boarded ships, my seeds were gathered in sheer panic, maybe a bewildered desperation to bring a piece of home, but mostly in a sole attempt to stave off starvation.

Braided in the hair of strong African women, my seeds traveled across the ocean to this land. Once planted back in the earth, resilience manifested their growth and these seeds fed my people in secret all over slave plantations in the South.

Today many Black farmers still grow acres of okra (or Gumbo from kingombo in Bantu languages) to feed communities and sustain the agriculture that has been in their blood for generations.

This is just one example of one seed’s story. One of thousands of stories that tells the history and reveals the culture that really lies behind our agriculture.

So I haven’t stopped at okra. I can’t eat anything now without thinking about these stories; these deeply woven stories of race and food that make up our agricultural system.

This is how I came to start the COLOR of FOOD: a photographic documentary telling the stories of farmers of color.

As a brown girl farming myself, I am drawn to exploring not only the stories behind our food and the farmers that grow it, but also the concerning direction I can see the food system and subsequent food movement heading: down a path leaving these untold stories behind and the voices of Black farmers, Indigenous farmers, and Latino and Asian farmers out of the dialogue.

This will only perpetuate the injustice in our nation’s history.  It already has, as we can see today in the large gaps of disparity around food access and health in communities of color. Not to mention the land loss and discrimination farmers of color have had to bear for decades.

This thread runs through the stories of farmers of color around the world and throughout history, with accounts of land grabs, corrupt trade agreements putting farmers out of work and farm workers enduring modern day slavery.

But I am not a glutton for pain and suffering. I don’t just cry tears into my okra for all the struggles of Black and Brown farmers around the world.  I shine in the resilience of my people.  I am striving to preserve, share and amplify the knowledge, tradition and successes that farmers of color carry, while also working to connect and highlight farmers and food leaders of color across the globe.

The COLOR of FOOD includes the documentary as well as a directory and mapping initiative which lists and locates farmers and people of color that have been holding it down in their communities. These folks have been working to revolutionize the food system before “food justice” started trending on Twitter, so I’d say it’s about time they were heard loud and clear.

I am currently fundraising on Indie GoGo to make this documentary a reality. Please donate now to help make these voices heard. It takes a community.

To the entire beautiful rainbow of farmers, thanks for inspiring me…and making my food taste that much better.

Watch a clip from the film here:

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  1. Friday, November 4th, 2011
    While I applaud you for your efforts, I do wonder if making the skin color of farmers an issue these days - even with the best intentions - isn't actually a step backward.

    Personally I couldn't care less what if the person I buy my lettuce from is white, brown, black, yellow or red - what counts for me is the quality of the product.
  2. natasha
    Monday, November 7th, 2011
    For one, it is not this article or my writing of it that is "making the skin color of farmers an issue" it is the still standing oppressive structure woven through every thread of this society from 1492 to present that makes skin color an "issue".

    Secondly, one of the problems with racial issues in this country is people who think "these days" we are beyond race, and therefore think talking about it is moving backwards. If you are not doing yourself the service of reading about what is going on today in issues of immigration, food access, health disparities, job loss, land loss, police brutality, incarceration....or if you are reading all of that and thinking we are beyond race, you have to open up your eyes.

    Finally, maybe you don't care what color your farmer's skin is. But when I see that the average Black farmer is making far less, losing far more land and having twice as hard a time getting loans as his white counterpart, though their product quality is equal, I choose to support the Black farmer.
  3. Stephen
    Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
    The history of slavery, segregation, land grabs, wage slavery, and other injustice are very real. Moreover, as you mentioned racial injustice has been horrendous to not only those of African heritage but to those of Asian, Native American, Mestizo, and other heritages. Two principal injustices remain, unequal funding and quality for K12 schools and the lack of affordability of higher education. While racial inequality exists, the main inequality problem today is not a racial ceiling but a ceiling for the poor. That injustice must be fought. Also, the true instances of racism ought to be fought. And yet, that distinctly American belief in success built on hardwork and persistence may live. Asian Americans, and other minority groups to a lesser degree, are proving that to be true through success at making it to university, finding a livelihood, and
    creating strong family networks. Remember the history, yes, and work at your craft for the good of your family, community, country, and world!
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