Jennifer M.: How does your work to fight toxic pesticides bridge food justice and environmental justice?
Phoebe G.: Industrial agriculture threatens communities and biodiversity, damages the land, and further drives the climate crisis. Toxic Free NC advocates for systems change that addresses how and where pesticides and agri-toxics are made and the communities impacted by their production. We work to protect the workers in the fields applying pesticides, as well as the people who eat pesticide-laden food.
Farmworkers are on the front lines of agricultural exposure to toxic pesticides. Farm work is one of the most dangerous professions in the United States, and farmworkers risk acute exposure and chronic illness from repeated exposure to pesticide poisoning over time. Their labor is undervalued and continues a legacy of agricultural injustice and racism in the United States.
This year, Toxic Free NC hosted an Environmental Justice Academy in Spanish to support advocacy skill-building for farmworkers in North Carolina who experience the cumulative impacts of working and living in industrial agriculture. There’s an environmental justice saying: “Nothing about us without us!” We’re bringing impacted community members’ voices to decision-making tables and fighting alongside farmworkers for community-led solutions that have real and lasting impacts.
We also host a Women of Color Farmers Network. As a woman-of-color farmer, I noticed a gap in support and resources specifically for women-of-color farmers and wondered if this was felt by others as they grew their farming businesses. As a vendor of the NC Black Farmers Market, I used the opportunity to connect with other farmers there to gauge interest in forming a Women of Color Farmers group. The response I received was a resounding yes!
Since 2021 the Women of Color Farmers Network has supported 35 members forging a path toward a self-determined future in which women of color, who have long carried the traditional knowledge of growers and nurturers, can prosper as they deserve from working with the land.
By centering those who for too long have stewarded the land without acknowledgment, we can begin to undo the racist and unjust harms of our current agricultural system and expand regenerative agricultural practices that advance social, environmental, economic, and climate justice. At Toxic Free NC, our vision for the future is grounded in honoring and restoring a just connection to food, land, and our community.
JM: How does your work at Hawk’s Nest Healing Gardens build community around protecting pollinators and environmental health?
PG: Hawk’s Nest Healing Gardens is an urban organic farm that I steward with my husband, Hector Lopez, on Occaneechi land in Durham, North Carolina. We are committed to working in reciprocity with all that surrounds us. As my husband says, “We belong to this land” — not the other way around.
Last year we opened several garden beds on the farm to create land access for our neighbors and promote organic growing practices. Our Community Farming Group works like a community garden, where folks have their own plots to tend. We teach each other, share tips and stories, and celebrate our successes and lessons learned.
We also know that to truly achieve the broad impact needed to protect pollinators and environmental health, we can’t work in a bubble. In 2022 we launched our Farmers and Friends Mexico Immersion. We created the trip to bring people deep into the rich culture of the region around Valle de Bravo, Mexico, and to build bridges between Mexico and the United States. We take participants to one of the wintering grounds of monarch butterflies to see firsthand how the community there is working to protect this at-risk species. The community works year-round to fight illegal logging, invasive species, and habitat destruction.
The monarchs return to the same forest each year around the Día de los Muertos celebration, and the community knows that these are their ancestors returning. Although they do what they can to protect the butterflies, we all must do our part to transition away from using pesticides and toxic chemicals, as well as to protect our relatives as they migrate along ancient routes laying eggs and collecting nectar.
On the trip we also tour organic farms that are cooperatively working toward food sovereignty for their communities. Breaking bread at a farm-to-table meal with the farmers and their families allows all of us an opportunity to share stories of challenge and celebration and conspire together on how we can build health and wealth in our respective communities. The immersion is a chance to build bridges, share knowledge, and strengthen our base as we work toward food and climate justice.
JM: How can Center activists support your work?
PG: By donating to our Women of Color Farmers capital campaign and signing up for our newsletter to learn about other actions you can take. You can also join us in Mexico in January 2024 for our next Farmers and Friends Mexico Immersion. (Get a $200 discount by signing up before June 10.) And follow Hawk’s Nest Healing Gardens on Instagram and Facebook for farm updates.
JM: Thank you, Phoebe, for all your work and for sharing your knowledge with our readers.
PG: Thanks for having me, Jennifer!
And thank you, subscriber, for reading.
Keep these conversations going. Share what you read here on Facebook and Twitter — and forward this email — so we can keep strategizing together on how we can all best work toward environmental health and justice.
Then take action to help save western monarch butterflies.
Write to me anytime with questions at EarthFriendlyDiet@BiologicalDiversity.org.
For the wild,
Jennifer Molidor, Senior Food Campaigner
Population and Sustainability Program
Center for Biological Diversity