Beloved Community: Tips on Running a Juneteenth Event at your Farmers Market

      Posted On: June 25, 2023

By Nina Budabin McQuown and Sagdrina Jalal

Last week, communities and farmers markets across the country honored Juneteenth—celebrating the emancipation of enslaved Black people in the American South in 1865. For this post, we talked with Sagdrina Jalal, lead consultant on the Anti-Racist Farmers Market Toolkit, and award-winning local food systems organizer, about what Juneteenth means to her, and how farmers markets can create Juneteenth events that help to build relationships, connections, and power with Black people. If you’re interested in how your market can honor Juneteenth, we suggest that you also check out this recent episode of Tent Talk, where host and market operator extraordinaire Catt Fields White talks with Sagdrina about the history of black farmers in America, how to walk the line between celebration and exploitation, and ways to use your audience as a farmers market to lift up Black organizing in your community.

What is Juneteenth

In the 2021 proclamation when President Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday, he called on us to “celebrate the emancipation of all Black Americans and commit together to eradicate systemic racism and inequity that can never be tolerated and must always be fought against.” That phrasing—which asks us to celebrate and fight in the same sentence—highlights the tension that’s inherent in Juneteenth as a national holiday. It’s a holiday about freedom finally arriving, and about freedom constantly put off. As Jakeya Caruthers notes in her article for the magazine Scalawag, the original Juneteenth held this tension, too. Back on June 19th, 1865 when the Union Army issued General Order 3, officially emancipating enslaved Texans, Union generals made sure to specify exactly what newly emancipated people should do with their freedom: “remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.” Even at the moment of (long deferred) freedom, that is, white people in power were trying to tell Black people how to celebrate, what to do, and who’s in charge.

At many farmers markets, the majority of decision-making, budget-spending, land-owning, and organization-running power remains in the hands of largely white operators, vendors, and boards, while many of our markets exist in public spaces where the presence of Black neighbors has been discouraged or denied through urban planning policies. In this context, it takes effort to create an event that doesn’t simply distract from ongoing issues of power within market organizations, and within the food system more broadly. If a market’s Juneteenth events center on self-promotion rather than relationship building then, they are likely to do more harm than good.

What does it look like to honor Juneteenth at the Farmers Market?

Juneteeth, coming right at the height of the growing season, offers a fantastic chance to center the Black businesses and people who make our markets great, and to build relationships with Black customers, organizations, and food systems leaders.  Honoring Juneteenth–whether that’s by focusing your social media on Black vendors and partners, educating customers and followers, amplifying or supporting Black led events, or hosting a Black-led event at your market—can signal your market’s investment in Black freedom and demonstrate the ways in which your market aims to be a space of belonging for all. We asked Sagdrina Jalal how farmers markets can organize this kind of celebration. Below, we reflect on her lessons about what makes a market’s Juneteenth acknowledgement or event a powerful tool for building community.

Lesson One: Your Juneteenth should be hyper-local

It’s far easier and more effective to build community in community, so make sure to center events and education on the people, organizations, and history where your farmers market is located. With local voices comes local advocacy. Your celebration can be a platform for furthering local policy that supports freedom and power for Black farmers. Look to local, Black-led organizations to understand where the fight is now.

Lesson Two: Your Juneteenth must empower Black people

A Juneteenth Celebration should build power for Black people in your community, which means Black organizers should be centered with decision-making power and ample support to put on great events.  If your market organization is not majority Black, seek out Black-led organizations within your local food system to support, be transparent about what you can offer, and ask what they need. If you already have strong relationships with Black-led organizations, this might include offering the space of the market for an event, but make sure that if this is the case, decision making power lies with the Black organizers, and that those organizers understand any needs and boundaries that the market has before organizing work begins. This isn’t just representation for the sake of representation. Black organizers will be better placed to create an event that appeals to Black people and connects to those who are working to make local change.

If you have Black vendors or staff within your market, ask them what kind of acknowledgement and/or celebration they would like to see at the market around Juneteenth and do your best to honor their requests. Don’t ask Black volunteers or vendors to work on this for free. While ideally your market will be able to pay Black organizers, even if you can’t, be transparent and seek ways to prioritize mutuality through other forms of compensation (for example, offering space at the market for their organization throughout the year, including them as a sponsor on your materials, or discounting or waiving fees for Black vendors who agree to help). 

Lesson Three: Use your reach

Even if you don’t yet have relationships with Black organizers in your community, you can still use your social media or other communication channels to educate followers on the meaning of the holiday, and how Black people have been, and continue to be, undermined in our food and farming systems. For examples of what these posts can look like, see the content Sagdrina created for her June 12-18 takeover of the Farmers Market Coalition’s instagram page.

Lesson Four: Your Juneteenth should center action

While it’s often both joyful and painful to learn about the history of Black liberation and resistance in the food system, it can be frustrating to only be a learner, with nowhere to take your knowledge and act! Once you’ve planned an event and/or social media campaign that will get your community educated and energized, make sure you have somewhere planned for that energy to go—whether that’s supporting Black vendors by shopping, bringing customers to Black-owned food businesses and farms, and/or offering eyes and ears to advocacy organizations that have a concrete ask for people now. 

Lesson Five: Your Juneteenth should last all year

So much of building a meaningful Juneteenth event is about getting out there and beginning to build relationships so that you can be accountable to Black people in your community. This is a long-haul lesson that requires commitment to colleagues and neighbors. By working in good faith partnerships with Black food systems leaders, putting in the effort to understand the needs and wants of your community, and finding ways to empower Black people to make choices for your organization, you’ll begin a journey towards relationships that will strengthen your market and make it a truly inclusive place. To do that, you’ll also need to prepare to be uncomfortable! It isn’t easy to give up power, and you’ll often need to manage your emotions, regulate your nervous system, and remember that you are not your market. Relationship building can be a bit messy, but sticking with it will be worth it for vendors, customers, and management alike.

Conclusion: Building beloved community

One of the valuable guiding concepts for creating belonging and a welcoming space around Juneteenth Celebrations is the notion of “Beloved Community,” a phrase that comes to us from Martin Luther King in his sermon “The Birth of a New Nation,” delivered in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957.  In his speech, King says that “the aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation.” He emphasizes that though redemption and reconciliation are possible through nonviolent action, they aren’t guaranteed. “It never comes with ease,” wrote King, “It comes through hard labor and it comes through toil. It comes through hours of despair and disappointment.” 

It may seem strange to talk about despair, disappointment, freedom, and celebration in the same breath, and yet that’s so often the weight of Black celebration in America. With intention, and a willingness to embrace the labor, toil, and even the despair and disappointment that are part of committing to disrupt the systems of racial power in America, your market can be part of creating a community of belonging. Power-shared is power grown, and greater freedom for everyone.