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Racial Inequities in our Food Systems

Open & voluntary membership

Cooperatives stand for community. All community. One of the main tenets of a cooperative is voluntary and open membership. It’s never been a secret that there are massive inequities in this country, even if some of us didn’t pay attention to them before the past few weeks. Today is Juneteeth, and as we celebrate black voices, the members of the board of the Nashville Food Co-op definitively state that Black Lives Matter.

During the past couple of weeks, the co-op has been quiet, listening to others’ voices that need to be heard. We encourage you to learn about the inequities that exist in the food system today. Yes, systemic racism exists there as well. The whole agriculture system of this region was built on the labor of enslaved people. After slavery, sharecropping and tenant farming were the oppressive methods of choice.

In the early 1900s, black farmers controlled 14% of the country’s land. But today, that ownership is only 1%. A 1997 USDA report admitted that discrimination by that federal agency was a factor in the decline of black farms. A good introduction to this unpleasant history can be found on the podcast Reveal in their “Losing Ground” episode. This story follows a black family in North Carolina and their dealings with the local USDA office. You can find it, and the statistics cited in this paragraph, here.

Last year, the co-op started developing a strategic plan. As part of that plan, we conducted a gap analysis of the board, although no one needed an official study to say what we already knew: our board was, and is, entirely white. As we look closely at ways we can fight systemic racism in our own house, we think it is important to admit that we need to do better and be actively seeking out more black voices and bringing them to the table.

Think of the farmers you know. The booths you see at the farmers’ market. Who is standing behind those booths? How can you better support local black farmers and producers? How can you work to make the food system more equitable?

We are still listening. If you want to continue the conversation, email me at

Ellery Richardson, President
Nashville Food Cooperative

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