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2023 Research Agenda

FrontLine Farming | Center for Food Justice and Healthy Communities

Purpose Statement:

FrontLine Farming’s (FLF) mission is to create greater equity across our food system on the front range of Colorado. While farming is our center from which we do our work, we undertake research each year that helps us journey toward action and change at a variety of levels in the food system. This research agenda outlines our aspirational work in 2023 including topics of inquiry and potential deliverables from the work.

Research Approach:

We take seriously the fact that data, even aggregate data and Big 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. As we are farmers, land stewards, BIPOC, womxn, and data activists, we are also the community at the center of this work and hold close our connections to our relatives with whom we are in community with. 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 Women and Communities 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

We often hear that food systems work is centered around racial equity, but have found that “people of color” and “people” are used interchangeably in data and outcome measurements. Creating a baseline and providing suggestions for indicators that truly measure impact on communities of color, 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.

For the last three years, 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. Previously our student researchers noted that 6 of the 9 equity metrics assessing the food movement were “suggested”, meaning there were no established data sets for the metric, which in turn presented challenges in their own research. Within the nonprofit community in Colorado, we were aware that some, if not most of these suggested metrics may exist as private datasets collected by funding organizations through their grant data. In 2023, our Data Activist will continue working with a student researcher to continue exploring these possibilities to access data. In our research this year we will engage funders and philanthropic organizations in the Colorado food movement to discuss if and how their grant data may be useful for insights on racial equity in the food system. This project will use interviews and facilitated meetings to open discussion around how grant data could potentially be used in assessing the “suggested” metrics set out by MSU. This research will result in a published white paper exploring the potential to house grant-related food movement and racial equity data in a way that is accessible to community researchers. We hope to create the possibility of assessing racial equity in the Colorado food movement through accessible and community-owned data.

Focus area 2: Data on Women and Communities 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 women and 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) since 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 and 2022, specifically their Project Protect Promotora Network, included managing and analyzing the data collected on agricultural workers in Colorado. The robust field data collection from Promotora outreach was sunset on December 31, 2022, as we watched COVID emergency funds dry up, and with it funding for promotora wages. Looking forward to 2023, we have exciting new projects which include a 2022 summary infographic, a community needs assessment that will utilize the 2 years worth of data collected by promotores, data tracking of time-sensitive and topical outreach, and the growth and expansion of the community story archive titled, esencial colorado.

Esencial Colorado is a collaboration between FrontLine Farming, PPFSW and University of Denver’s Ethnography Lab (DUEL). Over the next 2 years we plan to source new stories to be added to the archive and create a community-designed traveling exhibit featuring archived stories.

2.2 BIPOC Apprenticeship program data

Frontline Farming hosts BIPOC beginning farmers each summer to offer education and hands-on training. Data about the success of these training programs and the specific needs of BIPOC beginning farmers have the potential to improve the overall reality faced by BIPOC farmers.

In 2023, our program was overhauled to create two pathways to beginning farmers: (1) a 2-Week Farm Immersion program, and (2) a Full Season Farm Work experience. With the re-design of this program, our program evaluation and data collection will need revision and updating to better align with the revised program objectives. Data will continue to be collected through surveys and community storytelling activities. This data will be used to improve organizational programming and generate insights and analysis on motivations and identity of BIPOC Beginning Farmers in Colorado for use in our own work and advocacy. Through this program we demonstrate our commitment to community data ownership and provide all participant data back to the individuals who the data represent. We also publish a yearly report on insights gleaned from the data in January of the following year.

2.3 Historical Assessment of Colorado Women Farmers and Ranchers

The concept of “Man the Hunter” has been tremendously overstated and mythologized. Women have historically provided 70% of the daily calories consumed in our communities, however are frequently relegated to charitable recipients in the food system. Although over 95% of farms in Colorado are considered “family farms” less than 70% have women producers listed as decision makers on the operation. Often we have seen enumerators, vendors, and customers assume the women who work and labor on the farms are separate from the operation and hold little knowledge about farming. While we know this to be a false narrative, we also know that women have been systematically erased from historical data and routinely disempowered through policy and laws. Women, for example, had their names omitted from bank loans, land titles, and equipment sales, thus reducing potential financial independence and power. This year we are undertaking research that will examine the realities of women’s contribution to Colorado’s agricultural industry and how laws and policies affected the representation of women producers in Colorado.

Focus Area 3: Water equity and water justice

Water equity is complex as different agencies, culturals, and organizations make different considerations. Some consider water equity in the natural world and landscapes, while others focus on quality of water for human consumption and use. Two years ago, FrontLine Farming co-created the Partnership on Water and Equity in Colorado with the National Young Farmers Coalition, which has since hosted educational workshops, formed an Advisory Board, authored recommendations to the Colorado Water Board, and launched the Colorado Water Equity Fellowship.

In 2023, The Partnership on Water and Equity in Colorado will continue on our three year vision, and engage in strategic planning with the Advisors. FrontLine will specifically take on the development of a snapshot analysis of how equity is present, or not, in historic Colorado water policy by exemplifying how political rhetoric and state policy have historically impacted water equity. We will also research the theory behind water equity to pull apart the complex pieces of what different entities mean when they refer to water equity. The results of this research will be in the form of white papers to be published in the following year.

Focus Area 4: Pathways to Data Sovereignty

Unlike our other focus areas, the approach to this research is oriented at methods and application of data activism, as opposed to a topic of research. Each year there is a growing interest in how data can be used by the community and for the community. 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.

Focus Area 4.1: Data Literacy and Sovereignty Tools for Community Members

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: in what ways can a community engage with research and data with integrity. Building upon research conducted in past years by graduate students in University of Colorado, Boulder’s Masters of the Environment program, we will design and publish a Data Sovereignty Toolkit. This toolkit will be a guide for community members and frontline practitioners who have low data tech skills but wish to exert sovereignty in processes of research in their communities. The toolkit will include activities and descriptions that can help community members respond to requests for research within their communities, advocate for ethical data collection, and become active critics of research findings that directly relate to their lives. We will use this Data Tool Kit to host community workshops to improve data literacy. From these workshops, we may elect to issue a revised version based on the needs expressed in these workshops.

Focus Area 4.2: Data Literacy within our teams

Data-driven decision-making has gained a lot of traction in the nonprofit and social good world, yet frontline practitioners face barriers to making data useful to their work. Over the last three years, we have learned about what works, and what doesn’t, for our staff’s data collection and use. Over the next year, we will create and refine internal and external facing data systems for organization-wide use that will allow our Program and Farm Managers to become more proficient data collectors and data scientists. Such learnings and tools will also be applied in our work with Project Protect Food System Workers (PPFSW). Taking what we have learned about low-cost, open source, secure and accessible software, our Data team will design data management tools for our staff and train staff on data-driven decision making.

Managing staff and administering program activities can be cumbersome with many variables, moving parts, and daily tasks needed to be successful. Our goal in this work is for our Farm and Program Managers to gain confidence and comfort in using data tools to evaluate their activities and plan for future improvements and activities. We believe that streamlined and secure digital data storage and access is achievable for small nonprofits and their employees. We seek to demonstrate this through applied research.


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