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A Reflection on Food Sovereignty and Collective Organizing

Stanfors students at Free the Land event.
Mar 10 2020
Nancy Chang, Maya Burke

A lot of discourse at Stanford revolves around food security, which has to do with producing and distributing food. But there are fundamental questions that are often left out of the picture, such as, “Who controls agricultural resources such as land, water, and seeds? Who gets to decide what is grown, how and where it is grown and for whom?”

Food sovereignty, as defined by La Via Campesina, is the peoples’ right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. The work of food sovereignty re-embeds food in social, ecological, cultural and local contexts and critically examines structures of power and democracy.

On Feb. 1, 2020, Stanford ROOTS, in collaboration with Students for Environmental and Racial Justice and Black Student Union, hosted the Free the Land event, in which ten members from the Black Earth Farms Collective came to the O'Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm to discuss land liberation and food sovereignty.

Black Earth Farms started the day by leading seventy attendees through song, intention setting, and grounding. We gathered around an altar at the base of a Yuukis, a coast live oak tree, and were invited to call ancestors, elders, and inspirations into the space.

With a land acknowledgement and statement on accountability to indigenous sovereignty movements, we moved into a grounding discussion. Students learned how growing the food our communities need to be healthy is an active form of resistance against racism, capitalism, and patriarchy. Putting the liberation ethic into work, Black Earth Farms had attendees break up into smaller groups to discuss an array of topics including land rematriation, creative writing, yoga and meditation, planting vegetables and harvesting flowers, and intergenerational trauma. At closing, we gathered in a circle and Black Earth Farms encouraged us to reflect on the spaces held throughout the day. To the beat of a drum, we were invited to dance for our ancestors.

Three weeks later, fifteen students traveled to the East Bay to harvest, weed, and plant with Black Earth Farms. Gathering to work, talk, and share a meal together allowed us to practice sacred ways of organizing and being in reciprocal community with one another. Agroecological work can be a lot to take in, especially when we’re coming from so many different backgrounds. And, particularly, when many of these backgrounds involve intergenerational trauma related to forced labor and forced removal from homelands. Nonetheless, it was an encouraging and empowering experience.

We have been meditating quite profoundly on something Black Earth Farms shared: they're not advocating for everyone to shift into farming lifestyles, but rather for everyone to cultivate consciousness and relationships with anti-oppression based agroecological work, no matter one's positionality.

Thank you to our sponsors— the Woods Institute, the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, the Center on Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity, the Center on Food Security and the Environment, Black Student Union, Students for a Sustainable Stanford, the Haas Center, the Outdoor Center, Stanford Residential Education, Columbae, 576 Alvarado, and Enchanted Broccoli Forest— for supporting students' engagement with food sovereignty and collective organizing.

If students would like to get involved in any of the student groups that organized the event or further community building with Black Earth Farms, please reach out to Nancy Chang at

"The Buzz" is the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society's media portal for ethics-related news on campus and beyond. We review events and speakers, and we feature initiatives that are of broad interest. A wide range of voices author the articles, including undergraduate students.