Follow Up: February Florida Food Forum
Food Politics: Equity in the Food System
If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available online here. You can also download a pdf of the presentation here.
To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on Equity in the Food System here to add your thoughts and comments.
On February 28th, the Florida Food Forum on Equity in the Food System was led by Candace Spencer, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
“Food is a universal need. It crosses any type of barrier people would put in place between other people, whether it be race, class, gender, sexual orientation,” Candace said in response to why she is dedicating her life to this work, “Everyone needs food, everyone needs to eat, and establishing equity in that area is a really great way to enhance equity in our society overall.”
Candace began by clarifying that as the topic of equity is vast, and that this presentation would be an introduction to the topic and a place to start a larger conversation around how people can bring this topic into their own work. Specifically, this talk focuses on racial equity and how to begin to center racial equity in the food system through policy.
“If we look at the history of the food and the agriculture system in this country, it is based on two things: stolen land and stolen labor.”
Diving in, Candace describes the two main aspects of a successful agriculture system: land and capital. “Land was stolen from Indigenous people, and labor was stolen from enslaved African people who were brought to this country to work the land and to utilize it for the economic benefit of White people. That economic benefit was estimated by political scientist Thomas Craemer to be between $5.9 to $14.2 trillion dollars in current dollars.”
She notes that these things didn’t happen in a vacuum. That in fact, they were supported and upheld by policies.
“Policies are often used as a tool of systemic racism,” she said. “One example is treaties with Indigenous people. They often weren’t explained well or translated into Indigenous languages, completely ignored the idea of land ownership to Indigenous people, if that term even existed, or they just weren’t followed—many treaties that were signed were completely broken by the federal government.”
Candace explains how the Homestead Act of 1862 provided generational wealth which is present to this day. “It was only available to White people, not to Black or Indigenous people, and allowed people to claim certain tracts of land. If they worked the land for 5 years, they were then able to maintain ownership of that land.”
Another important policy we still see today is the Farm Bill. “A notable way in which it upheld systemic racism is by delegating a lot of decision-making power to states and countries in the implementation of Farm Bill programs,” Candace says, “This is important to note because something can either implicitly or explicitly uphold systemic racism. Because systemic racism is so prevalent, if something is not actively opposing it, it’s implicitly upholding it. So, the Farm Bill allowed states and counties to decide on who received loans from the federal government, who had access to land, who had access to federal programs, and that control was used to discriminate, especially in the South, against Black farmers.”
Candace describes the lasting effects of these policies through notable statistics. According to the 2017 Ag Census conducted by the USDA, 95% of agricultural producers in this country are White and 1.4% of producers are Black. In another study performed by the Institute for Policy Studies, the results found that the average White household owns 86 times more wealth than its Black counterpart, and 68 times more wealth than its Latino one.
So, where do we go from here?
“Acknowledgement is the first step to righting wrong.”
Candace points out that acknowledging the reality that this system is built on structural inequity is critical to moving equity forward. And that if we are to apply this knowledge to policy and move equity forward through policy, we have to ask the right questions of the right people at the right time.
The first question we need to ask is “Why?” Why is this policy the way it is?
“We think about policy in two different contexts: If we have a policy that already exists, then we are trying to make it more equitable and if it’s a new policy, then we are trying to make it equitable from its inception,” she says. “In order to change any system or structure, you have to know how it came to be in the first place by getting to the root of the ‘Why.’”
The next question is “What?” What does it mean for a policy to be equitable?
In this case, Candace notes that the best question to ask is, “Does the policy shift power?” That it’s important to understand if the policy, program, or idea, shifts power from those who have it to those who don’t. If it doesn’t, then it’s not advancing equity.
The third question is “Who?” Who does this policy effect?
In order to center equity in policy it is essential to have the input of those who don’t have power. It’s also important to remember that building a new system is going to require time.
“Moving at the speed of trust.”
Candace says that engaging people who don’t have power to get their honest feedback as to what is going to help them requires intentional, respectful and lengthy relationship building.
The final question is “How?” How should we go about creating change?
Context is key. “There are so many ways depending on the context. Most important is to acknowledge and be willing to listen, then to apply them to a specific context,” she says.
Candace’s presentation was filled with rich layers on a topic that is sometimes difficult to discuss. At the end of the presentation, the forum was opened up for questions which led to a vibrant discussion.
Resources on this topic:
Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Ibram X. Kendi
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo
Racial Justice Training, Race Forward
Uprooting Racism in the Food System, Soul Fire Farm
DIA: Building Equitable and Inclusive Organizations, Equity At Work
Food Justice and Policy Examples –
Platform for Real Food, HEAL Food Alliance
Food Sovereignty Action Steps, Soul Fire Farm
New Roots, Lexington, KY
Farmworker Association of Florida
Agricultural Justice Project
Coalition of Immokalee Workers
The main webpage for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition:
To sign up for information from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition on USDA programs:
Bio: Candace Spencer is a Double Gator and earned both her B.A. in Environmental Science and J.D. from the University of Florida, as well as a Certificate in Environmental and Land Use Law. She previously worked at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she developed a new program area in the Conservation Clinic focused on environmental justice and community economic development and engaged in local urban agricultural policy. Candace is passionate about equitable food systems and land ownership, particularly Black owned agricultural land and addressing food apartheid. She currently works as a Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, D.C.
Forum Host: Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida and a member of the Board of Directors at the Florida Food Policy Council.
Disclaimer: The views of the presenters do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.