Immigrant Justice is Central to a Sustainable Food System

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Tompkins Weekly     7-9-18

By Kate Cardona

Since its inception, Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming has been focused on supporting immigrant and refugee communities in the Finger Lakes region. Our Incubator Farm was founded with the intention to be a space where people who had farmed in their home countries but faced barriers to land access and farming resources in the U.S. could obtain growing space, farm mentorship, farm equipment, business development support and a welcoming community. The farmers we have worked with at the Incubator have taught us so much about agricultural techniques and the power of growing healthy food with and for the community.

As an organization whose work centers around recognizing the incredible contributions that immigrants and refugees make to the U.S. and to our own local community, we have been devastated and outraged during the past weeks of the Trump Administration’s attack on immigrant families. The food system, in particular, is held up by the work of foreign-born workers; 70 percent of farmworkers are immigrants, and half of those are undocumented. Here in New York State, where wage theft, substandard housing, and workplace injuries are not uncommon experiences for farm workers, workers are still denied collective bargaining rights.

Those of us who work for sustainability in the food system must realize that there cannot be true sustainability without honoring the human rights and dignity of the people laboring to produce our meals. This reality does not exist in contradiction to the health of the local food economy, but rather ensures its continued success. In addition to our Incubator Farm Program, in 2017 Groundswell Center began a Farming for Justice Discussion and Action Group that works with regional farmers and food system participants to engage in discussions on justice in the food system. The June session focused on how to support the rights of farmworkers locally and hosted speakers from the Cornell Farmworker Program and the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition. Small farmers are beginning to strategize together about what resources are at their disposal, be they financial, social connections, or time to contribute to protecting the rights of immigrant neighbors.

In January 2018, Groundswell Center welcomed Adriana Picket-Becerra to our staff team. The first generation daughter of a Colombian mother, Adriana joined Groundswell to develop a new English as a New Language (ENL) and business program component for local aspiring farmers from refugee and immigrant communities. It has been an exciting time as we expand our capacity to assist immigrant farmers in an ongoing way, both those who may be new to Groundswell’s programs as well as current Incubator farmers transitioning off of the Groundswell farm and onto their own land.

Despite the difficulties of the current political moment, it is essential that we come together in community, celebration, and fun. On Saturday, July 14 from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. Groundswell Center is partnering with Ithaca Welcomes Refugees to host a “Community Picnic at the Incubator Farm.” This will be a space to celebrate the diversity of the greater Ithaca area and welcome our new neighbors. We hope you can join us at this family-friendly event for live music, games, food and farm tours! It will be an opportunity to connect with community members, as well as learn more about or get involved in the work of Groundswell Center and Ithaca Welcomes Refugees. Groundswell will also be hosting a Carpentry Workshop for immigrant and refugee women on Friday, July 27 in collaboration with Hammerstone School of Carpentry for Women.

The Groundswell Center staff stand with all people crossing the border for safety and opportunity and are committed to human rights for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, an end to the criminalization of immigrants in US policy, and immediate family reunification. We are inspired by local organizations like the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition, the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, the Cornell Farmworkers Program and the Workers’ Center of Central NY who draw the connections between the sustainability of our food system and the dignity of the immigrant workers who keep it going. We encourage readers who are passionate about sustainable food systems to connect with us or with one of these local groups to figure out how you can get more involved in creating a stronger food system for ALL of us by standing for immigrant rights.

Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming supports individuals as they develop agricultural skills and grow profitable, equitable and ecologically-sound farm businesses. We prioritize support for underrepresented producers including people of color, refugees, women, and individuals with limited resources. Groundswell Center is a project of CTA (Center for Transformative Action). Kate Cardona is the Equity, Outreach and Course Coordinator for Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming.

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