Program Officer Martin Jennings introduces a new report showcasing successful efforts to create equitable food systems.

Building equitable food systems drives health and creates economic prosperity—benefits that are relatively transparent. It may be less immediately obvious how equitable food systems also build relationships, trust, and unity among diverse communities. A new report shares powerful stories that explore all these benefits.

In recent months, several national and community-led organizations throughout our Foundation’s region—from Washington and Oregon to Minnesota, have been exploring how community-based food systems have responded to the interconnected crises of 2020. The result is a digital report: The Power of Community-Based Food Systems: Lessons in resilience, carrying on deep-rooted traditions, and building community power in the COVID-19 era.

Current food systems rely on a legacy of extraction and exploitation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility and destructiveness of our current industrialized food system, which too often exploits land and labor. Today’s global food chain relies on low-paying, high-risk jobs that are often held by people experiencing stiff barriers to other employment choices.

A disproportionately high number of these workers come from our priority communities: Native Americans, communities of color, immigrants, refugees, and people in rural areas. This is no coincidence. It’s but one example of how food systems and their labor practices lead to harmful impacts based on race.

The pandemic has further exposed the impact of these practices, as many workers have been classified as essential, leaving them with few choices but to keep working—often in close quarters and without appropriate personal protective equipment. Their health risk is even higher when we consider these same workers are likely to have inadequate health care options.

Today’s global food chain relies on low-paying, high-risk jobs that are often held by people experiencing stiff barriers to other employment choices. A disproportionately high number of these workers come from our priority communities: Native Americans, communities of color, immigrants, refugees, and people in rural areas. 

Community-led organizations are forging powerful solutions to restore community well-being.

Alongside its many challenges, the pandemic has also highlighted the strength, flexibility, and resilience of community-based food systems.

The report showcases seven case studies about organizations that advance community-based food systems and nourish communities on multiple levels. Each story illustrates how local food systems can be catalysts for resistance, self-determination, and sovereignty.

The goal is to raise awareness of, and increase investment in, the many organizations that are leading the way to more equitable, just, vibrant, and resilient food systems.

Equitable food systems support vibrant communities by generating good food in ways that are sustainable, healthy, and create better outcomes for our priority communities. Often, this involves connecting communities to their culture through more traditional approaches to food production, processing, and preservation. Equitable food systems contribute to the larger goal of equitable economies, where prosperity is defined by local communities and shared by all.