Black Lives Matter.
Our team at AUA continues to be deeply saddened and angered by the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, Tony McDade, James Scurlock, Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, and the too many Black People who have died as a result of violent policing and systemic racism. We stand in solidarity with the movement for Black Lives demanding justice and equitable treatment for Black People and People of Color.
AUA’s mission is to empower urban growers to foster thriving communities through sustainable agriculture and equitable food systems. In doing this work, it’s imperative that we recognize that our food system is intimately intertwined with our country’s history of systemic racism. The land that we now call home was colonized by Europeans, forcing Indigenous peoples off their lands and decimating their way of living, as well as their deeply spiritual connection to the land. Here in Chicago, those Indigenous Peoples are the Council of the Three Fires — Potowatomi, Ojibwe, and Ottawa — as well as the Myaamia, Inoka, Ho-Chunk, and Menominee peoples. In all that we do, we acknowledge that we are operating on stolen land.
With the onset of the transatlantic slave trade in the 16th century, white landowners began relying on slave labor for agricultural production, which allowed them to develop generational wealth. Furthermore, the first police forces, or “slave patrols,” were put in place as early as 1704 to preserve the system of enslaved labor that this nation’s agricultural economy depended on. These slave patrols made it their job to enforce segregation and uphold white supremacy through violence and intimidation. In the 1800’s, this evolved into convict leasing, which systematically targeted and imprisoned Black people, who were then leased out to landowners and corporations as sources of cheap labor.
Our food system as we know it today has directly descended from this history of systemic racism, unjust policing, and oppressive labor conditions. And these examples we’ve highlighted are only scratching the surface.
While we have come a long way since then, many of those same systems and practices are still in place today, just in a different form. For example, white people still own over 96% of America’s farmland; farmers continue to rely on cheap labor from immigrants and other People of Color; and immigrants continue to be intimated, detained, and deported by our nation’s policing systems. Food is critical to our livelihood, and yet we continuously devalue our food system workers.
With this history and those current realities always in mind, our team at AUA actively works to support Black and Brown farmers, community and home gardeners, and urban agricultural advocates with the funding, tools, resources, and technical assistance to advance food sovereignty in Chicago’s communities. We are also constantly exploring new and innovative ways to provide ongoing financial and technical support to budding and experienced Black and Brown farmers beyond the current moment.
The concept of food sovereignty is one that carries a long history — one of human survival, of thriving as a community, and of self-determination. Food sovereignty has always been a threat to white supremacy because it empowers each community to make decisions for themselves, to support and nourish each other, and to eliminate dependence on oppressive and unjust systems that seek to control. The sense of pride and deep relationship that comes with food sovereignty provides an opportunity for healing and restoration. As Winona LaDuke has said, “Food sovereignty is an affirmation of who we are as indigenous peoples and a way, one of the most surefooted ways, to restore our relationship with the world around us.”
Our team has spent the last week listening, reflecting, and supporting one another during this challenging time. As we move forward, we know that the work of dismantling racist systems and advancing justice goes far beyond posting on social media or putting words on a page. We have a responsibility, individually and collectively, to work each and every day to dismantle these systems that are ingrained into the fabric of our country, and ultimately create a new path forward. As individuals and as a collective group, we still have so much room to grow in our efforts, but we are intentionally and deeply committed to the work, and look forward to doing it with you in a spirit of community, collaboration, and justice.
The AUA Team