Cooperatives in the U.S. are stepping up efforts to help the Black community as new data shows the community has taken a higher social and economic hit from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Census data shows that Black people are more affected than non-Hispanic white adults across a range of outcomes, even beyond pre-pandemic disparities.
In response, National Co+op Grocers (NCG) says it will continue investment in the Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF) Food Box Program, following on from last year’s efforts. The program connects Black farmers who have lost market share during the pandemic with families in their communities that don’t have enough to eat.
NCG says it has a long history of supporting small-scale and family farmers around the world, but adds that its racial equity work has seen it recognize systemic inequities in the United States and respond with increased investments in U.S. farmers of color.
Since 2017, it says it has increased its support for smallholder, fair trade and/or cooperative farmers, in line with a UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) commitment to increase its support for these groups 30% by 2030.
“We are on track to meet this goal,” said Senior Director of Advocacy and Sustainability Allie Mentzer, “which we have historically met by funding farmer-led development projects, usually within food co-ops’ supply chain, in places such as East Timor, Peru and Kerala, India. These are places where fair trade has a foothold as a worker and human rights movement.
“While we continue to champion fair trade abroad, we are energized by our new partnership with the Federation in the American South, and excited to apply our commitment to domestic supply chain development.”
The FSC/LAF, entering its 55th year, assists limited-resource farmers, landowners, and cooperatives across the South with business planning, debt restructuring, marketing expertise, and a whole range of other services to ensure the retention of land ownership and cooperatives as a tool for social and economic justice.
The overall mission is to reverse the trend of black land loss and be a catalyst for self-supporting communities via cooperative economic development, land retention and advocacy.
The Federation began the Food Box Program in 2020 to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, but due to continued need, has chosen to integrate this initiative into its overall disaster relief efforts and regional marketing system.
“The Federation values our relationship with NCG and its support of our member cooperatives and farmers through its direct investment in our work to support rural communities, and their commitment to providing equitable opportunities for Black farmers within their supply chain,” said Chawnn Redden, regional marketing coordinator for the FSC / LAF.
NCG is in discussion with FSC about other partnership opportunities. “Food co-ops gave NCG a mission that includes growing the size and scope of the co-operative grocery sector,” said NCG CEO C.E. Pugh. “Focusing on racial equity and food justice in our supply chain is well aligned with that mission. Today, just 1.3% of farmers in the U.S. identify as Black. Our support for the Federation is an investment in building a strong and resilient domestic food system that is truly inclusive from farm to food co-op to fork.”