An Update from our Executive Director

Two weeks ago I put on hold our normal schedule of social media posts. I wanted to pause and put out a statement of solidarity and support for what was happening across our country. I wanted to acknowledge the pain and suffering we were witnessing, and remind our white supporters that the weight of racism, white supremacy, and oppression is a daily and ongoing part of the Black experience in Richmond and beyond. I wanted to say Black Lives Matter, Black Land Matters, Black Futures Matter. But many days have passed and we haven’t said anything. I’ve managed to create various excuses for myself. “Well, it’s important we listen right now.” “What if our response feels (or is) performative?” The list goes on. But I’ve started to run out of excuses.

The fact of the matter is we’ve been too quiet for much longer than two weeks. For over 10 years Shalom Farms has been a predominantly white-led organization working in predominantly Black and Brown communities in the former “capital of the confederacy.” And for much longer than a decade, these same communities have experienced significant racial health disparities. To grossly oversimplify things, this health inequity was a big part of why Shalom Farms was started in the first place. But these disparities haven’t just happened by accident. The racial health disparities in the communities in which we partner are a direct result of the same systems of oppression and racial injustice being protested today.

To be clear, this is not news. Unfortunately, we have long been aware of the ways in which individual and systemic racism affect our Black communities – and aware of some of the ways in which an organization like Shalom Farms may actually benefit from these very systems. We’ve had multiple conversations as an organization, particularly over the last two years, about wanting to look at our work through a racial equity lens. We’ve looked at various racial equity assessments and even talked to a couple consultants. But for me, like so many others of privilege and comfort, it has been easier to put off doing the hard work. Talk, much like this statement, is cheap.

We can do so much better. I can do so much better. Shalom Farms can do so much better. We will do better. “Better” will need to mean many things. For Shalom Farms it will need to mean developing new hiring and compensation policies. It will need to mean examining our organizational norms and culture to ensure this is a place where everyone can thrive – particularly Black and Brown folks. It will mean looking at our board structure and governance priorities. It will mean examining the ways in which our budget does or doesn’t reflect our values. It will mean publicly stating our values, especially those related to racial equity and justice. And it will mean many more things, including asking you to help hold us accountable.

If social media posts are to be believed, many people of privilege are experiencing what might be described as an “awakening” in this moment. Folks are questioning systems and policies of oppression that have existed for so long. They are examining how they spend their time, talent, and treasure…and asking whether those places share a commitment to racial equity and justice. I expect and hope that our donors, volunteers, partners, and participants are and will be examining our work through that same lens in the coming months.

In the meantime, there continues to be important and powerful food justice work led by Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. In fact, throughout history the most important and powerful work to dismantle racism in the food system has been led by Black communities and other people of color. We will continue to seek ways to better support and compliment that work, and we encourage you to do the same. A couple places to start include:

In addition to financial resources, all three organizations could use additional volunteers at their gardens and farms right now. We hope you will consider supporting their work.

If you have questions or if you want to check back in the coming months on the sincerity of our words, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly at dominic@shalomfarms.org.

With Gratitude,
Dominic Barrett
Executive Director