Racial Equity Statement of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
The MSU Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) recognizes that racism in the food system is historic, ongoing, and systemic. As we collaborate with partners to advance food systems rooted in local regions and centered on food that is healthy, green, fair, and affordable, we are striving to embed racial equity as foundational to our work.
Racial equity is an action and an outcome.1 By removing barriers, procedures, and policies that harm people of color, all people have the opportunity to achieve their full potential and participate in shaping the future. We can only advance a good food system through critical self-reflection, empathetic dialogue, authentic collaboration, accountability, and systemic change.
Our Intent and Our Impact
This statement intends to make explicit our organization's values, commitment, and work as we advance just and equitable regional food systems that are anti-racist. We work to build multiracial, connected partnerships centered on shared power and transformation. We hope that this will encourage other organizations to do the same.
This statement and this work are part of an evolving process for our organization and for each of us personally. Our understanding is shaped by the changing perspectives, cultures, struggles, and triumphs of the people carrying the work forward. We will be changing throughout this process and we know we will make mistakes along the way.
Our staff is currently in the process of reviewing this statement, as of December 2023. We would be grateful to receive feedback at any time via email at email@example.com or phone 517-353-3535.
Why Embed Racial Equity?
There are many dimensions of equity. By definition, equity implies that everyone has what they need to participate, prosper, and make decisions to reach their full potential regardless of differences, including class, disability, gender, and race.
We are focusing on racial equity because it addresses broad and ever-present barriers to an equitable food system.2 Many definitions exist for racial equity. We define racial equity as all people having what they need to thrive regardless of race and ethnicity. Our nation’s past and present racist practices require that we embed racial equity in our work.
Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)3 disproportionately face limited access to healthy food,4 increased risk of diet-related chronic disease,5 and additional barriers to owning a farm or food business in comparison to White people.6 These realities are in large part due to historical and current race-based systemic oppression and discrimination.
A good food system is only possible with equitable access to resources and equitable outcomes for health, education, and economic opportunity. By removing racist barriers, procedures, and policies that harm people of color, we can achieve a food system that has overcome structural racism so that everyone can access healthy food, the land to grow that food, and other resources needed to supply healthy food.7, 8 Therefore, addressing racism is foundational to our work.
BIPOC have built and shaped the food system in the United States. Black people created the wealth of this country through their agricultural labor.9 The majority of farmworkers today are Hispanic or Latino/-x; they produce and harvest much of the food we eat.10 People of color have been and continue to be vital leaders in the movement toward just and equitable food systems.
White people have a necessary role to play in achieving a just and equitable food system. Through continued self reflection, learning, and action, White people can make racial equity an ongoing, integral part of their lives.
Dismantling racism in the food system opens up more opportunities to all people: fewer barriers to access (of food, land, education, etc.), improved health, increased collaboration, more environmental and economic sustainability, and many more outcomes that benefit wellbeing.
Racial Inequity and Recent Events
The events of 2020 impacted Black, Indigenous, and people of color disproportionately and clearly illustrated the compounding effects of systemic racism. The ongoing racist killings of Black community members resulted in international protest. The coronavirus pandemic has drawn attention to health disparities harming BIPOC communities. Racism has now been recognized as a public health crisis in many cities and states. Altogether, these events have worsened the existing and avoidable disparities in health and quality of life that make it harder for BIPOC to grow, learn, live, work, and age compared to White people.11
Among these racially driven inequities, the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the failures of our food system. Due to inequitable power distribution, opportunities for BIPOC to influence and shape our food systems are often limited. For instance, farms and food businesses owned by BIPOC have faced great difficulty obtaining financial relief both before and especially during the pandemic. These disparities have highlighted many issues within our food system that perpetuate injustice and inequity.
Our team at CRFS wants to be part of the solutions. We commit to embedding a racial equity lens in our work and disrupting places and spaces that are not yet recognizing racial inequity as an issue in our food system.
Land Grant Universities and Systemic Racism
It is essential to recognize that the Center’s position within Michigan State University, a land-grant university, informs our past, current, and future work.12 Land-grant universities were established under the premise of benefiting all people, but they have not fulfilled that mission. Land-grant universities benefited from the systematic seizure and dispossession of land from Native Americans, and the federal government’s support of the land-grant movement played a part in relentless westward expansion.13
One clear example of how systemic racism is embedded within higher education is the disparity in funding and capacity across the 1862 (White-led), 1890 (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and 1994 (Tribal Colleges and Universities) land-grant institutions as well as Hispanic Serving Higher Education Institutions.14 As part of Michigan State University, an 1862 land-grant institution, we must redouble our efforts to develop partnerships that are based on trust and an authentic sharing of power and resources.
Our challenge is to better understand and address the impact of the land-grant system historically and currently. Institutions of higher education contribute to systems of privilege, holding power that must be harnessed to dismantle racism and inequity.
It was important for the Center to re-examine and re-state its values in order to ensure equity is at the heart of our work and not an add-on. We redeveloped our values statement early in 2021 and share them here as part of our racial equity statement:
- Collaboration: Food systems are more resilient and inclusive when we collaborate. We actively work with community partners, food systems stakeholders, and public and private organizations to achieve our collective goals.
- Shared Vision: Communities are powerful and effective visionaries for their local and regional food systems. There is greater power for innovation and systemic change when diverse partners create a shared vision that is based on a common understanding of complex problems and common goals for addressing these problems.
- Place: A sense of place meaningfully connects communities to the local and regional food system through the cultural, social and economic practices of food production, distribution, sales and consumption. We strive to honor all experiences of place in order to achieve a more just and equitable food system.
- Equity: We support shifting power to systems that make healthy food accessible by promoting local ownership of community assets, such as businesses and land. Systems that allow people to make decisions for themselves and their communities are our focus.
- Accountability: We value and build trust with our partners and the communities we work with by holding space for reflection and feedback and by being transparent, reliable and committed to one another. We follow through, we invite feedback, and take responsibility for how our work and actions affect our colleagues, partners, stakeholders, funders and the University.
We commit to advancing just and equitable regional food systems that overcome and transcend racism. This means we have responsibilities to:
- Take steps to ensure that Center personnel and partners are reflective of the communities in which we work.
- Prioritize racial equity in our strategic planning and staff plans of work.
- Become a more effective and authentic partner to organizations led by food justice advocates, farmers/ranchers of color, and farm and food worker organizations, among others.
- Collaborate across systems, including health, education, and others to effect lasting change.
- Respect communities of color as leaders, formulators of critical questions and solutions, and producers of knowledge.
- Practice empathetic listening and seek to understand feedback so we may strengthen our framework and strategies in this ongoing process.
- Dismantle barriers and strengthen pathways to equitable collaboration, participation, and leadership that includes people of color.
- Co-create an ongoing dialogue to explore and address critical issues of food systems, including racism and white supremacy culture, and work to create solutions in partnerships of accountability.
A Note on Language
We recognize the language in this statement may be unfamiliar to some. If you would like to learn more about the words and concepts we have referenced, we invite you to explore the following resources:
- The Annie E. Casey Foundation Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide’s “core concepts” (page 5)
- Racial Equity Tools Glossary
Additionally, if you find anything in the language we used problematic, please get in touch. We are always looking to learn.
We wish to thank the trusted partners whose feedback helped shape this document.
In addition, the following groups’ statements on racial equity particularly inspired us as we created our own:
Center for Environmental Farming Systems
Center for Health Progress
Inter-Institutional Network for Food, Agriculture, and Sustainability
Michigan League for Public Policy
National Farm to School Network
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Rainforest Action Network
Some Actions We Are Taking
We feel it is important to share some examples of how we are advancing racial equity in our work and as individuals. We hope this will encourage other organizations to do and share their own work. As a community of food system organizations, we can inspire each other to action. We recognize this is ongoing work and we still have a long way to go.
We Strive to Prioritize Racial Equity in All CRFS Activities
Through our food systems research, outreach, and education, we work to increase awareness and understanding of historic and ongoing racism. We have established objectives in our strategic plan that help us embed the pursuit of racial equity in our organizational culture and structure. We share the following examples of initial steps in order to be transparent.
We are developing a research portfolio that helps benchmark equitable good food systems change.
Our publication, “Measuring Racial Equity in the Food System: Established and Suggested Metrics,” is a tool for food systems practitioners to hold ourselves accountable to progress towards racial equity.
Another publication, “An Annotated Bibliography on Structural Racism Present in the U.S. Food System,” crowdsources references in an ever-growing listing of literature that links the social construction of whiteness and its intentional or consequential impact on structural racism within the United States’ food movement. A 9th edition of the bibliography will be published in 2022. We expect this edition to feature more than 500 citations.
"Delivering More Than Food: Understanding and Operationalizing Racial Equity in Food Hubs" offers a look at how U.S.-based food hubs understand engagement in racial equity work. These findings are a resource for food hubs as well as those who study them and provide technical and financial assistance to them.
We are increasing our understanding of racial equity in food systems.
All CRFS staff include racial equity learning opportunities in our plans of work and annual professional development.
We are co-organizers of a nation-wide Racial Equity in the Food System Workgroup. Co-founded in 2018, this dynamic group of Cooperative Extension professionals, food systems educators, and community stakeholders is working to connect, learn, and collaborate to use a racial equity lens in all aspects of their work.
We are working to ensure the Center is reflective of the communities in which we work.
We are examining our hiring processes to ensure that opportunities at CRFS are shared with a diverse pool of candidates.
We are engaged in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and practices at the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and MSU Extension.
We are working to inform state and federal policy.
We are collaborating with partners throughout the state to develop the next iteration of the Michigan Good Food Charter. Advancing equity and dismantling racism are a central focus of this process.
This statement was originally published in December 2019.
1"What is Racial Equity?” Center for Social Inclusion. Retrieved from https://www.centerforsocialinclusion.org/our-work/what-is-racial-equity/
2“Food Equity.” Center for Social Inclusion. Retrieved from https://www.centerforsocialinclusion.org/our-work/our-programs/food-equity/
3We recognize that the term BIPOC is imperfect. We are using it to recognize that Black and Indigenous peoples have a “unique relationship to whiteness...which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context." Retrieved from https://www.thebipocproject.org/
4"Hopkins Study Examines Racial, Economic Disparities in Access to Healthy Food.” Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved from https://hub.jhu.edu/2013/12/09/race-and-health-food-access/
5"The Devastating Consequences of Unequal Food Access.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved from https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2016/04/ucs-race-income-diabetes-2016.pdf
6"Building the Case for Racial Equity in the Food System.” Center for Social Inclusion. Retrieved from https://www.centerforsocialinclusion.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Building-the-Case-for-Racial-Equity-in-the-Food-System.pdf
7Race is “[a] social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time. Racial categories subsume ethnic groups.” Retrieved from Adams, M., Bell, L., and Griffin, P. (Eds.). (2007). Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. Routledge.
9Nikole Hannah Jones writes, “Before the abolishment of the international slave trade, 400,000 enslaved Africans would be sold into America. Those individuals and their descendants transformed the lands to which they’d been brought into some of the most successful colonies in the British Empire. Through backbreaking labor, they cleared the land across the Southeast. They taught the colonists to grow rice. They grew and picked the cotton that at the height of slavery was the nation’s most valuable commodity, accounting for half of all American exports and 66 percent of the world’s supply…. They built vast fortunes for white people North and South — at one time, the second-richest man in the nation was a Rhode Island “slave trader.” Profits from black people’s stolen labor helped the young nation pay off its war debts and financed some of our most prestigious universities. It was the relentless buying, selling, insuring and financing of their bodies and the products of their labor that made Wall Street a thriving banking, insurance and trading sector and New York City the financial capital of the world.” The material wealth created by African Americans is only one of the ways in which Black people have built the food system. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html
1083% of farmworkers in the US are Hispanic, according to findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2015-2016: A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farmworkers. Retrieved from https://www.doleta.gov/naws/research/
11Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Health equity considerations and racial and ethnic minority groups. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html
12“Inside the Push to Bring Racial Equity to Land Grant Universities.” Civil Eats. Retrieved from https://civileats.com/2018/05/30/inside-the-push-to-bring-racial-equity-to-land-grant-universities/
13Michigan State University. (n.d.) MSU history and land-grant identity. MSU Brand Studio. Retrieved December 7, 2021. https://brand.msu.edu/storytelling/msu-history
14“The U.S. Land-Grant University System: An Overview.” (2019). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45897.pdf