2022 Research Agenda

Updated: Mar 22

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 undertake research each year that helps us journey toward action and change. This research agenda recaps some of the analysis and publications we accomplished last year and outlines our aspirational work in 2022 that will provide us the knowledge needed for our pursuit of greater equity, liberation and sovereignty.


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 data point 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 the data lifecycle and we are committed to creating space and time for all stakeholders, especially those represented in the data, to engage in this 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. Pathways to data sovereignty


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

In 2020 and 2021, we worked with students in University of Colorado, Boulder’s Masters of the Environment program to analyze various metrics of racial equity in the food system in Colorado. Students generated academic research papers to provide insight and recommendations about how the metrics set forth in Michigan State University’s “Measuring Racial Equity in the Food System: Established and Suggested Metrics” apply to Colorado’s food system. These papers were in turn digested by FrontLine’s leadership team, similar to an academic review process, to assess the logic and accuracy of the suggestions proposed by students.


In this coming year, these papers will be translated into a public facing document geared to a non-academic audience of food system practitioners. This document not only will elevate a cross section of metrics for Colorado’s specific context, but also identifies certain new metrics that were not included in the original 86. Furthermore, since other organizations in Colorado (eg. Blueprint to End Hunger) are focused on research, data and metrics related to food access, we have tightened the focus of our analysis to racial equity in food production labor and food and farm business. A draft will be released in March 2022 and a final document will be published during that following summer.


Lastly, an insight that was elevated from our student researchers was that 6 of the 9 equity metrics assessing the food movement were “suggested”, meaning there were no established data sets for the metric. Within the nonprofit community in Colorado, we are aware that some, if not most of these suggested metrics exist as private datasets collected by funding organizations through their grant applications. In 2022, our research team will work to identify two to three state-wide funders who are willing to provide anonymized datasets generated from their food, hunger, or agricultural grants or donations in order to continue this analysis.


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 ethnographic 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.


2.1 Data 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 the 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 food system labor. This has created a blindspot on the truth of inequity in our food system. To address this, we have partnered with Project Protect Food System Workers (PPFSW) in 2020 to provide them data services including data collection design, data management, 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.


Our work with PPFSW in 2021, specifically their Project Protect Promotora Network, included managing and analysing the data collected on agricultural workers in Colorado. During this past year we curated and maintained a data dashboard for the Project Protect Promotora Network’s programmatic field data and produced six bi-monthly reports that provided periodic program updates and deeper dives into the qualitative data being collected. These reports can be found on the resources page on PPFSW’s resources page. See the March and April 2021 report and the September and October 2021 report as specific examples of our impactful data storytelling.


In 2022, we will continue to maintain the data systems and data communication in place, and improve data infrastructure in affordable ways. We also have plans to launch a digital community archive that will collect and catalogue agricultural workers’ stories. The archive is titled, esencial. This project is a collaboration between FrontLine Farming, PPFSW and University of Denver’s Ethnography Lab (DUEL). This undertaking includes the training of community ethnographers in the Project Protect Promotora Network. We envision this work as a vehicle to open space for community members and artists to curate exhibits and create art that is based in data storytelling. The archive can be used as both a presentation platform for stories and a research tool for those looking to take a closer look at the realities of equity in our food system.


2.2 BIPOC Apprenticeship program data

In 2021, we hosted the inaugural cohort of our BIPOC Beginning Farmer Apprenticeship and graduated four apprentices from the program. This program has a robust, community-driven evaluation process including mixed-method data collection including the application process, entry and exit surveys, periodic progress surveys and peer-to-peer interviews. This data collection was designed (1) to evaluate the development of apprentices and areas of program improvement from multiple perspectives, (2) to generate data from beginning BIPOC growers in Colorado that can inform racial equality movements in our food system, and (3) to provide success metrics for funders.


After the pilot year of the program, the data collection methods and tools remained relevant and required only a few adjustments to maximize ethics and engagement. In 2022, we will implement the adjusted and updated data collection process and expand it to a larger participant pool of 10 to 15 apprentices.


Using the data from the program we produced two types of reports in 2021. One type of report is a private, personal report for each apprentice, and includes their data from the program to ensure we are respecting their own ownership and governance of their data. The other is a public report covering the pilot year of the apprenticeship program to discuss our approach, successes and learnings from this past year.


In 2022, we will continue the practice of providing apprentice’s data back to them at the close of the program and begin to analyze the data that have been provided by the apprentices in this process. We aim to generate insights and analysis on motivations and identity of BIPOC Beginning Farmers in Colorado.


2.3 Inventory of data related to BIPOC actors in agriculture

In 2021, FrontLine Farming worked with a volunteer researcher, Evan Gallant, to launch an analysis of existing data about BIPOC actors in Colorado agriculture. The research examined the structure and definitions of race and ethnic data from the USDA’s Agricultural census dating back to 1974. Evan explains that findings were limited due to the structure of the USDA data,


“Originally our goal was to find data describing the total number of BIPOC farmland owners at the county level - unfortunately, this data is either not available through the Census of Agriculture or was never collected. The most relevant extant data describes the number of farms on which BIPOC producers have worked, and the total land area covered by those farms.”


Read the full analysis here. This research uncovered specific areas of further research including,


  • Two counties, Montezuma and La Plata, exhibit interesting trends for the Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin and American Indian/Alaskan Native groups. And Montezuma county also exhibits nuanced trends for farmland with Black producers. These two counties, and the specified producer demographics, should be the subject of a more detailed case study within the outlined timeframes.

  • The data analyzed in this project does not include ownership rates for BIPOC groups, as the only available relevant census categories which were reported on the county level described the number of farms and producers, and the acreage of those farms. While this data does highlight interesting trends, it does not allow us to discuss farmland ownership, which is more intrinsically tied to the representation of individuals within the agricultural decision making process. Additional research into other statistical sources which may include ownership data could lead to a more robust analysis of this topic.


In 2022, we will continue to identify and inventory the publicly available datasets and the implications of changing social and political definitions of race categories through time. To effectively do this, we have learned that we must also examine other defined categories, such as farm size typology and family farms, to understand how USDA data practices continue to perpetuate control over Black and Brown bodies and use big data to maintain colonial and racist ideologies. We will continue to elevate students who are interested in following these further research inquiries.


Focus Area 3: Water equity and water justice

In 2021, FrontLine Farming co-created the Partnership on Water and Equity in Colorado with the National Young Farmers Coalition. In 2021, we hosted a two part series (Session 1 and Session 2) called KNOW YOUR WATER: Equity, Food Systems, and Colorado Water Planning Virtual Education Series. Each webinar presented a panel of experts to provide education on Colorado water, equity issues within its structures of power, and opened a platform for conversation and questions. Additionally, Willow Cozzens, the project coordinator, researched and compiled educational resources, published the following blog post in Colorado Water Planning”


Additionally in 2021, CU students in the Master of the Environment program conducted research on pre-colonial and non-colonial irrigation practices in semi-arid or desert climates to demonstrate the variety of ways agricultural water systems were managed and valued in similar climates to Colorado. This research presented alternatives to the standardized water management practices and supremacist values in Colorado’s Water Plan. In 2022, we hope to continue identifying other irrigation practices, and cultural values embedded therein, to continue to move theis knowledge to the center of the water discussion.


The Partnership on Water and Equity in Colorado now has a three year vision, including ways that data and research will be integral to successful activism and implementation.


Focus Area 4: Pathways to Data Sovereignty

Unlike our other focus areas, the approach to this research is oriented at methods of data activism, as opposed to a topic of research. We know that data use is growing in popularity for many social service practitioners. This also means that our communities are being exposed to more data collection, data analysis, and data communication, without being guaranteed the base knowledge needed to enact sovereignty of and rights to the data that represent them.


In 2022, we will conduct research that allows us to better understand processes of questioning data, equitable access to data, and community ownership of data. The target audience of these findings are community members and frontline practitioners who have low data tech skills but wish to hold ownership, accountability, and voice in conversations on evaluation and research in their communities. While often academics and researchers discuss among themselves the best practices for engaged research and communities, we seek to approach this conversation from the reverse side: how can a community engage with research and data authentically and with integrity.


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