Rooting Out Racism and Planting Justice

By Sarah Arndt

For those of us who are white and who also identify as farmers, land stewards, and good food advocates, what does it look like to understand, uproot, and transform a cultural inheritance of white supremacy into an embodied practice of liberation, abundance, and justice? One of our white farm educators reflects on the intersection of farming and anti-racism and what white people and white-led/white-dominant organizations need to do to root out racism…

My name is Sarah Arndt and I’m a farm educator at Sierra Harvest’s Food Love Farm. I’ve worked as an educator, facilitator, and advocate at the intersection of food, youth, and education for the last decade. My experience at the farm has also been shaped by my passion for transformation, healing, and accountability as an everyday practice in service to racial justice and collective liberation. As a white cis woman working in mostly mission-driven and non-profit spaces, this practice requires being in constant relationship with the question, “what does it look like to understand, uproot, and transform a cultural inheritance of white supremacy into an embodied practice of liberation, abundance, and justice?” 

With Sierra Harvest’s support, my co-worker Cassie and I had the chance to deeply explore this question in a four-day workshop series by Service2Justice called “Rooting Out Racism for Farm-Based Educators.” Our Farm Director, Emily Koller, had participated in the same workshop earlier this year. As farmers and educators, it’s crucial to recognize that “the history of agriculture in the US is one of colonization and enslavement, followed by a long history of denying land rights to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color which manifests differently in urban and rural areas” (HEAL Food Alliance). We are responsible for disrupting this legacy. In that effort to disrupt, we have been having some honest conversations about what we are doing, not doing, and should be doing to uproot racism and grow justice, and what that looks like on the farm, at Sierra Harvest, and for our larger community here in the Sierra foothills.

Tending to the land at Food Love Farm has been a useful metaphor for better understanding a few ways that I, and all of us, can both heal, and dismantle racism within ourselves, relationships, and organizations. The work of farming has taught me about the work of replacing learned patterns of white supremacy with patterns in service of liberation. Farming and anti-racism share some similarities – both are embodied and felt, they are messy, humbling, and beautiful, and they are examples of what love looks like in action.

  1. Anti-racism and farming are both body work. In both cases, our body needs our attention and care. Dismantling internalized racism requires an attention to how racism shows up not just in our heads, but in our bodies. In Resmaa Menakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Heart’s and Bodies, he reveals how “the body is where our instincts reside and where we fight, flee, or freeze, and it endures the trauma inflicted by the ills that plague society…this destruction will continue until Americans learn to heal the generational anguish of white supremacy, which is deeply embedded in all our bodies.”

As we cultivate a racial consciousness, it is crucial to take the time to notice how our bodies respond – what is it telling you, and how might you care for the pain?

Similarly, on the farm, we remind ourselves and the kids who visit to pay attention to the body. This attention is part of farm agreement number one, “respect for all living things.” Respect for life is respect for the body. By respecting our bodies, we resist patterns of intellectualization, disassociation, and disconnection that uphold white supremacy in ourselves and our organizations.

  1. Anti-racism and farming are both invitations to practice humility and curiosity. Farming on the three-quarters of an acre of land that is Food Love Farm has been a constant practice of patience and humility, where planet earth and our plant and animal relatives are our biggest teachers. I’m a “farm educator,” but I show up every day and I am educated – by the soil, the bugs, the plants, the kids, my coworkers and all the life around me.

To dismantle white supremacy, white people must release the role of “the expert,” or equating what we “know” as a measure of worth. Instead, we have an opportunity to listen and amplify the voices and narratives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. In our workshop, when we examined the role of imagination in uprooting racism, white folks were asked to “reconceive imagination as a state of available receptivity rather than leadership or control of vision.”  Folks of color were reminded to “know that you have the wisdom.”

  1. Anti-racism and farming are both the work of loving and caring better. One question we were asked to consider in the workshop is: How is my attachment to white supremacy culture blocking my healing and ability to fully show-up for reparations and racial justice? When we think beyond attachment, and we imagine healing, reparations, reciprocity, and justice, we begin to see a world of abundance – like the farm dripping with life in August. As Prentis Hemhill notes, “the kind of change we are after is cellular as well as institutional, is personal and intimate, is collective as well as cultural. We are making love synonymous with justice.” Anti-racism work is love embodied; we are all invited to join. [5] 

For Sierra Harvest, it is impossible to fulfill our mission without simultaneously disrupting the ways that food and land have been and continue to be potent tools of white supremacy. Anti-racism is food access and food justice. We cannot separate the two.

As an organization, we need an embodied, curious, loving practice that seeks to understand, take responsibility, and deepen analysis of how white supremacy is perpetuated through our work with each other and our community. These practices resist the avoidance, dismissal, denial, defensiveness, and paralysis that usually comes up as a response to harm caused to BIPOC staff and communities. As the trainers of our workshop emphasized, expanding our ability to sit with pain and own harm expands our capacity to celebrate and experience joy. At Sierra Harvest, we are working on building more space for accountability, connection, and dialogue to sit with the pain and the harm. By making the space for this conversation, we can build community through food with equity and repair at the forefront. The following list, shared in our workshop, is a useful set of questions to consider as we (and you!) work to root out racism:    What antiracist and anti-oppression vision do we want to manifest? Who should be a part of this conversation and visioning? From whom do we take our guidance (relinquish role of expert, taking note from BIPOC movements, ancestral wisdom, and other ways of knowing/being)?

●      What kind of infrastructure can we create to support more safety, transparency, sustainability, care, and connection?

●      What are the skills we need to be able to prevent, respond, heal from, and take accountability for harmful behaviors and impact (despite intention)?

●      What do those who have experienced harm and those who have caused harm both need?

●      What are some of the ways that our organizations participate in systems of harm, help set the stage for harm to occur internally (amongst staff, clients, etc.) and externally (in communities, or communications), and how can we change this? 

This work is an offering – an invitation to “step onto the farm” and explore each of our potential to practice complexity, humility, patience, and love – in service to more justice and more liberation.

One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” – MLK

Some additional resources to check out:

White Supremacy Culture Characteristics

Reparations Resources

White Women Doing White Supremacy in Nonprofit Culture

Dr. Maya Angelou – I am Human

Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization


Color Me Human


Sarah Arndt

Sarah is passionate about the power of food to build intersectional social and environmental justice movements and healthy, rooted communities. She just wrapped up an MBA in Sustainable & Restorative Economies from Presidio Graduate School, and finds herself most often working at the nexus of food, farming, youth, and education. She generally loves to be outside as much as she can!