News from the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative
No. 10 | Food Sovereignty
Featuring Detroit-based Activist and Educator Malik Yakini
Recipes + Policy Briefs + ASFC Updates + Event Calendar
Collage by Eleanor Reagan
As we approach the International Day of Peasants' Struggle on April 17th, we reflect on the mission of La Via Campesina and the struggles of food system activists everywhere working towards Food Sovereignty, a term first coined by the peasant movement to mean "the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”
Food Sovereignty addresses the underlying structural causes of insecurity and therefore views the entitlement of food, land, and resources as a collective right. This is a departure from market-based approaches that maintain privatized control over production, distribution, and access to food. These oppressive tactics are not new to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), who have historically been the victims of Food Sovereignty violations. Colonial practices have long undermined the collective health of Indigenous peoples, and are still used to consolidate power.
In our feature article interviewing Malik Yakini of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), food sovereignty serves as a guiding force towards self-determination for Black communities. The struggle for self-reliance parallels that of working class Appalachians, engendered by a system of labor and environmental exploitation.
Our news briefs offer elements of Food Sovereignty principles, including the effort to democratize local control of food (Maine’s Right to Food Act) and recognizing the work and knowledge of food system actors (WSU Equity Report). Though these campaigns may offer foundations for future change, we must remain vigilant of work that doesn’t ultimately transfer power and resources from centralized institutions.
Our work at ASFC focuses on how staple crops, which dominate industrial agriculture, intersect with the enduring histories of racism, environmental degradation, and capitalist exploitation. In the face of these compounding crises, Food Sovereignty offers an adaptable framework to empower communities from the ground up.
Malik Yakini Forging Black Food Sovereignty in Detroit
DETROIT, Michigan — I met with Malik Yakini, co-founder and Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) at the organization’s office, an unassuming place tucked in among a phone repair shop and a bartending school. DBCFSN’s commitment to their projects is evident at the office: posters, jars that will one day contain D-Town Farm honey and a desk strewn with papers, a heavily marked calendar hanging above it.
Since 2008, DBCFSN has operated the seven-acre D-Town urban farm located in Detroit’s Rouge Park and has overseen the development of the Detroit Food Policy Council to create a comprehensive, community-based food security policy. They are now currently working to build the Detroit People’s Food Co-op, a community controlled grocery cooperative that will serve an urban, predominantly Black, low and moderate-income community. Yakini shared that the organization had more calls requesting information on how to start home gardens than the previous five years combined. That was April 2020.
“People were shocked by the fragility of the American food system,” said Yakini “but I think the other factor was when George Floyd was murdered.”
DBCFSN’s goals lie in the intersection of food sovereignty and racial justice, so the events of 2020 led to a massive increase in interest regarding their work. Yakini assured me this was the case with many agricultural workers across the United States.
The concept of Food Sovereignty, which focuses on the underlying structural causes of hunger, represents a pivot in the way most consumers perceive the food system. By becoming the producers of what they eat, citizens are able to resist corporate food regimes and the inequities they reinforce.
Loretta Barrett Oden's
Chef Loretta Barrett Oden of the Potawatomi Nation, is a founding member of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance and one of the chefs of the Thirty Nine Restaurant in Oklahoma City. The restaurant, located within the First Americans Museum, honors the 39 tribes in the state with ingredients sourced from First American-owned and local farms in Oklahoma and the surrounding states.
Barrett describes her recipes as "pretty much pre-contact foods with a few sprinkles of modern-day ingredients" as reflected in the restaurant's Hominy Stew recipe which features turkey, hominy (corn kernels soaked in an alkali solution), and tomatoes.
Sophia Roe's Beluga Lentil and Root Vegetable Slaw
This colorful vegan slaw recipe is from the Emmy nominated chef and wellness advocate Sophia Roe. Mix and match crunchy vegetables, fresh fruits, and even your spring greens in this customizable dish. Black lentils, or beluga lentils, are a versatile meal-prep staple that maintain their shape better than their green or red counterparts and are packed with protein!
In addition to sharing plant-based recipes on her Instagram, Roe also produces and hosts a culinary news show titled Counter Space that delves into the cultural and political importance of food across the globe.
Photo By Emma Fishman, Food Styling By Adriana Paschen, Prop Styling By Elizabeth Jaime
Collage by Eleanor Reagan
Washington State University Publishes Food System Equity Report Conducted by BIPOC Leadership Team
Washington State University (WSU) Food Systems Program was commissioned by the Washington State Department of Agriculture in August of 2021 to identify and report the disproportionate impacts of food system disruptions on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, titled Assessing WA Food Systems Through an Equity Lens, was led by a BIPOC leadership team that conducted literature reviews, community surveys, and a SWOT analysis to assess the needs, strengths, and weaknesses of the state’s food system before and during COVID-19. The findings demonstrate how institutional and systemic racism “limit the leadership of BIPOC communities, constraining communities’ access to food, capital, data, time, and structural essentials necessary to thrive.” With little government support, BIPOC leaders have historically leveraged their community engagement and knowledge to bridge the gap.
The report is intended to help inform future farm infrastructure grants and public investment plans in the coming years and has already received attention from national agencies since its publication in November 2021. The report’s conclusions have also garnered criticism from those unwilling to accept the white supremacist underpinnings of our nation’s food system. A month after publication, the WSU School of Agriculture distanced itself from the findings by issuing a disclosure stating that the report “does not necessarily represent the views or policies of WSDA or WSU.”
Mercy Kariuki-McGee, the study’s project leader and founder of Haki Farmers Collective of Olympia, Washington, says that the disclosure destroys any trust that BIPOC have built with those in the position to effect change in our food system.
“The racial and socio-economic disparities that the study revealed are nothing that those in the food, health, education and justice systems don’t already know” says Kariuki-McGee. “The impacts that we saw during COVID-19 were all related to race and socio-economics and the pandemic only worsened these disparities.”
Kariuki-McGee believes the report has the potential to actualize food justice as long as leadership embraces racial equity as a critical tool and better partners with BIPOC at every level. Otherwise, she adds, “BIPOC are simply included as tokens in a mediocre effort to show equity.”
Maine Passes Nation's First Right to Food Amendment
Voters in Maine passed the nation’s first constitutional right to food amendment in November of 2021, granting local producers more agency to determine how their food is grown, sold, and distributed. The law, which builds on the 2017 Food Sovereignty Act, states that “all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce, and consume the food of their choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health, and well-being”.
The amendment represents a significant milestone towards food sovereignty in the state but it remains unclear how the change will affect existing laws and regulations. Supporters of the amendment see the legislation as a victory for small farmers struggling to compete with large-scale corporate agribusinesses. Those in opposition, including the Maine Farm Bureau and the Maine Veterinary Medical Association, cite the law’s ambiguous language as a threat to food safety, animal welfare, and environmental protections. Though it remains unclear how these laws will tangibly achieve food sovereignty for those without access to capital and land, the amendment offers a foundation for future legislation.
Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative News
New Grant will Value Add Culinary Chestnuts Seconds through the Development of a Marketable Fine Flour
The Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative, under Rural Action, will partner with three farmers from the Route 9 Chestnut Cooperative and Shagbark Seed & Mill to develop value-added fine chestnut flour that can be marketed to our region’s bakeries, restaurants and retail markets.
The demand for culinary chestnuts far exceeds the supply from our region. However, chestnut farmers from the Route 9 Chestnut Cooperative report that up to 20% of their harvest is Grade B (up to 20,000 lbs.) and therefore unsellable as fresh chestnuts. Starting this month, the grant will allow us to research and develop a system for drying and milling Grade B chestnuts into a fine flour.
We'll be hosting two field days at Route 9 to gather producers and customers to learn about value-added products and chestnut potential. Reach out if you're interested in participating!
Photos courtesy of Route 9 Chestnut Cooperative
Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance hiring for a Health and Justice Coordinator
Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, a member of our North American Staples Network (NASN), is hiring a remote position to lead organizational health and justice at the Colorado based seed stewardship organization. To apply, please send a cover letter and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 15th.
Cascadia Grains hosts an open source group call on the first Wednesdays of the month from 12 pm - 1 pm EST January, April, July, and October to discuss regional grain work. Everyone is welcome to announce projects, upcoming events, or general ideas.
Information shared on the calls will be recorded and available on their website.
Sign up for their calls here!
Women Working for the Earth Summit
The Food Sovereignty Symposium & Festival
The Food Sovereignty Symposium & Festival, originally scheduled for September 2021, will be a hybrid event from May 20-22, 2022 at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan.
The event offers presentations on Indigenous studies including farming practices, decolonizing methodologies, histories of native food systems and also includes samplings of Native American cuisine.
Check out an overview of the 2017 symposium held in Madison, Wisconsin here!
Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice: Grain School
Food Sovereignty: A Growing Movement, All my Relations Podcast
We all got to eat. But how are we eating? Or better, what are we eating? And how has colonization disrupted our relationship with our traditional foods?
"COVID-19, Agroecology and Food Sovereignty: Webinar"
This seminar discusses the perspectives on agroecology and food sovereignty of the Landworkers’ Alliance in the UK and the ATC in Nicaragua and why international solidarity is so critical in these times of profound change.
Build social solidarity not charity! Support horizontal networks of cooperation by sharing resources with organizations on the frontlines of food sovereignty work. Our newest section will feature opportunities to fund grassroots organizations related to the newsletter theme.
Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
As mentioned in our newsletter feature with Malik Yakini, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) was formed in 2006 "to address food insecurity in Detroit’s Black community and to organize members of that community to play a more active leadership role in the local food security movement". The Black-led organization centers community self-reliance through their work establishing an urban farm and co-oop, organizing educational and youth programs, and participating in policy development. They also host a DBCFSN Sustainer Program that provides long-term mutual aid to the organization.
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