The Launch of Land Justice

Hayley Jones | 06.29.2017

On Thursday, June 22nd, Food First hosted a reception to launch their latest book, Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States.

Approximately 100 community members came to the David Brower Center for celebration and discussion with several authors, including Gail Myers, Antonio Roman-Alcalá, Caiti Hachmyer, Cliff Welch, Hartman Deetz, David Bacon, and Brahm Ahmadi. The authors and editors reflected on their work, calling guests to think about the plight of new farmers, the role of land in maintaining traditional foodways, and reclaiming land as a means of liberation. After a question-and-answer session with the contributors, guests mingled and purchased signed copies of the recent publication, in which “authors from around the country – including farmers, organizers, activists, and more – make the case that to move toward a more equitable, just, sustainable, and sovereign agriculture system, the various strands of the food and agriculture movement must come together for land justice.”

The ground-breaking anthology, edited by Justine Williams and Eric Holt-Giménez, approaches land justice from many perspectives, with sections focusing on women’s leadership, indigenous peoples, and Black agrarianism. Justine Williams opened the panel by signaling a “new era of renewed focus on land as a central arena of struggle in the U.S.,” explaining that Food First decided to research this part of the system because “the food movement was coming up, time and time again, against this barrier of land, and if we really wanted to work towards food justice, we had to figure out how to make land access more equitable and more fair.”

Gail Myers, founder of the Freedom Farmers Market and co-author of the chapter on Roots, introduced Black agrarianism by reading an original poem entitled “Africa’s Dream,” telling the audience that “the roots and regeneration section is a way for Black agrarianism to put a holder, to put a placemark, to say that we were here… if you free the land, then you free the people.” Antonio Roman-Alcalá, an organizer and educator involved in the struggle for the Gill Tract farm, took a critical look at the Occupy the Farm movement, addressing not only the success of reclaiming land for public good, but also issues of male dominance and white privilege within the movement, asking the audience, “how do we really access land for food justice, rather than just re-entrenching the systems of privilege or equality that already exist?”

Caiti Hachmyer, owner of the Red H farm and founder of the conference Foundations and the Future: Celebrating Women’s Leadership in the Food Movement, shared her experience as a full-time farmer. She questioned a food system in which we “expect people to make high-cost, high-risk, short-term, low-return investments,” emphasizing the need for more secure land tenure, especially amongst new farmers. Noting that small farmers contribute significantly to biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and transforming the food system, Hachmyer urged guests value farmers’ livelihoods by rebuilding their relationship with the land. She was followed by Wampanoag activist Hartman Deetz, who outlined the importance of land and water in supporting indigenous communities. Deetz drew applause for his condemnation of the government’s actions at Standing Rock, saying “they certainly wouldn’t dig up Arlington National Cemetery for an oil pipeline… we native people are so often treated as disposable. . . we are to be pushed out of the way in the name of progress.”

After Cliff Welch spoke about the fight for agrarian reform in California, David Bacon, who interviewed union organizer Rosalinda Guillén about her work with Familias Unidas por la Justicia, celebrated the historic union contract that FUJ has signed with Sakuma Brothers Berries. Affirming that any campaign for a sustainable food system must include farm workers, Bacon asked, “Sustainable for who? . . . any kind of food system must first be sustainable for the people who work in it, the people who are the producers.” Brahm Ahmadi, co-founder of the People’s Grocery, concluded the panel with an analysis of land speculation in West Oakland from the perspective of the People’s Community Market, “…using [their] experience as a case example of the challenges of community-based community development” in a neighborhood now plagued with gentrification, land grabbing, and land financialization.

In order to uncover the structural inequalities of land in the United States, Food First has worked with activists on the front lines of the struggle for land justice. According to Food First executive director Eric Holt-Giménez, Land Justice unearths “the land question in the United States [that] has been buried ever since colonization and Western expansion,” reminding readers of the vital role that land access plays in ensuring food justice. If the enthusiastic crowd at the Brower Center was any evidence, the readers are ready to learn.