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2024 Research Agenda 

Updated: Apr 29

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 and education sit at the heart of our work, we also undertake research that shifts narratives and supports transformative change within and beyond our regional food system. Each year, we publish a research agenda that outlines the aspirations and foci of our inquiry and analysis for the year ahead and provides a framework for potential reports and deliverables that we envision producing over the following 12-month period.

Research Approach:

FrontLine Farming's research focuses on the connections between land access, farm ownership, food access, and social determinants of health. We aim to disrupt and displace the lasting legacy of structural racism in agriculture – and its deleterious impacts on BIPOC health, belonging, wellbeing, economic security, and food access – before the worsening impacts of the climate and ecological crises and attendant political economic fracturing encourage yet another era of displacement and resource hoarding.

FrontLine Farming amplifies the voices of those most marginalized by the current food system through an asset-based model. Because the current dominant corporate-industrial food system systematically excludes those who are the most vulnerable, FrontLine Farming engages in imperative research and policy advocacy efforts that place often-marginalized voices at the center. When our campaigns succeed, it is largely because we’ve prepared and mobilized food justice advocates from affected communities to lift their own voices and stories into the halls of power. 

We are also practiced in ensuring that the data that purports to represent our communities are accurate and that we can have sovereignty over our own data. That the data are created and used for liberation and that gaps in data are responsibly addressed. Our data and research are used to design advocacy efforts in which BIPOC leaders, womxn leaders, LGBTQ2 leaders, immigrants, and other marginalized groups are centered and involved at all stages of the data life cycle. In this way, we examine and redefine data collection and creation - understanding that many of our communities are traditional scientists who gather data through experiences and stories. Moreover, our ancestors were scientists and researchers yet were dismissed, discredited, and erased by colonial ideologies. We revere and respect their data and knowledge, and seek to elevate it.

Focus Areas

  1. Data Activism and Racial Equity Metrics

  2. Supporting Community with Data Services

  3. Project Protect Food Systems Workers

  4. DAAC Data

  5. CWEP NYFC and water equity

  6. Reflect on and refine FLF Food Systems research priorities

  7. Landscape analysis of BIPOC and community research

  8. Poly-crisis responsive 3-year center vision

Focus Area 1: Data Activism and Racial Equity Metrics

In 2024, we will focus on hosting workshops with various stakeholders within the community to build upon our previous work on data activism, data literacy and data sovereignty in the Front Range food systems movement. Over the last four years of research, we have developed a robust set of research and tools for advocates in the food system. This year will be a point of evaluation of those tools through community engagement. 

Our white paper on Measuring Racial Equity in Colorado’s Food Production (published in 2024) will be shared with various data and impact staff across Colorado. The metrics, data, and analysis outlined in this research is aimed to help food systems advocates better understand food production data in Colorado in order to move the needle toward a more racially equitable food system. To evaluate the research and value of this paper, we engage in a targeted outreach campaign to present this research in advocacy spaces where we are already active.

Our Data Request Kit for Food Systems Grantmakers (published in 2024) is intended to be used with grantmakers this year to open conversation around the value of the data they collect in the call for applications. Grantmakers play a key role in the food movement and data collection, which is why they have been identified as a key player in this work. Grantmakers often look at how their data can be used to assess an applicant or application and identify the best investment of funds. However, the data within their body of applications has more broad-reaching implications and uses. Our hope is to gain access to a subset of this data to develop a landscape assessment of racial equity in the Colorado Food Movement. To this end, we will host a workshop for grantmakers to build upon a similar workshop we hosted in 2023 and will use our Data Request Kit to explore the potential of doing this data collection and analysis in partnership. 

Our Data Sovereignty Toolkit (to be published in 2024) as 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. 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. The toolkit will include activities and descriptions that can help community members respond to requests for research participation, 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. These workshops will help evaluate the Toolkit and generate community-led revisions. 

Focus Area 2: Supporting Community with Data Services

2.1 Project Protect Food Systems Workers

As the Fiscal Sponsor and co-convener of Project Protect Food Systems Workers (PPFSW), Frontline continuously provides research and technical support to PPFSW’s data-related undertakings. In this year, there are five identified projects:

  • A small-sample oral survey with sheepherders working in the Northwestern part of the state. The survey will collect information on immediate needs, challenges, and health considerations within that community. This research is funded in part by High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (HICAHS). FrontLine’s research team will create the data collection tool, guide the field researcher in the data collection, analyze the resulting data, and write the final qualitative report. Project Protect will collect the data and will be engaged in both the analysis and distribution of the report.

  • A focus group study with up to six sessions across the Promotora Network, will examine themes of food access, health and insurance access, and opportunities for adult education within agricultural worker communities and their families. This research is funded by the Health Disparities and Community Grant Program from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  FrontLine’s research team will create the interview guide questions, provide guidance and training to focus group interviewers, analyze the resulting data, and write the final qualitative report. Project Protect will collect the data and will be engaged in both the analysis and distribution of the report.

  • A survey on Overtime Wages for agricultural workers will be conducted with a goal sample size of 600 workers. Until November 1, 2022, Colorado’s predominantly Latino/a agricultural workers were excluded from overtime pay based on longstanding discriminatory exceptions in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. During the 2023 agricultural season, employers were required to pay a 50% premium for any hours worked in excess of 60 hours in a single week. The project will produce data and a report that detail the implementation and impact of the Weekly Overtime Requirements for Agricultural Workers during 2023, the first full season the rules were in effect. FrontLine’s research team will create the data collection tool, train the data collectors, analyze the resulting data, and write the final report. Project Protect will collect the data and will be engaged in both the analysis and distribution of the report.

2.2 Denver African American Commission

Through collaborative research and analysis, we are deepening our partnership with the Denver African American Commission, for which our Executive Director is a Co-Chair. Between August 2023 and March 2024, DAAC collected over 300 survey responses that provided guidance for DAAC to effectively serve and uplift Denver's Black and African American community. While base-level analysis of closed-ended questions provided rates of approval and ranked topics of interest, there is potential for deeper thematic and cross-tabular analysis of both the quantitative and qualitative data. In 2023, FrontLine’s research team will provide a thematic analysis of the 300 responses that will pull out meaning and patterning from the data that may be missed by mere summary numbers. This analysis will then be presented in a report and verbal presentation to the DAAC to support their decision making and further strategy development. 

2.3 Colorado Water Equity Partnership

The National Young Farmers Coalition and FrontLine Farming formed the Colorado Water Equity Partnership in 2021. Over the last three years we worked collaboratively to educate the community, solicit and deliver feedback and input to Colorado Water Policy documents, host a Colorado Water Equity Fellowship with eight graduating fellows, and produce research and information that helps to bolster all of these efforts. In this year, we will compile the research, knowledge, and information we have gathered thus far to curate educational materials and present on our knowledge thus far to actors and advocates within water and farmer equity work in Colorado. Additionally, we will work with a larger coalition of water advocates to identify one or two water-related bills in the upcoming legislative season that will retain our focus and advocacy efforts. Research on the impacts and implications of these bills will be needed to educate both the public and policymakers to guide effective decision making. This work will be capped with a People’s Water Conference to be planned and executed in early stages of 2025.

2.4 Research Consulting for other community partners

We make room throughout the year to provide our expertise and initial consulting with community partners who are seeking support in data, research, or analysis. We have found over the last three years that our colleagues in nonprofit food systems have requested our assistance in undertakings such as the creation of data collection tools, advice on how to navigate and use data, and assistance on transforming their data into usable information for their decision making. Partners such as Mile High Farmers, Boulder Food not Bombs, and food pantry partners do not have internal staff or volunteer capacity to engage in data and research. We are committed to providing this technical assistance and guidance as they navigate decisions around new data collection and retrieving and understanding existing data.

Focus Area 3: Reflect on and refine FLF’s research priorities

FrontLine organizations bear the unique challenge of engaging with systems that perpetuate inequalities while simultaneously helping to envision a different future. Research has been an integral component of our work at FrontLine Farming. Our food access, food justice, food sovereignty framework has informed our approach to research to this point with food justice-oriented policy work being elevated out of necessity and opportunity. We are also happy to assist partner organizations in developing their own research agendas and participating in project specific research as our capacity allows. 

At this moment of profound social and ecological upheaval of geo-politics and climate change, we find ourselves asking how we want to work moving forward into these crises. We are pursuing answers to questions such as: What is the “why” that will animate and inform our research and what are the priorities we will invest our intellectual capacity into as we move toward the horizon? How do we need to work differently with institutions that may very well be facing systemic failures in the near future? How do we work to build pathways to sovereignty and how do we involve ourselves and food systems work more deeply into the radical imagining of the future? 

Our aim of shaping systems change necessitates that we be data-driven; at the same time, we recognize the pressing need for our synthesis and analysis to be rapidly responsive to the present and worsening polycrisis. Because the present moment is one of unprecedented involuntary global economic and ecological decline paired with particularly pointed social fracturing and polarization, we recognize a need to update the priorities of and our approaches to research, as well as to situate ourselves within the growing field of community-based researchers and to expand our research capacity by building relationships with other black researchers.

3.1 Landscape analysis of BIPOC and community research collectives

In 2024, FrontLine Farming will undertake a landscape assessment and outreach with other black researchers and research collectives within food systems but also within intersectional and related areas of inquiry. At the end of the year, we will create an internal working document highlighting the below areas of focus which will recommend short, medium and long term actionable steps that FLF can take to foster greater research collaboration in the service of our goal of continuing to lead in radically shifting the food system in support of community resilience and sovereignty. 

The goal of this assessment will be to identify:

  • Black research collectives that exist across a broad array of focus areas both in the U.S and internationally

  • Trends in what types of research these collectives are undertaking

  • Leadership/decision making structures of these entities

  • How are these collectives funded and what is their relationship to non-profit organizations and/or institutions of higher education

  • How do black research collectives approach community education, engagement, action research and advocacy?

  • What values guide these entities?

  • Best practices/Lessons Learned

  • Assets and Challenges for these collectives

  • Opportunities for Collaboration

3.2 Poly-crisis responsive 3-year center vision

FrontLine Farming frankly acknowledges that our era is not just one of intersecting crises, but one of overshoot and inevitable, involuntary retraction and decline. We are actively grappling with what this acknowledgement means for the future of our work and how we ought to prioritize our research and angle our educational programs. There are many terms entering more common usage to characterize that which our limbic systems have sensed for a while now. Some say we are living in a time of polycrisis, great unraveling, climacteric, or collapse, as but a few examples. Though these terms differ slightly in their meaning and usage, they all attempt to capture and convey something entirely contrary to the dominant narratives of ceaseless (if uneven) progress and infinite economic growth that were so common and widely accepted in the so-called “developed world” in recent centuries. History tells us that when societies become overly complex, dangerously deplete resources, allow or encourage gaping inequalities to form, and erode social bonds, things tend to fall apart. Our present era of colonialist extraction, fossil-fueled growth, globalized commodification, and fetishization of markets, bureaucracies, and power hierarchies features many of the conditions that have historically accompanied decline. On top of that, modern humans – with outsized contributions from the wealthy, powerful, and often white – have also destabilized the life-supporting characteristics of the climate, critically threatened the Earth bio-physical boundaries, set off mass extinction of more-than-human species, and failed to heed decades-worth of warnings about the need to make rapid transformative change. 

In the context of a necessary (if slow-going) worldwide reckoning with the limits of growth and the enduring falsehood of unfettered progress, FrontLine Farming senses a need to devote its substantial energy and attention to reflecting and refocusing during 2024. We have long known that the promise of U.S.-style ease, prosperity, and comfort for all was always false because it was necessarily dependent upon the exploitation of peoples and places within the U.S. and beyond our borders. We have attempted to work around this falsehood and advance laudable goals like equity, justice, and sovereignty through land-based ethics and lifeways, reclaiming and sharing ancestral wisdom, nourishing our communities. We continue to believe firmly and fully in these core principles and approaches. But as the intersecting social and economic crises of our time tighten their grips on our communities, as the pursuit of so-called progress razes our homelands, as climate and ecological crises add volatility to the already hard work of farming, and as well-founded fears meet unhealed trauma, we are asking ourselves some big questions, such as:

  1. What is the right balance between food security, justice and sovereignty efforts in our work?  Are these terms and their distinctions still the correct terms to characterize what FrontLine Farming does?

  2. Which research questions reveal insights that will help our communities build strength in the present and survive the future? Which merely fill data gaps that are relevant to the crumbling systems causing harm?

  3. What can we learn from BIPOC communities in places that have recently experienced theexperienced their the devolution of their societies, governments, supply chains, currencies, and other erstwhile conveyors of economic of stability?

  4. Recognizing that a key function of both racism and patriarchy is to keep their subjects distracted from the efforts that would truly build their power and resilience, how should we focus and prioritize our efforts so that our BIPOC communities are best positioned as we enter a period of retraction and decline?

  5. What can we, at FrontLine, seed and nurture within the cracks of neoliberal extractive agri-capitalism?

  6. How can we effectively communicate our evolving emphasis to stakeholders that are more slowly waking up to the magnitude and interconnectedness of what is happening all around us?

  7. How do our land-based ethics distinguish and strengthen FrontLine Farming from other organizations, including other BIPOC-led organizations and/or food systems organizations? How can we both maintain and foreground our land-based ethics, which we believe to be central to building security and sovereignty, while attempting to translate our work into the language and priorities of the dominant culture and existing systems-under-pressure?

Throughout 2024 FrontLine Farming will grapple with these questions through internal conversation, focused reading and reflection, planning, prioritization, and writing. By March 2025, we anticipate making a public statement about what we have uncovered, what, if anything, we have determined, and which questions remain alive and most urgent for us. This may take the form of a manifesto, a refreshed purpose statement for our research center, our next research agenda, or publications in outlets with wider reach.  We leave substantial flexibility in form and content of this deliverable so that we may let the questions and reflections lead us where they may.

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