By Carling Sothoron, Farm Educator
April 2, 2015
Five months ago I excitedly, yet nervously walked into our classroom with a dozen middle school students about to start the first meeting of this school year’s Farm Club. It was my first week as the Education Programs Assistant at Real Food Farm and I didn’t quite know what to expect from the students and myself. By the end of our meeting, it wasn’t the students’ behavior, my teaching style or how well the lesson went that surprised me. It was a sense of discomfort, almost awkwardness and unpreparedness that I felt. I was not sure where those feelings were coming from and what they meant.
Since the shooting of Michael Brown last August, I have started to engage in difficult discussions about race with friends, to read articles on white privilege and to attend Baltimore Racial Justice Action’s monthly events. A few weeks after the Farm Club meeting I went to a talk on the “school to prison pipeline”. After reflecting on the discussions that arose from the talk, I recognized those feelings of discomfort that I felt after our first Farm Club meeting as a racial divide between me and the Farm Club students. I am a white female teaching an all-black class, a common reality in public schools throughout Baltimore and the US. Our mannerisms and language didn’t match up, and I could tell my reserved approach to facilitating was unfamiliar to them. I didn’t know how to connect with them, to relate or to understand why they were at Farm Club.
Since then, I have just begun to examine my white identity as well as the current and historical state of racial inequality in the US, especially within the education system. The community response to the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner and the hundreds of other black and brown folks who have died at the hands of police has show me that anti-racism work is not optional…it’s critical. The uprising that has ensued from these shootings coincides with the 50-year anniversary of the Selma marches and the creation of the Voting Rights Act. To me, it feels like history is being made. For some, it may be difficult to see how my position as a farm-based educator intersects with racial justice, but as a recent Food First article puts it:
“…all the organic carrots and farmers markets in the world are not going to end hunger unless we also end racism. Not just the racism inherent to our food system, but its pervasiveness in the food movement itself.” -Eric Holt-Gimenez
Real Food Farm recognizes that the highest rates of food insecurity are among black communities and that there is a correlation between diet-related diseases and access to healthy food. I felt that I owed the Farm Club students a conversation about the roots causes of food deserts before we could even begin to get our hands dirty growing and cooking food. Real Food Farm is starting to address how we as an organization, a farm, and individuals can work towards a racially just society by assessing how we contribute to the current systems of racism. We have formulated an equity plan to begin to analyze the intersection of food and race, where we fit in and how we can incorporate anti-racism work into goals. I find this work difficult and sometimes scary, but a just food system will not exist without it.