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Diversity   |   Inequality   |   Farming

BPOC food growers face racism, isolation and finance barriers

Black people and people of colour (BPOC) face numerous barriers to food growing in the UK including racism, isolation and financial hardship, a ground-breaking new report has found.  

The report, Rootz into Food Growing, compiled by food and social justice organisation Land in Our Names (LION) for a collaborative project with fruit and veg cooperative OrganicLea and social enterprises Ubele and Black Rootz, identifies that previous research on the food system in Britain overwhelmingly neglects race as a topic.

It aimed to address the fact that BPOC voices have mainly been erased from the conversation around ecology, land use and farming, by gathering knowledge and experience from existing social enterprises to nurture a new generation of BPOC growers. 

With horticulture and agriculture being two of the least diverse sectors in the UK, the report highlighted that just 1.4 per cent of farmers are non-white.

It was produced using 10 in-depth interviews with a representative sample of BPOC growers, as part of an ongoing initiative that will run for 15 months and aims to connect land and climate with racial justice.

Rootz into food growing
Black and people of colour account for 1.4 per cent of farmers in the UK. Image Sandra GoGrow.

At an event held to launch the report recently, land ownership was highlighted as key in establishing growing space, as well as longevity.  As food and farming actionist Dee Woods put it: “You can’t harvest a nut tree in a couple of years.

“It is not enough just to do a bit of inclusion and diversity, we need to challenge this, need more people to be politically active both locally and at national level with Defra,” said Woods. “Reports tend to be static – we want this report to be alive and used as a tool.” 

One route into food growing for BPOC communities is a medium-scale and hands-on system known as Social Enterprise Food Growing (SEFG), which sits between larger commercial ventures and allotment growing, selling produce and offering training. But with little available land available in and around London, few opportunities exist.

Would-be growers can join together to buy land or forge radical relationships with white-led food growing organisations that can help acquire land for those from marginalised backgrounds, the report said, while councils need to proactively provide long-term contracts for food growing spaces, rather than gatekeeping.

Space alone isn’t the answer; organisations must also address harmful power dynamics, engaging with transformative justice and accountability processes.

Rootz into food growing
Predominantly white organisations can help by forging partnerships and helping acquire land. Image Sandra GoGrow.

The report also looked at rural hostility toward BPOC growers, which it said shows the need for projects both within and beyond the city. It highlighted reports that growers of colour were turned away from their local farmer’s markets, bullying, microaggressions or exploitation, and said that BPOC-led community food growing initiatives and resilient local growing networks are key to changing this dynamic.

Other recommendations included setting up farmers’ co-ops to connect with local buyers such as restaurants, setting up markets at growing sites, and ensuring veg boxes are both culturally appropriate and affordable.

Pauline Shakespeare from the Ubele Initiative, a social enterprise focused on the sustainability of the African diaspora, affirmed that allies can help in practical ways. Offers of space, funding for trainee food growers to earn a living wage, resources, or volunteering on BPOC growing initiatives are all needed, she said.

Co-founder of LION, Josina Calliste, said any structure that invites young black people to get involved needs to constantly consider “has the deep work been done within the organisation?” to make it safe for them.

This includes examining how structures around privilege, class and land ownership work, as well as colonial legacy and its impact on the present, she said, adding: “I hope that larger organisations with predominantly white staff are able to heed this call to action and that the landscape for food growing for people that are from our communities, BPOC communities, is very different in five years’ time.”

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