Farmers Market Managers are Eager to Make Change: A Report on the Anti-Racist Farmers Market Toolkit Community of Practice in 2022-23
Posted On: August 6, 2023
By Nedra Deadwyler and Nina Budabin McQuown
The Anti-Racist Farmers Market Toolkit is a framework designed by Black food systems leaders for market managers to implement anti-racist practices throughout their farmers market community to improve experiences of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). When the toolkit came out a year ago, the response was enormous! The Anti-Racist Farmers Market Toolkit had more than a thousand downloads within its first week of existence—that’s the most downloads FMC has ever seen for a new resource on its website, and the number just keeps rising. Clearly farmers market managers want anti-racist markets, and they are looking for guidance and support in implementing anti-racist strategies.
But the toolkit was never meant to be a stand alone tool—The process of unlearning and learning racism, prejudices, and bigotry that is normalized in American culture is far too deep and pervasive for a PDF to undo. The working group, with support from FMC, decided to hold a Community of Practice (CoP) that would allow for market managers to practice methodologies, strategies, and use resources in the Toolkit framework in a supportive environment. We see the model as a means to foster shared networks of support, linking markets together in the process of becoming anti-racist.
The Toolkit was written for Farmer Market Managers and this was the focus of the first Community of Practice. Market Operators are the central agent of change with markets because they work with the community, the board, vendors, and any entity that supports a well designed market. So that is where we hoped to begin. We were unsure of how many applications we would get, however, so we made the application widely available in case we needed to work with a broader spectrum of farmers-market-adjacent professionals. Instead, we received nearly 200 applications within a week. Most of these applications were from farmers markets, and ultimately, hoping but not knowing whether the funding would ultimately be there for a round two in the future…we decided to accommodate all of them who wanted to attend once the meeting times were identified. What we didn’t realize at first, however, is that most of the applications were from markets with multiple members who wanted to attend. We asked applicants to pick one representative, and tried to adjust our plan so that these representatives could share their learnings with those who could not be there in person.
Overall, our group included approximately three-quarters white-identifying farmers market operators, with a range of BIPOC operators as well as folks who identify as a background other than white, but are generally white-passing making up the rest of the community. The idea of declaring one’s racial identity was difficult for some, particularly those who may benefit from white privilege. For example, some applicants included their ethnic or national ancestry rather than, or in addition to, their race. As facilitators, this indicated to us that it is important to discuss individual and collective relationships to whiteness and the ways that we play in our roles and our own complicitness to white supremacy. These conversations can present opportunities to grow as individuals and professionals to make a more welcoming and inclusive environment, and we hoped to center these discussions as part of the Community of Practice.
Working with such a large group meant adjusting our plans from the more interactive approach we’d initially imagined, to a presentation/small groups discussion format. We aimed for a consistent format that would enable attendees to have vulnerable conversations within the CoP, and also share the presentation portions of the hour-and-a-half meeting with their colleagues.
We began each meeting with a grounding exercise based on the theme(s) represented in the presentation and topic of discussion. Next there was an address for the broader CoP such as review and questions from the homework for last session, the agenda for the day, reminder to follow community guidelines, and a reminder of who would serve as break-out room leaders. Introductions and a presentation would follow from the guest work-group member. This would follow-up with time for Q&A with the presenter and then, we hoped, deeper conversations in the break-out groups.
To make those deeper conversations possible, we created racial affinity groupings, recognizing as we did so that there was no way to fully represent the diversity of identities and experiences in the room. The affinity groups represented during the first community of practice were BIPOC, White, and mixed-race and white presenting person of color. All groups were self-selected. In effect, holding racial affinity groups was part of this process of addressing the discomfort with declaring one’s race that we saw in the application process.
Despite the discomfort many may have experienced by being part of these groups at times, it opened up the opportunity for people to speak to their own experiences and roles within their market and the ways they were both complicit in, or resisted and pushed against white supremacy, and to create more visibility to people who have similar experiences. To conclude each session, we reunited as one group and made any announcements, shared any homework for the next session, and let the group end out on a closing song.
The CoP set the tone for the content by challenging the members about what they know about the history of their market space, and how white supremacy culture has impacted cultural norms, for example, by universalizing and standardizing behaviors such as perfectionism. The sessions followed the organization of the antiracist toolkit and each presenter spoke to one of the main four elements: Management, Mission, Messaging, and Measurement, with two exceptions: first, we started by grounding through an exercise in learning community history and cultural narratives led by Nedra, and in the middle of the six-meeting series, we also asked work group member Julialynn Walker to lead a broader look at Black women’s leadership–a topic that is especially relevant in the farmers market field, where the vast majority of leaders identify as women. The schedule of speakers was as follows:
November – Historical Community Context, Nedra Deadwyler
December – Mission, Stacey Whitney,
January – Management, Karla Forrest-Hewitt
February – The Black Voice in Leadership, Julialynn Walker
March – Messaging, Juju Harris (held jointly as part of the InTents Conference)
April – Measurement, shiny flanary
That was the plan! However, as astute readers may already have noticed–we had quite a lot to pack into 90 minutes, and as we adjusted to running a community of practice with almost 100 participants, we soon realized that some changes would be needed. To make sure those changes reflected the needs of participants, we added a link to a survey at the end of each session where CoP members were invited to share their experience and offer feedback about their needs. We also quickly realized that with so many white-identifying participants, we needed more than two affinity group breakout rooms if real conversation was to take place.
To address the need for more intimate breakout spaces for white participants, we decided to draw on the talents within the group for facilitators—after all, farmers market managers are organizers at heart, and a number of members were interested in gaining time to practice anti-racist facilitation. We began a partnership with Andrea Ward Berg, Human Design Guide Speaker and Coach, who developed an anti-racist facilitation training specific to the learning needs of the white member-facilitators of the CoP. The goal of this training was to give them the skills to facilitate conversations on anti-racism without doing harm to other participants.
In the end, an hour and a half is simply not enough time for everything we’d hoped to accomplish, and most of the time, it was the small group conversations that saw their time cut down to accommodate longer Q&As with presenters, and other overflow during the meeting. We tried to create more opportunities for small group conversations by holding “office hours” every month, but while a few operators took advantage, most couldn’t find another hour in their schedules once the community of practice began. This remains an area we hope to improve in any future iterations of the community of practice—most likely by making each session much longer to allow for substantial time in breakout rooms. In future sessions, an additional half hour would provide 15 additional minutes in each discussion period.
Overall, we were so grateful for the chance to learn together, and interact with so many market operators who hope to center anti-racist practices in their markets. We recognize that a six-session community of practice can only ever be a beginning, and we’re looking forward to more chances to continue supporting and learning from these market managers as they work to make their farmers markets spaces of belonging for all.
You may download the Anti-racist Farmers Market Toolkit from FMC’s website for free. To get the toolkit, follow this link, share your name and contact with us, and click the “submit” button. If your market has read the toolkit and is ready to take steps to implement it, you can also consult directly with the work group. To express your interest, go to https://www.sagedconsulting.com/ and fill out the interest form.
For general updates from FMC, you can join the Farmers Market Coalition Newsletter here.