Incorporating diverse perspectives

By Tim Schwantes, Vice Chair of the Board

Farmer Foodshare’s values include transparency and inclusion. To that end, we thought we would pull back the curtain and share how our own journey towards continuous learning is helping us become a better organization, uphold our mission, and best serve our partners across the state. 

We can all agree that promoting diversity and practicing inclusion are generally good goals for any nonprofit board of directors. Yet all too often, competing priorities like fundraising, grant writing, leadership development, more fundraising and internal policy-writing seem more urgent and time-sensitive. (Did I mention fundraising?) However, if we don’t make time to intentionally focus on diversity and inclusion, we can find ourselves either a) missing the mark on doing what is best for the priority populations we’re serving, or b) perpetuating the problem by keeping decision making and power among those who have historically always had it. Farmer Foodshare has not been impervious to this situation, and conversations internally and with outside stakeholders have helped us progress in this area.     

We’re constantly listening to you – farmers, local food system leaders, all of you who eat food – in an effort to play our part in creating a more just and equitable food system. Sadly, it’s common knowledge that access to healthy, local food is not available everywhere in North Carolina. We’re not all privy to the same opportunities to eat well, and those working on small- and mid-sized farms are not assured the same job securities as many of the rest of us. This is especially true for communities of color, farmers of color, female farmers and beginning farmers, and many other groups that have been historically marginalized. 

Listening is helpful, but having people with these lived experiences on our board and staff to help guide decisions is even better. In order to do the most good and understand the nuances that face our primary constituents, the Farmer Foodshare board and staff are taking a look at our internal culture, practices and procedures to consider all the ways to be more inclusive, aware of our blind spots, and open to deepening our own learning. 

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We have created a Diversity Plan that will guide our efforts to create a more equitable way of working. The plan has two main objectives: 1) recruit and retain a diverse board of directors and 2) create and maintain diversity, a culture of inclusion and a cultural competency on the board. This approach isn’t revolutionary, yet it is imperative that we link arms as an organization and approach issues of race, culture, and diversity intentionally, and that we create a shared language that will help us when we find ourselves talking about the mission on a much deeper and meaningful level.

This Diversity Plan is not likely to create major shifts in how Farmer Foodshare does business. But, like the food system itself, we’re growing, adjusting to changing climates and trends, and always scanning the landscape to consider the possibilities for how to connect more people who grow food with those who eat food. In a system with significant built-in barriers, Farmer Foodshare is creating unique access and opportunity: to markets for vulnerable, local growers and to healthy food for the hungry. Diverse perspectives make it possible.