A Call to Redistribute Resources and Power: Race Equity Dialogue in the Agrifood Business Space

May 2, 2024 - <ksouza@msu.edu>, Crystal Tyler-Mackey, Dawn Burton, Jerry Ann Hebron, Livia Marqués, Alexis Racelis

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has significantly increased its investment in food supply chain infrastructure development, most recently establishing Regional Food Business Centers. These Centers seek to support a more resilient, diverse, and competitive food system by supporting producers with assistance to access local and regional supply chains and overcome barriers to market access, with a focus on underserved farmers, ranchers, and food businesses. Often, land-grant universities and other well-resourced, white-led institutions oversee these efforts, calling into question power dynamics in resource distribution. Recognizing the historical inequities underserved farmers, ranchers, and food businesses have faced, the USDA also established the Equity Commission to address racial equity issues in its programs and services to strengthen accountability within USDA, releasing their final report in February 2024.

This national webinar marks the beginning of a Racial Equity in the Food System workgroup effort to diversify the food and ag systems leaders pipeline, exploring the question, “What does and what should food systems leadership look like?” The webinar is hosted in collaboration with Coming Together for Racial Understanding, a dialogue-to-change process for communities seeking new pathways for working together across racial/ethnic lines that seek to foster understanding and build trust in order to make informed collective action for meaningful change. Frameworks and tools for engaging in difficult conversations are shared, such as transforming debate to dialogue, understanding power dynamics and its role in trust-building, and levels of oppression and change. Participants also have the opportunity to engage in race equity-centered dialogue focused on the agrifood business space. 

A dynamic panel of presenters set context for this dialogue and discuss recommendations put forth by the USDA Equity Commission, including:

  • Livia Marqués, Co-Founder and Coordinator of Justice Through Food, a national collaborative of organizations led by people of color using food and agriculture systems as a catalyst to dismantle racism, exploitation and oppression in their communities
  • Jerry Ann Hebron, Executive Director of Oakland Avenue Urban Farm in Detroit and member of the USDA Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production Advisory Committee
  • Dr. Alexis Racelis, Director of the Agroecology and Resilient Food Systems Program and Houston Endowed Chair for Science and Technology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, member of the USDA Equity Commission Subcommittee on Agriculture


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