by Carolina Mueller
The Texas Center for Local Food invited Carolina Mueller to share her impressions of the training in support of our collective work to create anti-racist food systems in Texas. We are grateful for her willingness to share. Carolina is a food systems practitioner, part-time farmer and full-time graduate student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Carolina is the volunteer President of the Central Texas Young Farmers Coalition. Over the past decade, Carolina has worked in a number of positions all along the food chain. Her work in food spans from the big-picture national policies down to the personal experiences of individuals and communities.
In August 2020, I had the pleasure of attending the Uprooting Racism in the Food System training organized by Soul Fire Farm. I would like to share some of my experiences and takeaways from this training in the hopes that it contributes to the formation of a collective learning community that explores the effects of race, class and power in food. Food Justice and equity are phrases that many of us have been thinking and talking about recently as we consider how to fix our very violent food system. Two questions that I keep asking myself are: 1) what is equity really and truly in food systems and 2) how are we embodying it in our work? Sprinkled throughout, you will see more questions that I ask myself and ask you. The Soul Fire Farm training helped me get closer to answering these questions through historical education, poetry, personal reflection in addition to sharing tools and action items.
The training began by setting expectations that we would not expect to solve anything in these three hours. I appreciated the acknowledgment that centuries of harm won’t be solved in just one training. This was followed by calling in our ancestors, someone who came before us who we carry in our lives and work. For me it was my paternal grandmother, Ingeborg Keller, who passed when I was just a baby but is my closest familial connection to food production. The summoning of over 130 other names was such a powerful place to start and to acknowledge that the past is present. It also awakened in me the desire to dig more deeply into how those who lived before me have gotten me to where I am now. Who came before you that you want to learn more about? How does their life, personality or values connect to you?
Next, we moved on to a brief but important history lesson to contextualize how our (not broken, functioning just as it was built to) food system came to be. I learned about the Discovery Doctrine and The Tuskegee Institute Movable School established by Booker T. Washington. The Discovery Doctrine is the idea that European monarchies have a right to colonize and claim land in the name of spreading christianity. This notion, upheld by Justice John Marshall in the Supreme Court in 1823 (spoiler alert: Marshall owned land that he would have lost claims to without this decision) is the toxic sludge from which our current food system emerged. This is just one example of our messed up history, but we didn’t only focus on what was wrong with our history. Another big focus of what we learned was the notion of Indigenous and Black joy, resistance and resilience against the system of White Supremacy, like the Tuskegee Institute Movable School. I was in awe that those kidnapped and enslaved had the foresight, imagination and hope to braid seeds into hair, bringing with them the potential to plant a new future. If we let ourselves dream and imagine, what kind of food system could we create?
One of the tools that we were provided was a rubric to evaluate to what extent our organizations are complicit with the culture of White supremacy. Having worked in food nonprofits my whole career, this rubric really illuminated just how far the Central Texas food and farming community has to go. We could all benefit from this kind of critical introspection, and I urge our predominantly White nonprofit community to consider this training and apply the rubric to their work. Then, after finding opportunities for growth, making those shifts in leadership, power and vision. Who is allowed to be seen as a leader? How does current leadership make power or take power in our community? Equity is more than a buzzword that organizations can drop into a mission statement or a job title; in order to have any meaning at all, it must be anchored in the desire to radically upend how we structure our work. That work will need to happen inside of us, inside of our organizations and inside of our larger communities.
Whether you are acting as an individual, a farm or an organization, here are some action items from Soul Fire Farm that you can explore, reflect on and manifest. Below are the action items that stood out most to me.
- Reparations: person-to-person reparations
- Policy: Fairness for Farmworkers (HR 40) and Breathe Act
- Rematriation: Returning land
- Solidarity shares: CSA sliding scale option
- Divest/invest: supporting farms, businesses, organizations, institutions advancing food justice
- Create good jobs and hire equitably