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Shedding Light: Women for the Land’s Lessons of 2020

In the spirit of community care, volunteers at the Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization (MEVO) support the Fresh Roots Farm with planting. MEVO was a recipient of an AFT Farmer Relief Fund during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As 2020 draws to a close, our Women for the Land team is reflecting on how the challenges of this year further exposed long-standing issues in our agricultural system, highlighting their interconnections, and clarified our opportunities to contribute to solutions. Every year brings new learning, but a few stand out from this one:

Worker at Wapato Island Farm, recipient of AFT’s Farmer Relief Fund.

Climate change impacts are here. Our teams across the country and the farmers they work with experienced extreme weather impacts this year, from power-outage-inducing storms and high winds along the East Coast and Southeast, to flood-inducing conditions on farms in the Midwest, and air-quality-occluding fires on the West Coast. Women for the Land’s programming responded by taking on these issues in our Learning Circles. We expanded our focus on climate-related stressors and their on-farm solutions, emphasizing how conservation programs can support women farmers and landowners to stay resilient in the face of these stressors.

Farmland is a finite resource and its allocation is connected to an unjust history that we must reckon with. To solve the issues facing farmland ahead, we need to grapple with the policies and structures that have influenced the dispossession of farmland ownership and sovereignty among BIPOC communities. Our Women for the Land team has begun addressing these structures within our work by positioning our programming to benefit all women regardless of their current land tenure arrangement, expanding our reach through relationships built at the pace of trust, and exploring advocacy efforts to address heirs’ property issues in the Southeast and beyond. These are complex issues that we are in the process of growing into, but we are humbled to engage collaboratively with partners around this intention.

Michelle Week, x̌ast sq̓it farm (Good Rain Farm), Women for the Land Learning Circle participant, recipient of AFT’s Farmer Relief Fund, and feeder of her community.

Agricultural landowners who rent land to tenant farmers are strong potential allies in the effort to ensure that our working lands work for the benefit of all. Our Women for the Land team conducted additional research on so-called non-operating landowners, or NOLs, and found more evidence to suggest that these people, and the women among them in particular, deserve targeted outreach and support due to their potential to impact the adoption of more conservation practices on a significant proportion of U.S. farmland.

Food security is not to be taken for granted. Women have been at the forefront of ensuring food security and innovating in the face of challenges in agriculture throughout history and this year was no exception. Women of color in the U.S., in particular, have had a long history of creating community-based mutual aid networks that have supported access to land and healthy food for all. While communities across the country faced unprecedented levels of food insecurity this year, we heard from women in our networks who donated food they grew to local mutual aid efforts, and listened to women in our Learning Circles share about the ways that, pandemic or not, their farms are critical to meeting demand for fresh foods, and foods that preserve cultural traditions across generations.

Moving into the year ahead, we’ll continue our resolve to reconcile the connections between land stewardship, equity, and justice in partnership with the women we serve. If 2020 has showed us anything, it is that this will necessarily be a collective effort, and it is long overdue.

About the Author
Caitlin Joseph

Women for the Land Outreach Coordinator

cjoseph@farmland.org

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