Food insecurity has been a growing concern of Black Americans for decades.
Food deserts and lack of access to quality food have remained pervasive issues in communities of color across the United States. The stories of Black farmers and the Black farming movement have largely been untold. Author and activist Natasha Bowens has spent the last several years embarking on a mission to tell the real stories of farmers of color.
As the author of The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience and Farming, Bowens is working to change how the modern farmer is portrayed in the media. Her journey to food sovereignty began when she was working on
“When you talk about health and you talk about social justice and talk about the environment, the way our food is grown, what we're putting in our bodies and what is on that food, I have never really put any thought toward my food before," she told ESSENCE in an exclusive interview. "Like so many Americans, I grew up with just go the grocery store and ate whatever I felt like eating without thinking too much about it. That's how I kind of got into food and quickly immersed myself in that world.”
Bowens dove head first into the world of food farming. She began going to farmer’s markets, volunteering and justice and agricultural conferences to educate herself on food issues. She soon made the drastic decision to leave her job and begin farming. She also began changing the language around what is called food justice.
“I kind of started out learning about food justice and then my education really started gravitating more towards food sovereignty," she told ESSENCE. "This movement for food sovereignty, which is more of an international movement that was founded by Lavia Campesina and the movement for peasant farmers, like the landless farmers who are fighting to have more sovereignty, saying 'no to we don't want GMO's, we don't want Monsanto in our country. We want ownership of our food from seed to table.'”
As her devotion to farming grew, Bowens decided to become a farmer.
“I didn't even grow up near farms. I didn't grow up growing nothing. It was a huge, huge, huge change for me, shocked my family and friends," she said. "One day I called my mom and I was like I'm quitting my great job with benefits to do a farm.”
Becoming a farmer changed Bowens' life.
“I never felt like more of a woman into the day I dug my hands into the soil. I can't really explain what it was that captured my being and my heart and my soul, but when I dug into the soil out there planting seeds, I just felt connected to primarily all of the women in my history that have done the same thing for generations before me.”
As communities of colors continue to face food issues such as food deserts, lack of access to quality foods and the rising price of food itself, Natasha is hopeful that we will all begin to educating ourselves and getting involved in local organizations.
“Dig into the story of your food," she advised. "It's a whole connection to heritage, to culture, food is so emotional. It's so personal. Sit down and ask your grandmama what she used to cook, what she grew up on. Go to the farmer's market, find that farmer that you feel connected to and just ask their story. I think it's a powerful way to spark the conversation, spark the curiosity into what's going on with our food system today. Pick up a copy of The Color of Food.”
With a new appreciation and connection to our food, our communities can learn how to navigate food inequality.