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Stories & Inspiration

Sharing stories and inspiration about our food system work helps us to connect with one another, find greater empathy and compassion, and provides the motivation to continue on with our work. We invite you to share your stories and inspirations with us for consideration in our feature on this page! Check back for new stories and inspiration! Please share your story with us!

Ten Questions with Niaz Dorry

This originally appeared on Food Tank's website April 16, 2016.

Food Tank had the chance to speak with Niaz Dorry, the Coordinating Director of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, who will be speaking at this year's Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C.Niaz Dorry (L) with CT Senator Marilyn Moore & the 2016 New England Food Summit

Food Tank: What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Niaz Dorry (ND): It was the omission of seafood from food system conversations that really sparked my involvement. Considering it’s the only thing we eat with the word “food” in it and that our rationale for killing marine animals is to feed people, I found it puzzling that neither the food world nor the fishing world considered seafood worthy of inclusion in food system discussions. It has become increasingly important to me to since we are seeing the strategies that undermined our land-based food system spreading to the sea. We have a unique opportunity to stop the bad stuff while applying some of the good lessons and solutions from land food to sea food. 

FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?

ND: Redefining “efficiency.” High volume, low value, single species animal or crop production have defined success for too long. Shifting our thinking toward low volume, high value production systems focused on the diversity that nature provides is a huge opportunity that can yield so much ecological, social, and economic value. 

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about? 

ND: Since I work on fisheries issues, the innovations around values-based fishing operations are really exciting to me. We’re rethinking what value means to us, away from money and towards one's judgment of what is important in life. This is huge and is leading to a major sea change.

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you? 

ND: There are way too many of them to pick one. 

FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?

ND: That we have the potential to live harmoniously with each other on this planet where no one has to struggle for basic needs such as food. I can visualize it, and as a visual thinker, if I can see it, I know it is possible.

FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with? 

ND: Our ancestors didn’t have to deal with what I call “unidentified food objects”—things that are a shadow of what they are supposed to be, void of nutrients, connections, and values, and are branded as “food” when they don’t really deserve that title.  

FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system? 

ND: Equity and integrity in the entire food chain. 

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference? 

ND: Try to eat in season (yes, even fish have seasons), and eat food that still looks like what it’s supposed to be. 

FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?

ND: Farmers, fishermen, food workers, and others who work in our entire food chain should not be struggling to feed themselves and/or their own families.

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?

ND: Fair prices for community-based fishermen and family farmers, and fair wages for all food workers. Too many of our fishermen and farmers are working in the red. The current narrative around subsidies makes it sound like they are reaping wealth off tax payers’ backs when in reality, our current food system is straining their backs. Many of them can barely make ends meet. They deserve to be paid their cost of production, and all those whose hands touch our food deserve lives with dignity.

Shirley Sherrod’s Fight for Civil Rights and Farmers

This story originally appeared on Farm Aid's blog April 12, 2016 by Jessica Kurn.

Shirley Sherrod

For more than three decades, farm advocates have been invaluable, supporting farmers across the country in times of crisis and through important changes to their farm businesses. Much like America’s farming population, these advocates are aging. Farm Aid is working to capture the incredible lives and work of these special people and building the next generation of farm advocates across the country. At the link below you’ll hear from Shirley Sherrod, who we recorded with help from StoryCorps in Chicago before our 30th anniversary concert. Stay tuned to hear more first-person stories from other farm advocates in the coming months.

HEAR SHIRLEY SHERROD TELL HER STORY

With strength and intuition, Shirley Sherrod has channeled personal tragedy into a decades-long career to advocate for fairness, justice and equality in America’s agricultural system.

Shirley Sherrod at the StoryCorps interview. Photo: StoryCorps

As a Black woman who grew up in Georgia, Shirley’s life and career are inextricably linked to the Civil Rights Movement, fighting particularly hard for the rights of Black farmers and other landowners in the South.

In the decades following the Civil War, farming and land ownership became essential facets of Black Americans’ newly-won citizenship, particularly in the South. Black land ownership peaked in 1910 when 218,000 black farmers owned 15 million acres of farmland. But by the turn of the century, these numbers declined to about 18,000 Black farmers owning only 2.3 million acres.

The dramatic decline in Black land ownership was no accident. Much of this loss is attributed to systemic discrimination and racism, which was all too common in both civil society and in the government, including at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Shirley and her husband Charles experienced USDA discrimination in the form of farm loan denials, which ultimately cost them the farmland they were trying to protect.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets with Shirley Sherrod in his office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC in 2010. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols

Their experience was far from unique. Shirley joined a class-action lawsuit that black farmers filed against the USDA over the denial of farm loans. The case, Pigford v. Glickman, was initially settled in April 1999 for farmers who could prove discriminatory treatment in loan decisions by the USDA. While some 13,300 Black farmers received compensation under the settlement, making it the largest civil rights settlement at the time, another 70,000 Black farmers did not have their claims heard. After many more years of struggling for justice, the 2008 Farm Bill provided for additional claims to be heard, and in 2010, Congress appropriated $1.2 billion through Pigford II to compensate additional Black farmers.

Black land loss continues to be an enormous challenge. Farm Aid is honored to work with advocates like Shirley, as well as organizations, that fight against systemic racism and empower black farmers in the U.S.

  • Shirley Sherrod is the executive director of the Southwest Georgia Project, a Farm Aid partner since 2014 and recipient of $17,500 in Farm Aid funds. This organization educates, engages and empowers communities on a whole array of issues from voter rights, unjust policies effecting school children and families, to Black land loss.
  • In 1967, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives started to help limited resource communities produce a livable income and save their way of life. The Federation, which has received over $966,170 in Farm Aid funds, develops black-owned cooperatives and credit unions for community development; protects and expands the landholdings of black farmers throughout the south; and advocates for public policies that serve black farmers and other low-income rural communities.
  • The Land Loss Prevention Project (LLPP) was founded in 1982 by the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers to curtail epidemic losses of Black owned land in North Carolina. LLPP broadened its mission in 1993 to provide legal support and assistance to all financially distressed and limited resource farmers and landowners in North Carolina. Farm Aid has worked with LLPP since 1990, granting $130,500 to the organization.

Network Profile: Andrea Solazzo

Andrea Solazzo with broccoli Andrea Solazzo is the Gleaning and Community Outreach Coordinator at Vermont Food Bank. Andrea joined Vermont Food Bank team a year ago and brings a diverse set of experiences and skills. Andrea attended Eckerd College in Florida studying Political Science and Religious Studies and continued to work there after graduation developing opportunities for students to travel abroad and immerse themselves in agricultural and environmental projects. Additionally, she has worked on an array of climate justice and food sovereignty issues for the United Nations, La Via Campesina, and across Vermont farms. She continues to dig at these issues through her work at the Vermont Food Bank. 

Why do you do what you do? 

My work addresses the need for fresh vegetables and distribution of fresh vegetables to rural Vermont and the Burlington area. It is inspiring to see people take charge of their health and make vegetables a part of their diet. There is a high demand for fresh vegetables at area food shelves and we try to support food shelf clients choices for a healthy, balanced diet.. 

What are you working on? What are your most urgent concerns? 

gleaning in a field The Vermont Food Bank alleviates hunger by gathering food from farms, grocery stores, distributors, and distributing the food to members of the community. My work focuses on harvesting produce at area farms and helping distribute it area food shelves. The produce we gather produce from farms is often used mobile food pantry, which goes to low-income senior housing sites and food shelves across the state. We are fortunate and very appreciative of all the farms and farmers that support our work and allow us to gather produce on their fields.  

How can the FSNE Network help you overcome or address those concerns? How can FSNE help build support of awareness for your concerns? 

It would be great to learn about what people are doing in food access around the region, especially how they are outreaching to specific populations in need. In addition to the annual Summit, it would be fantastic to have a food access monthly report that takes an in-depth focus on a food access program. I would appreciate learning about how organizations are identifying community members needs and shaping their food access programs around those needs.  

Network Profile: Nicole Berube

Nicole BerubeNicole Berube is the Executive Director at CitySeed, a Connecticut based organization that engages communities in building an equitable, local, and sustainable food system. Nicole grew up in a small rural town in Connecticut where she spent most of her young life watching cows at a friend's farm, traipsing through the backwoods, and helping her mom collect wild grapes for her jams and jellies. She didn't understand until much later that her town was facing incredible development pressure and that they were actually part of the working poor. After moving away, she received a degree in English and a minor in Anthropology, but her real education began when she joined AmeriCorps right after college. This was a turning point in her life and the basis for everything she does now. 

Why do you what you do? 

I do what I do at CitySeed in New Haven because I want to be a part of changing the food system. The food system isn't fair and it never has been. We can change the course of the food system by focusing on justice. I am inspired by the individuals that have long been carrying this message such as LaDonna Redmond, Erik Holt-Gimenez, and the many others that know wages, housing, economic policy, healthcare, and education are all intersected with food and that without overall justice, we can not have food justice. 

What are your most urgent concerns or upcoming action opportunities?

CitySeed mobile marketWhat I am working on now with CitySeed's incredible staff and our community partners is how to take our successful farmers markets, Mobile Market, and other community programs and grow them in thoughtful and intentional ways that better support farmers and community. Food access and farm viability should not be viewed in opposition, but rather two sides of the same coin. And valuing the energy, effort, and time of all people involved with proper funding and wages is really critical for both farmers and community members, and a major component of food justice.

How can the FSNE Network help you overcome or address those concerns or help you with action?

The FSNE network can address these concerns by continuing to bring topics of justice into the common dialogue about food systems. Understanding and changing all of our systems that are NOT currently based in justice is critical. Addressing how traditional non-profit, municipal and agriculture systems can change to better serve food justice and thereby a better food system would be a great theme for FSNE to continue to explore! 

Network Profile: Jesse Rye

Jesse Rye portraitJesse Rye is the Co-Executive Director of Food Systems Enterprise at Farm Fresh Rhode Island, an organization committed to growing a local food system that values the environment, health, and quality of life of Rhode Island farmers and eaters. Part incubator, part activator, Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s programs grow the local food system by building capacity in three areas: producers, markets, and eaters. Prior to joining Farm Fresh Rhode Island, Jesse worked in arts and cultural policy on the local, state, and national level. These collective experiences have given him a perspective on how innovative people and organizations serving social causes build stronger communities. 

Why do you what you do? 

There are many fulfilling aspects to my job. I think that is the result of working for an organization that is striving to improve multiple aspects of the local food system. I am proud that Food System Enterprise at Farm Fresh, which includes programs like Market Mobile and Veggie Box, is helping to improve farm viability.  I am also proud that I work for an organization that has such a strong food access focus. I believe everyone deserves access to fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables. 
 
On a personal level, I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan. That community is experiencing some extremely negative environmental ramifications from the increase of concentrated animal feed operations.  This expansion of the operations has been decades in the making, but the water and air pollution that is taking place today is a direct result of the deregulation of environmental and agricultural policies at the state level. This reinforces to me the necessity of informed and data driven policy decisions that is not beholden to special interests or influential industries. I believe that the food system work that is taking place in New England, Food Solutions New England (FSNE) in particular, is setting a positive example for the rest of the country. We are demonstrating that farming and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive endeavors.   

What are your most urgent concerns or upcoming action opportunities? 

farmers marketFarm Fresh Rhode Island found a lot of inspiration in the 50 by 60 plan. Our staff and board decided to adopt the plan as a guiding vision for the work of our organization. We want to connect more Rhode Island growers with eaters throughout the region and vice versa. We want RI farmers to have the capacity to grow more here, but we are also bound by geographic realities as the smallest state in the country. Forming genuine regional connections is very important for Rhode Island. With the vision in hand, we are motivated by what we can do now to make those connections now. 

How can the FSNE Network help you overcome or address those concerns or help you with action? 

The FSNE network has already helped a great deal by articulating a realistic and resilient vision for the future of food in New England. We use that framework when we talk to policy makers about why food systems work is important, both now and for future generations. It is a challenge to learn how to talk about the plan as something relevant to folks who might be thinking only about the next 2 to 4 years. It’s hard to think about 2060 when all you are concerned about is the next election cycle. It would be very helpful to hear how others are articulating the benefits of adopting the plan to policy makers or the results of forward thinking individuals, communities, organizations and institutions. I know there are many great examples to be shared as a network. 

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