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2021 Research Agenda

FrontLine Farming | Center for Food Justice and Healthy Communities

Purpose Statement:

FrontLine Farming’s mission is to create greater equity across our food system on the front range of Colorado. While we approach this work with the framework of food access, food justice, and food sovereignty, we have focused research undertakings each year that help us journey toward outcomes. This research agenda lays out our expected work in 2021 related to data activism, education, and policy that will provide us the knowledge needed for our pursuit of greater equity.

The advocacy and programmatic elements that directly relate to, or result from, the research topics herein are not detailed in this document.

Research Approach:

We take seriously the fact that data often represent individuals, sometimes in less than obvious ways. For example, numeric wage data have human beings tied to each datum who deserve to be considered in economic analyses. As such, we approach all our research, data collection, education, and policy initiatives through a Community-Based Participatory Action Research methodology. We believe that the best informed findings, outcomes, and impact center community at all stages of our process and are committed to creating space and time for all stakeholders, especially those represented in the data, to be engaged in our work.

Focus Areas

  1. Metrics for assessing and furthering racial equity in the Colorado Agriculture/Food System

  2. Data on Black Indigenous and People of Color in the Colorado Food System

  3. Water rights in Colorado

  4. Alternative Economics

Focus Area 1: Baseline metrics of racial equity in the food system in Colorado

In 2020 we launched an initiative to create baseline metrics of racial equity in the food system in Colorado. Metrics and data collection and analysis are important tools for revealing systemic injustices in our food system. However, it is clear that the food movement lacks consistency for measuring progress toward racial equity. A systems analysis of the food system must be conducted in order to identify metrics that will generate data well suited for assessing racial equity. Traditional metrics, such as BMI and infant mortality rates by race, frequently perpetuate racism rather than dismantle it.

We will assess and propose metrics, and any existing data sets, on food access, food and farm business, food chain workers and food movements. We are particularly interested in creating a baseline analysis of the Front Range Food Movement as it relates to race as we are finding that we do not often find POC in particular represented in food systems organizations or at the multiple food summits hosted across Colorado. This publication will help provide direction for food systems funding as well as for food systems workers. We often hear that food systems work is centered around racial equity, but have found that POC and poor people are used interchangeably in data and outcome measurements. Creating a baseline and providing suggestions for metrics indicators that truly measure impact on POC communities, separate from economic disparities, will directly impact how food systems work can be done in ways that actually affect change in the lived experiences of marginalized communities.

Focus area 2: Data on Black Indigenous and People of Color in the Colorado Food System

We define data broadly to include diverse forms of quantitative and qualitative data, including ethnographics and narrative forms. Even under this broad definition, there is a dearth of data representing the many people of color who participate in the Colorado food system.

As such, in 2021 we intend to participate in the creation and gathering of this data, as well as an initial analysis of the data as it relates to racial equity.

2.1 Data on Agricultural Workers in Colorado

Through our work with Project Protect Food System Workers, specifically their Project Protect Promotora Network, we manage and analyse the data collected on agricultural workers in Colorado. Between 65-73% of all agricultural workers are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. However, these people have been invisible in media, in policy, and in academic research. The nature of seasonal work and migratory lives,as well as long established racist notions of whose experience and voices have value, has presented barriers to gathering data on this subset of the food system. This has created a blindspot on the truth of equity in our food system.

Our data agreement with Project Protect Food System Workers gives us direct access to the design of data gathering processes and tools, data management, and data analysis and reporting. Our desired outcomes on this project is to increase knowledge about the reality of Colorado agricultural workers and provide communities with data that can further their efforts of liberation.

2.2 BIPOC Apprenticeship program data

This summer, we are launching an inaugural cohort of BIPOC apprentices who will be trained on FrontLine Farming’s farms over the course of 16 weeks. While the primary focus of this program is the education and leadership development of emerging BIPOC farmers, this is also a prime opportunity for data creation. The lack of information about beginning BIPOC farmers makes it difficult to provide targeted support for this community who experience greater discribination and barriers to their success in the food system. The evaluation of this program, including surveys and peer-to-peer interviewing, will create data that we can use to better assess pathways toward equity for this identity group.

2.3 Inventory of data related to BIPOC actors in agriculture

In order to understand the narratives that are being told, and can be told, about BIPOC actors in Colorado agriculture, we must first inventory the publicly available datasets. This includes identifying the historical data sets that contain data representing BIPOC farmers and their land. As race is a socially and politically constructed concept, it changes over time and is affected by various political milieus. Accordingly, things such as design of data collection, categorical definitions, and terminology changes across time. We seek to increase our understanding of the structure of available data that historically represents us.

Focus Area 3: Water equity and water justice

Colorado water has embedded power structures and processes that have excluded historically underserved communities. In particular, significant equity issues emerged in analysis of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan and upon examination of structures of power and decision making in Colorado water. This research exposed gaps in inclusion, diversity, and justice within Colorado water infrastructure and planning processes. BIPOC are underrepresented in Colorado’s water policy decision-making bodies, which denies a critical opportunity to help shape Colorado water planning, and the State of Colorado misses an opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of BIPOC stakeholders. The decisions made around Colorado’s water resources today will impact the state for decades to come.

To increase equity, inclusion, environmental justice, and visibility for historically underserved communities in Colorado water procedure, more research and data are needed for informed and inclusive decision-making. While groups like the Water Equity Taskforce, formed in 2021 to provide and source input that will inform decisions made by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), more research is needed. Research will include identifying gaps in data on BIPOC growers and their water use, collecting and curating data that does exist, identifying secondary data that can be used for inferring when primary data is absent, and identifying voices and experience that are present but present in accepted research.

Ultimately we recognize that there is a notable gap in knowledge about the reality of water rights and access for BIPOC and other marginalized growers. This research will ultimately be useful for BIPOC agricultural stakeholders and allies to advocate for more equitable practices around water in Colorado. Our research will produce insights that are useful for critique and improvement of Colorado water systems of governance, structures of power, law, and policies. It will also inform educational undertakings targeting decision makers engaged in the Colorado Water Plan update, Colorado Basin Roundtables, and issues such as alternative transfer methods, demand management, urban agriculture, soil health, and others.

Focus Area 4: Alternative Economics for the food system

The agricultural system is often framed by invented, false dichotomies such as rural/urban, viable/unviable, and industrial/sustainable. In “White Supremacy Culture” (2001), Tema Okun outlines a number of characteristics of white supremacy culture which show up in our

organizations and cause damage by maintaining the norms and standards that promote white supremacy thinking. One of these is “Either/Or Thinking.” Either/Or Thinking is characterized by the simplification of complex concepts and realities into binaries such as are either/or, good/bad, right/wrong, with us/against us. This practice creates conflict,leaving little room for collaboration, collective decision making, the ability to consider alternative routes or futures.

We see this type of thinking embedded in the current agricultural economy and seek other economic models that better lend themselves to the decolonization of the US agricultural system. Our research in this topic aims to lay the groundwork for systems change. To do this, we seek to understand the history and usage of definitions such as urban, rural, small farm, midsize farm, and large-scale farm that create artificial categories in agriculture. We also seek an inventory of alternative economic structures for agriculture across cultures and across time. The initial research goal is a landscape study of current definitions and alternatives with the long-term goal of identifying more equitable economies that suit our Colorado community.


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