We created Sustainable Equity, LLC on the principle that achieving justice requires both the inner work of individuals examining their own attitudes and biases combined with the outer work of building trusting and respectful relationships that lead toward advocacy and policies for justice. Our firm offers a learning journey to organizations seeking to make the greatest collective impact on creating inclusive, trusting and humane work and social environments. We believe that strengthening civil society is the path to achieving sustainable equity, especially for the most vulnerable populations. Our approach is an antidote to inequality, a prevention for extremism, and transformative experience based on self-reflection and authentic and meaningful connections.
By changing interpersonal and public conditions that undergird inequality and separation, we can reset biased attitudes and mindsets and intervene in discriminatory behaviors. At its core, our work is about creating a culture of connection and truth-telling for transformation. It is important to remember these values when questioning the role of social justice in sustainable agriculture.
Many advocates for sustainable agriculture including International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) believe that “Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities. Fairness is characterized by equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world, both among people and in their relations to other living beings.”¹ This principle emphasizes cultivating human relationships in a manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties – farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers. We agree. We believe this overlaps with the general principles of social justice: fairness and respect at all levels. Our goal of achieving sustainable equity relies on the idea that a sustainable society is nurtured by relationships among individuals. Science suggests that, despite our individual and societal needs for self-reliance, we are wired for relationships. The sustainability of a society perhaps depends even more upon strong relationships among its members than upon strong individual members.
As John Ikerd (Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO) points out, “The sustainability of a society perhaps depends even more upon strong relationships among its members than upon strong individual members. A sustainable economy must meet the material needs of people by means that are perceived to be equitable and just by the society that supports it.”²
Further, he states “Almost everyone agrees; our food and farming systems must be ecologically sound and economically viable if they are to be sustainable over time. Even giant agribusiness corporations, such as Monsanto and Du Pont, have sustainable agriculture programs that address environmental and economic concerns. However, there is far less agreement concerning the third essential aspect of sustainability the question of social justice. Any system of food and farming that fails to meet the needs of a society, will not be sustained by that society, no matter how ecologically benign or profitable it may appear to be. A society has physical and material needs, however, one of the most basic needs of any society is a sense of social equity or justice. Any food and farming system that is not socially just does not meet this basic need, and thus, is not sustainable.”²
Social justice demands that all people have adequate food, clothing and shelter. This includes employment equity for farmers, farm workers, and others employed in the system. “Sustainability is a question of environmental integrity and economic viability, but sustainability is also a question of social justice.”² Agriculture should provide everyone involved with a good quality of life and contribute to food sovereignty and reduction of poverty.
The question of sustainable agriculture and social justice is becoming greater in our society. Some organizations in Mississippi are aiming to practice this principle and are working to achieve sustainable agriculture.
Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN) is based in Oxford, Mississippi and we thank them for the work they do in our communities. MSAN is a network of farmers, consumers, educators, and activists working together to create a sustainable agricultural system in Mississippi. MSAN provides a forum where Mississippi farmers and food consumers share ideas, tips, techniques, and information; and outreach, support and educational opportunities that promote sustainable farming and local food systems in Mississippi. They offer several wonderful programs including Farm to School. “Farm to School programs benefit everyone involved. From directly combating America’s obesity epidemic to keeping money in the local economy, Farm to School strengthens communities.”³
Despite being an agricultural state, 90% of all food consumed in Mississippi is imported. Farm to School programs support local farmers so that cafeteria food is fresher and travels a shorter distance from field to plate. School districts are ideal customers for local farmers because they purchase frequently on a large scale. Farm to School programs typically raise school lunch participation by 11%. Through efforts like this, sustainable agriculture can help us promote social justice and work towards a sustainable, equitable society.
Please take the time to learn about their network and if possible, offer your support.