Bobby J. Smith II is the great-grandson of sharecroppers in Pitt County, North Carolina and grew up listening to incredible stories about the importance of hard work, determination, and advancement. His family cultivated land that produced tobacco, cotton, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and corn—yet their profit margin only yielded enough income to keep them comfortable, secure, and self-assured in a time when black farmers and sharecroppers could not guarantee their future from season to season. Nonetheless, their hardy spirit was passed down to him.
Bobby was born and raised in Texas and spent most of his childhood summers in Pitt County, staying with his grandmother and other family members. While he was never interested in working in agriculture, he had always been around it. However, in 2005, his sister convinced him to apply to the Research Apprentice Program (RAP) for agricultural sciences at the historically-black Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) of Texas, and he was accepted for two consecutive summers. From this experience, Bobby discovered that he wanted to attend PVAMU and enjoyed the academic challenge of conducting research related to livestock, agricultural production, food distribution and consumption.
After interning two consecutive summers with the Monsanto Company in 2009 and 2010, where he researched agri-market trends in the Arkansas Delta and examined non-traditional approaches to agri-marketing in the southwest region of the United States, Bobby enrolled in a Food Traceability seminar, taught by one of his mentors, Dr. Alfred Parks. Through this course, Bobby became interested in local food systems and understanding food supply chain relations. As a result, during his final year at PVAMU, Dr. Parks encouraged Bobby to apply to Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management to pursue the MS degree in agricultural economics. Bobby completed the MS degree in 2013, focusing on farm-to-hospital programs in the Northeast US. In 2015, he met black farmer, Rafael Aponte, at an event in downtown Ithaca for people interested in working on local food issues and was introduced to the social justice side of food work and surprisingly stumbled upon the field of food justice. As a result, Bobby immersed himself in all things food justice and the emerging literature supporting food justice.
At this moment, Bobby is currently a PhD Candidate in Cornell’s department of Development Sociology, where his work is focused on historical and contemporary understandings of food justice, and an activist in Black Lives Matter-Ithaca. More specifically, his dissertation interrogates the politics of food in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. His chapter in the book seeks to explore food justice in places where you would seemingly expect to not see it or need it—local food spaces, like Ithaca. Even in a small place like Ithaca, a local food metropolis, that has a vibrant local food scene—boasting five farmer’s markets surrounded by a host of small-to-medium scale farms that produce healthy, organic, or local foods—farmers of color, low-income communities and communities of color still struggle to access and produce local, healthy, and organic foods. It is the stories of farmers of color, low-income communities, and communities of color engaging in food justice in places like Ithaca, NY, that this chapter is interested in understanding. He relies on the story of Rafael’s farm, the Rocky Acres Community Farm in Freeville, NY, to understand how food justice rises in local food spaces.
Executive Summary of Book
Tentative Chapter Title: Food Justice Rising: Race, Local Food Culture & Farming
Most studies of food justice examine how the movement is realized in places that lack access to local, healthy, or organic foods, constraining our understanding of the movement to food deserts in urban or rural spaces like Detroit, Michigan or Grafton County, New Hampshire. These studies capture the stories of farmers of color, low-income communities, and communities of color responding to issues of race, class, and food (economic and geographic) access. However, little is known about how the movement is realized in local food spaces dominated by the local food movement like Ithaca, New York. In Ithaca, local, healthy, and organically grown foods are a way of life and offered through several outlets such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture, grocery stores, and restaurants, but low-income people and people of color still struggle to access it. For this reason, this chapter attempts to expand our understanding of the food justice movement by examining it in local food spaces. Using food justice as lens, I interpret the story of the Rocky Acres Community Farm in Tompkins County, NY, to explore how a farm uses food justice to counter issues of race, community culture, and food in Ithaca. This exploratory exercise provides a glimpse at how food justice rises as a counter to the local food movement, exploiting tensions around race, class, and food that go beyond just issues of food access.