Berkshire Grown stands in solidarity with everyone fighting for racial equity and racial justice, and with them, we affirm that Black Lives Matter.
In this time of country-wide crisis, we continue our work to support local farmers and food producers, and to share their fresh, locally-grown bounty with all community members. That work has taken on deepened relevance as the Coronavirus has laid bare our broken food system; we can clearly see that returning to the previous “normal” is not an option.
To support local agriculture as a vital part of the Berkshire community, we need to be accountable to the history that created this economy and landscape, and that history includes slavery on a very local level. Not many New Englanders feel comfortable with the idea that enslaved people created the agricultural landscape we treasure, but were it not for enslaved Africans in the 18th century, Colonel John Ashley (of Elizabeth Freeman’s fame) could not have cleared any of his 3,000 acres in the Sheffield plain, land which was acquired by early colonists’ invasion of native nations. Ashley could not have grown a single crop or transported it to market without the labor of enslaved individuals. Similarly, the Philipse family in the nearby Hudson Valley depended on a multitude of enslaved Africans for field labor as well as managing their farm and mill complex. Black people turned these prime soils into farmland three centuries ago, but to this day they have little or no equity in farmland in Massachusetts or elsewhere in the U.S.
We must acknowledge our debt to the Berkshires’ agricultural history that includes slavery and stolen lands, and we need to understand that our locally-grown and produced food is not affordable to everyone in the Berkshires. Ending racial inequity is inseparable from the work of building equitable local food systems. At Berkshire Grown we are stepping back to assess what work we need to do to help dismantle the inequities in our food system, and to develop strategies for how we can work alongside those who are leading the fight for food justice and racial equity.
Much of what we all need to do is learn, and the managers of the Great Barrington Farmers Market have provided an informative list of resources and action steps, some of which you can access here.
Food Solutions New England (FSNE) provides a 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge, with an outline of thoughtful questions and resources for reflection and learning.
As a staff, we commit to learning more about racial justice and food sovereignty by undertaking the Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge over the next 21 weeks, and dedicating a portion of our weekly staff meetings to this discussion.
Together is how we make change, and Berkshire Grown commits to working with you to build a just and fair food system in the Berkshires and in our nation.