Grassroots BIPOC Organizations Receive Grants for Policy Advocacy

In late December 2022, Waverley Street Foundation and the Regenerative Agriculture Foundation in collaboration with RAFI-USA and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition awarded more than $300,000 to BIPOC-led and serving organizations to enable them to increase or begin advocacy work on the 2023 Farm Bill. Fourteen organizations received grants from a pool of 45 applicants. Awardees are located throughout the U.S. from Alaska to New York, including the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For some organizations, this will be the first opportunity they have to work on policy advocacy.  

Launched in 2022, RAFI-USA’s Climate and Equity Policy Project puts farmers of color at the center of policy conversations by providing funding and support to groups predominantly led by or serving farmers of color in order to engage in climate-related policy advocacy for the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill. In addition to grants for policy work, RAFI-USA is providing opt-in opportunities for grantees to build capacity, such as trainings on the Farm Bill and federal policy process, space to convene and share experiences and peer support, and policy content for use/adaptation by grantees. 

Grantee projects include civic engagements and grassroots base building for the Farm Bill, educational workshops and trainings for the board, staff, and farmers to develop a better understanding of how the Farm Bill applies at a local level and how the Farm Bill process works, funding to pay farmers for their time participating more deeply in policy discussions and recommendations, narrative development and storytelling projects, and translation for farmers who don’t speak English as their first language. 

For example, the Alliance for Agriculture in Puerto Rico will coordinate formal spaces for collaboration among farmers and other organizations and create publications articulating a regional voice for Farm Bill issues. La Semilla Food Center will engage BIPOC youth and small-scale/big-impact farmers in storytelling, civic engagement/ grassroots base-building, and leadership development centering the intersecting values of climate justice and food justice. Salmonberry Tribal Associates in Alaska will use the funding for its Indigenous Food Justice and Sovereignty Initiative. 

Carl Angut’aq Wassilie, the executive director of Salmonberry Tribal Associates, says, “This grant greatly increases our access and ability for organizational capacity building to identify tools to break down barriers of Food Sovereignty for Alaska Native ‘producers’ aka subsistence hunters, fishers, gatherers, and harvesters of our ancestral heritage.” 

The full list of awarded organizations and their plans can be found here.

To ensure the integrity of the review process, RAFI-USA created a four-person review committee composed of BIPOC food systems advocates with decades of experience in food justice. A short bio about each person can be found here.

  • Helga Garcia-Garza — Founder, Agri-Cultura Network
  • Zoe Holloman — Coordinating Team member, Midwest Farmers of Color Collective
  • Ife Kilimanjaro Ph.D. — Co-Executive Director, Soul Fire Farm
  • Sommer Sibilly — Founder and Executive Director, US Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition
(L-R) Helga Garcia-Garza, Zoe Holloman, Ife Kilimanjaro Ph.D., and Sommer Sibilly.

The committee reviewed and discussed the applications individually, while also considering the balance of the applicant projects overall. Zoe Hollomon (Midwest Farmers of Color Collective) said, “Farmers of color and our organizations are at the forefront of the movement that is healing our people with healthy foods, our lands and waters, and the food system and we must be supported to organize and lead in the movement for a just and life-affirming food and farming system… To talk about all the amazing applicants and their work was exciting, joyful, and honestly inspiring.” 

RAFI-USA Executive Director Edna Rodriguez said that this funding builds power for historically underserved groups for the 2023 Farm Bill and beyond. “Organizations working on the ground directly with BIPOC farmers know the most about what farmers need to adapt to climate change and grow their businesses and local food economies,” she said.  “Our goal with this project is to ensure those groups have the funding they need to translate that experience into policy change in the Farm Bill. RAFI-USA is pleased to play a central role in facilitating a participatory, BIPOC-led decision-making process, and providing training and staff support where requested. We’re looking forward to working with and learning from grantees. We’re also grateful to the Waverley Street and Regenerative Agriculture Foundations for their partnership and shared long-term vision in this work.”

Mark Muller of the Regenerative Agriculture Foundation said that he is “just thrilled to have the Waverley Street Foundation emerge as a new funder of agricultural policy work. The collaboration between RAFI-USA, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the Regenerative Agriculture Foundation has really strengthened the overall process, and allowed us to move things forward that would have been much more difficult individually.”

Grantee locations

Unfortunately, funding for policy work is not widely available. Muller says this is because “foundations are sometimes not familiar with the wide range of advocacy activities that they are allowed to fund, and instead stay away from anything to do with policy.” Often, only nonprofits with large grant writing capacities can afford to spend the time applying to complicated or lengthy grant processes, while their smaller counterparts are left behind. 

However, this type of funding is necessary to support small BIPOC organizations that are on the ground and working the land to support their communities. “We need funders to radicalize themselves, listen to communities of color, and get in the work with us as allies and accomplices, not directors,” Holloman added. Muller believes that “Policy work cannot be successful without on-the-ground practitioners describing the realities of our food and farming system. Grassroots organizations are critical for success in policy…  We need a clear and shared vision for an inclusive, regenerative future, and advocates need to actively promote this vision consistently. This collaborative funding project allows us to do that.” 

For more information about this policy work please contact Margaret Krome-Lukens at [email protected].

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