Berkshire Grown stands in solidarity with everyone fighting for racial equity and racial justice, and with them, we affirm that Black Lives Matter.
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. As a staff, we commit to learning more about racial justice and food and we invite you to do the same. 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.
Here are some of the resources for learning and taking action to support a more equitable local food system:
- If you are white and wanting to take action to build a powerful anti-racist movement for collective liberation, join the Showing Up for Racial Justice email list.
- To learn more about racial equity and food justice, explore these sites:
- Food Solutions New England has hosted the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge for several years. Explore their collection of materials to help learn more about racial equity in the food system.
- Learn more about the structural racism present in the U.S. food system with this Michigan State University annotated bibliography.
- Consider how you build a more inclusive workplace on your farm. Soul Fire Farm, in Grafton, NY, is committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system. They have shared how they commit to creating a safer space. They also share ways to take action for racial justice in the food system.
- Learn about the history of land in Berkshire County from the Stockbridge Munsee band.
- Housatonic Heritage offers self-guided tours and walks following the trails and stories of Enslaved and Indigenous Peoples of the Berkshires.