Everyone around the table

Professor Monica White (foreground, second from left) and her students visiting Pleasant Ridge, a community that included black farmers prior to the Civil War. Many historic grounds, including the site of Wisconsin’s first integrated school and a cemetery where black families are buried, are located on and around the CALS-based Lancaster Agricultural Research Station. Local farmer Maury McLean (foreground, left) showed students around those places and shared memories of growing up in an integrated rural community.

Monica White’s research engages communities of color and grassroots organizations that are involved in developing sustainable community food systems. One of her challenges is that agriculture evokes strong emotions in urban areas.

“Young people, in particular, are aware of the trauma around growing food,” says White, who holds a joint appointment in CALS (community and environmental sociology) and the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. “You’ll be on a farm in an urban area and you’ll hear children say ‘I’m not a slave’ or ‘Don’t treat me like a slave,’ and so this conversation around agriculture as oppressive, and the economically exploitive relationships of sharecropping and tenant farming, is something that is very much in the purview of people’s understanding of agriculture.”

White discusses her work in the new issue of Grow magazine.