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Sovereign Food Futures: Land Access for Earth Stewards of Color (fiscally sponsored by Soul Fire Farm Institute, Inc)

To advance land and food sovereignty in upstate NY through permanent, inheritable, and secure land tenure for BIPOC Earth Stewards.

Photo of Stephanie Morningstar
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Grafton, NY

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Upstate New York

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Our network and membership have a complex, beautiful, violent, and resilient history in our Place- upstate New York, which encompasses approximately 100,000 square kilometers and more specifically we are focusing on the 32,924 square kilometers of farmland in the regions of Western NY (3379 km2); the North Country (4451 km2), Fingerlakes (11188 km2), Central NY (3,063); the Mohawk Valley (2,840 km2); the Hudson Valley (1,282 km2); and the Capital region (2,270 km2); and the Southern Tier (4451 km2). 

For some, the unceded territories of the Northeast are our homelands- upon which some of us still reside; for others, it is where our ancestors settled or relocated after fleeing the violence of enslavement; still others have chosen the Northeast as a place of refuge, far from their own homelands, out of safety, necessity, or hope for a better future.

NEFOC is focusing our initial land link programming in New York state due to the risk analysis we performed during our initial feasibility and needs analysis research. Our programming is centering upstate New York for land access/acquisition due to the high risk of farmland to be lost to industrial development, gentrification, lack of succession planning, and commercial speculation. 

Additionally, Upstate New York is a land shaped by rivers, loved by snowy winters and its climate is changing faster than national and global averages. However, regions like the Hudson Valley, are projected as some of the better regions for the development of agroecological infrastructure that can make a difference. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The echoes of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving addresses resound out over the landscape of upstate NY, which is unceded territory, bringing diverse settler communities into a tradition in which profound respect is remembered and practiced for all beings on land, soil, water, sky, and spirit. Gratitude is offered throughout the region inspiring many gatherings of growers, seed treasurers, water protectors, and soil stewards. This region serves as a midwife to full of joy and health, fundamental and necessary priorities of a population committed to climate resilience. It is where the groundwork is being done to break free from all applications of monocultural thought in our land-based livelihoods.

The demographic makeup of the Northeast’s farmers is a product of our complex history of colonization, immigration, and policies and practices around access to land, wealth, and resources. The legacy of colonization has resulted in the dispossession of land from Indigenous people, who today reside on a tiny fragment of what used to be their homelands, or who were forcibly removed. While racial diversity is increasing overall in New York, with 49% of the population being Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), only 2% of farms are controlled by Indigenous and farmers of color. 

Currently, nutrition-related illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are the leading causes of death in the state of New York, disproportionately affecting Black and Indigenous communities. The age-adjusted hospitalization rate for diabetes among Black residents is over 4 times that of white residents (NYSDOH). 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

“If the yam does not grow well, do not blame the yam. It is because of the soil.”- Ghanaian Proverb

The challenges people of color experience in the food system are a direct representation of the crystalline structure of settler colonialism. Access to land is the number one barrier for people of color to feed our communities healthy, fresh food. The food system is a mirror for the larger colonial system, which privileges some while marginalizing and dehumanizing others for the benefit of profit and power. Dispossession and theft of land and labor from Indigenous nations and Black folks built the foundation of the United States, cutting us off from health, wealth, language, knowledge, and sense of place. Developments encroach on agriculturally-viable land, and what farmland is still left is threatened by agricultural runoff, nutrient depletion, development, and skyrocketing prices. The climate crisis is jeopardizing those who work the land or live in the most affected areas, forcing migration. Monoculture farms have shrunk biodiversity, birthing corporate monoliths with access to technology, trademarks, genetic manipulation, and international markets, all supported by hundreds of millions in commodity subsidies set aside in the US Farm Bill. 

White landowners control between 95-98% of the farmland in the United States and nearly 100% in the northeast, as well as receiving over 97% of agriculture-related financial assistance. Toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides are disproportionately concentrated in poor communities of color. Lead exposure is 47% higher in Black communities than white, for example, resulting in asthma and cancer. The Homestead Acts, called “the most extensive, radical, redistributive governmental policy in U.S. history,” benefited settlers and continues to – 93 million people are the inheritors of these allotments. The 2018 Farm Bill sets aside hundreds of millions in commodity subsidies for technology, corporatized plant and animal varieties, and flow into international markets, privileging large farms with access to capital, leaving little support for farmers of color who usually work on a smaller, more sustainable scale. 

Labeling lack of access to fresh food as “food deserts” doesn’t claim accountability, instead conflating food apartheid – human and structurally imposed conditions – with natural phenomena. To recognize these systemic barriers as systemic is key to revisioning the food system. These factors create a “perfect storm” leading to health disparities for Indigenous, Black, and other people of color who have the least access to growing our own fresh, culturally relevant foods and medicines. All of these challenges are fed by U.S. policy which privileges an industrialized and consolidated food system, further driving systemic racial and ethnic inequities. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

NEFOC’s strategies center the voices of our communities of color through our non-hierarchical 100% PoC leadership structure. Our board and staff are made up of BIPOC folks who are at the forefront of the land and food sovereignty movements. We are building and advocating for systems built “for us, by us.” By harnessing tools that repair the land, as well as our relationships with and to the land and one another, NEFOC will acquire and return 1,500 acres of land to POC farmers and land stewards in the next decade, sequestering carbon, exponentially increasing the number of BIPOC farmers in the upstate New York.

Upstate New York is unceded territory, thus an accountability mechanism is built into our bylaws to share sovereignty with Indigenous communities. Through our Indigenous Consultation protocol, we are elevating land conservation standards by securing organizational mechanisms that honor and recenter Indigenous nations who have stewarded these lands since time immemorial. Additionally, innovations such as land rematriation, voluntary taxation, and Cultural Respect Easements will further repair relationship and resituate stewardship.

Reparations are due to the descendants of formerly enslaved peoples who built this country. Our programming and policy initiatives honor the labor and bodies stolen from homelands to build a system that does not, nor was ever meant to serve them. Our peer-to-peer reparations map has celebrated over 20 successes in 2019, totaling over $20,000 in person-to-person land-based wealth redistribution. Additionally, our policy initiatives aim to uplift and advance the national Reparations initiative as it is a necessary tool for repairing the legacy of colonial harm.

Through the promotion and mandate of carbon-neutral, regenerative agriculture on NEFOC land holdings, we honor the vital roles our ancestors had in innovating and upholding agriculture as a practice of soil and climate stewardship and a sacred means toward food sovereignty, dignity, and self-determination. Representing reciprocal relationships between the collective of beings and ecosystems who make up the land, farming ensures not just our mutual survival as BIPOC, but the thrival of generations to come. In this age of climate crisis, agriculture that respects and sustains the land, strengthens resilience, and sequesters soil carbon holds powerful urgency.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Our high-level vision is to advance land sovereignty in the northeast region through permanent and secure land tenure for Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian farmers and land stewards who will use the land in a sacred manner that honors our ancestors dreams - for sustainable farming, human habitat, ceremony, native ecosystem restoration, and cultural preservation. 

Our food is our technology to withstand changes that are beyond our control. By increasing access to fresh, culturally-appropriate food and connection to land, our bodies will have an equal chance to adapt and survive. Our diets hold vast opportunities for creative expression and joyful experiences that are currently untapped.

Our economics bring forth the best fruits of regenerative thinking, thoughts informed by our connection and solidarity to the earth. By reimagining an economy that is not only sustainable but regenerative and hyper-local, we will feed our families, communities, and nations.

Our policy is like our drum, we feel it in our body. To keep us on the same page all persons within earshot need to be able to understand how the policy affects the body. Our policy initiatives will first pick away the stitching of white supremacy in our food system and the systems that underlie it and will re-weave a new tapestry of policies that will enrich all lives.

By providing pathways to equitable access to land NEFOC Land Trust is actively leading the way in reclaiming sovereignty, fostering connection, joy, and wholeness for our families, communities, and non-human relatives for the coming generations. As access to collective land stewardship grows, so does the health and well-being of the lands we collectively call home. As access to land in perpetuity increases, we aim to see positive health and wellness outcomes increase for POC communities in the Northeast.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

NEFOC’s vision is for a socially and ecologically just and balanced world where our BIPOC communities, those who are marginalized and experiencing food and climate apartheid, are free from the systemic and institutional barriers to health and agency we currently experience. Access to land is the #1 barrier for farmers of color to feed our communities and maintain our culture and sovereignty. We hold in our vision that the peoples whose lands and labor built and continue to build this country will be healthy, happy, and whole and that sustainable balance will be restored to the land and all its inhabitants. 

We envision for our communities the positive health and wellness outcomes, facilitated by increased access to healthy food and lifeways, that only permanent and secure land tenure can offer. The impacts of ethnostress that cause disease and imbalance in our minds, bodies, and spirits will be replaced with our evolving Indigenous ways of being, doing, and knowing, in concert with the lands we are in relationship with and steward as if they are our own relatives.

NEFOC’s establishment of an Indigenous consultation protocol will create pathways for the Indigenous peoples of the northeast to step into stewardship of their homelands once again, restoring balance to the complex ecosystems once disrupted by the ravages of settler colonial capitalism. We aim to eradicate the invasive species (racism) that disrupts the health and well-being of Black and Brown people in the U.S., replacing it with balanced and sustainable Indigenous technologies from our respective global homelands.

We are addressing these challenges to bring forth a future in which BIPOC land stewards have access to enough land and resources to grow fresh, culturally relevant, nourishing food that supports physical, emotional, and mental well being, fortifies the longevity of our communities’ elders and history holders, contributes to the school success and vitality of our young people, and carries our ancestors’ seed stories – of spirit ecology, resistance, intergenerational collaboration, agricultural ingenuity, and the indelible connection between healthy land and the sustenance it offers.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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