Book Review: Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States

by Patti Naylor, WFAN Board Member

Land Justice from food FirstDuring the few quiet spells that punctuated the weeks of exhilarating but exhausting summer work on our farm, I eagerly sought out space to indulge in a powerful new book by Food First. Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States was released in June 2017. Each writer in this anthology rewarded my time with deep thought-provoking narratives.

Land justice is both a new concept and an ancient understanding. This book entices us to think about land justice as a means of social change. My own connection to land is based on my life journey from childhood where I grew up on a medium-sized family farm in Iowa to explorations of cultures and traditions in other countries and back to life on an Iowa farm. This Iowa farmland that I now call home keeps me grounded to Mother Earth, to her wonderful diversity and her natural beauty. Others have a very different relationship to land, all valid and necessary, as the writers in Land Justice makes clear.

Readers of this book will find connections in each of the six sections as well as the three prefaces and conclusion.

Each preface, with a focus on decolonizing our food, agricultural parity, and, by WFAN 2017 Conference keynote speaker LaDonna Redmond, the history of contested land, pulls together the multiple aspects of this book just as the food movement itself is composed of pieces of a puzzle working toward the common goal of food sovereignty.

The first section, Black Agrarianism, begins with poetry and a quote from bell hooks that pays tribute to African ancestors and their place as farmers and people of the land. Ancestral knowledge, resistance, solidarity, and power are themes of this section.
WFAN member and former board member Angie Carter begins the next section, Gender and Land. She relates how women landowners have a strong desire to care for the land in a way that will benefit future generations. Feminism and healing highlights another chapter with a focus on spirituality, artistry, and community self-determination as black women hold tight to the land.

Section three, Land Access, Social Privilege, and the Rise of Indigenous Leadership, looks at alternative ways for small-scale producers and native peoples to find land on which to grow food.

The next section, Cross-Border Implications, dives into the farmworkers and farmers of Latin America, too often exploited and discriminated against. The impacts of commodity crop production and trade agreements have been enormous.
Rebuilding the Urban Commons takes us to Oakland, California and Detroit, Michigan to understand the struggles of to overcome poverty and lack of healthy foods in the context of land-grabbing and public properties.

Lessons from and for Land Activism, the final section, envision a world where land justice is a reality and recounts the work toward that goal.

Editors Eric Holt-Gimenez and Justine M. Williams leave each of us in the food movement with a call for agrarian reform, food sovereignty, and a more just and equitable agriculture system. The reader is left with a note of hope: “What is the role of land justice in social change? Ultimately, it may be to bring us together on that irreducible terrain of hope from which all other struggles for food, livelihoods, water, and environment emerge: the land.”

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