This blog post is the second in a series of three sneak peeks we will share in advance of the release of our 2020 Accountability Report. If you missed our first sneak peek on our compensation guidelines, please check it out! And be on the lookout for our next and final blog post on the release of the report.
From the 2020 Young Farmers Accountability Report:
National Leadership Convergence by Faith Shaeffer and Caitlin Arnold Stephano
Our National Leadership Convergence is our coalition’s keystone annual event. Each year we gather farmers and ranchers from our chapters and extended network to learn critical advocacy and organizing skills, share best practices with the wider coalition, and build community within the young farmer movement. Over four days each November, Convergence hosts a multitude of workshops, panels, listening sessions, and social events for our farmer leaders. While we made several efforts to include racial equity components in Convergence programming since the events’ inception in 2015–such as adding racial affinity caucusing and anti-racism workshops, applying a racial equity rubric to workshop design in 2019, offering scholarship opportunities for BIPOC farmers, and planning keynotes and panels featuring BIPOC farmer leaders–the 2020 Convergence staff planning team felt we had not done enough to center racial equity, or the incredible BIPOC farmer leaders within our coalition.
In 2020, we moved to create a Convergence designed by and for our BIPOC farmer leaders. We started by calling BIPOC farmers who had attended previous Convergence events and asking for their recommendations and vision for the upcoming event. From this outreach we determined we would maintain a multiracial space, but still place the primary focus and goal of the planning around centering BIPOC leaders. In doing so, we formed a paid committee of five farmer leaders from within our network–Qaadir Anderson, Queen Frye, Tré Smith, Michelle Week, and Laura Xiao–to lead the vision for the event. As part one of a two-year theme of “Achieving Equity Through Agriculture,” Convergence 2020 focused on building a shared language and understanding of U.S. agriculture, particularly focused on the systemic racism that pervades this country’s history, and continues to impact us today. In an effort to uplift the voices speaking this truth, nearly all of the speakers and panelists featured at the event were BIPOC farmers from our direct and extended networks. Convergence 2020 was a majority BIPOC space, maintained through invitation guidelines for our chapters, farmers, partner organizations, and funders. Chapters with primarily white membership were only permitted to send two representatives out of five total spots.
Overall, the feedback we received from attendees was positive. One reported on their experience in our evaluation survey: “I came away with a better understanding of Young Farmers and am becoming a strong supporter of the organization,” and another relayed, “[Convergence] helped me see how racial equity is being put into practice at NYFC. From what I hear, this was a big shift from other years – I didn’t feel like coming to past years based on what I had heard from friends of color who had made the trip and been disappointed. This has changed my perspective.” The majority of attendees also reported feeling comfortable as a participant in the space, that they did not perceive any behavior as negative treatment during the event, and that the topics covered were relevant to their culture and community. Many, both newcomers and returning attendees, were pleased with the shift in programming and the sense of community that existed despite the virtual setting. However, we missed the mark on items highlighted during evaluations: inclusion of more Latinx and immigrant farmers and conversations held around colorism in latinidad, conversations about anti-Blackness, and the offering of more challenging, action-oriented sessions. We also received feedback to form intentional spaces and applicable content for those who hold intersecting marginalized identities.
In addition to programming, there were some gaps in the redesign of the event as well. As organizers, we must be more proactive about mitigating the ways colorism and anti-Blackness play out in the spaces we’re creating to talk about race. We could have done more to ensure our speakers were representative of the many different identities that exist within the Black community. For example, featuring an alternative to the mainstream image of light skinned, straight, Black farmers as the most prominent voices in agriculture, and ensuring our speakers’ racial equity analysis is aligned with the community of the gathering before inviting them to speak. We also need to be careful about the overuse of the term “BIPOC,” and promote the use of more specified language to describe communities. Finally, we should have created more intersectional spaces for affinity groups that do not encourage attendees to choose between their racial, sexual, and gender identities during event activities.
This year’s Convergence will continue our theme of “Achieving Equity Through Agriculture,” with the goal of farmer participants bringing the shared understanding founded at Convergence 2020 to coordinated efforts happening at Convergence 2021.