I just received a notification from Change.org of a new petition. Here’s the first paragraph of the email:
Phoebe Gooding is a BIPOC female farmer in North Carolina. She was recently nominated to the Durham County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. What happened next has not happened in 40 years. The state commission superseded her nomination and appointed Mr. Ken Browning, an older, white, male farmer. Join Phoebe in demanding the commission approve her position on the board so she may serve the people of Durham County with equity and justice.
From the email, it appears that Phoebe’s primary qualifications for the job are that she’s a) female and b) not a white person – and the state commission had the audacity to appoint a (gasp!) old WHITE MAN for the position instead.
The email continues with an appeal from Phoebe herself:
Members of the board enthusiastically voted for me because of my background in conservation and environmental justice, my board experience, and because of the perspective and insights I can offer firsthand as a BIPOC female small farmer.
It seems she considers the fact that she’s female and not a white person to be important qualifications as well. She goes on:
After receiving the nomination, I spoke with a colleague of mine with deep experience in Durham food systems. He congratulated me and said that, historically, conservation funding and resources have mostly been transferred to white, wealthy landowners in the county. My appointment to the board comes with voting power to ensure that resources are more equitably distributed among county residents including those who have historically faced higher barriers to accessing land and opportunities.
In other words, her intention is to make sure that her fellow not-white-people get more of the gibs. As to WHY resources have, in the past, been mostly transferred to white, wealthy landowners in the county, we’re not told. I’ll venture a guess: Most of the farmers in that area are white and wealthy. As farmers, they’re also landowners. Yes, that would explain it.
Miss Gooding claims that she meets “8 of the 11 principles outlined in the Guiding Principles for Nomination of Supervisor for Appointment or Reappointment document provided by the NCSWC.” It’s not clear which of the principles she meets, but the very first principle is:
Because agriculture is North Carolina’s number one industry and because of the importance of soil and water conservation to production agriculture, the Commission strongly recommends that at least two members of each district board be actively engaged in, or recently retired from, an agriculture operation. Examples of an “agriculture operation” include those operations that are eligible to participate in the Agricultural Cost Share Program, or fall within the definition of “Agriculture,” as provided in N.C.G.S. § 106-581.1. If the board does not already have two or more members that meet this criterion, will this appointment satisfy this Commission recommendation?
In an article from WRAL, we learn a bit more:
In a statement to WRAL Investigates, John Langdon, chairman of the state commission, said race and gender played no factor in filling the position on the Durham County board.
“My concern was the individual’s employment as Program and Organizing Director with Toxic Free NC, which I view as an organization that is in opposition to production agriculture,” Langdon said in the statement.
Indeed, Toxic Free NC’s website states that:
We advocate for corporate and legislative policies that advance a precautionary approach to chemical regulation to protect community health and biodiversity from pollution. Our policy strategy builds community power to advance environmental justice and hold polluters accountable.
Full disclosure: I don’t live in North Carolina, I’m not a farmer, nor to I have expertise in the matter at hand – but what this looks like, to me, is that some local farmers see Miss Gooding, and her organization, as a threat to their livelihood. They probably depend heavily on pesticides, and they might even be polluters.
It looks like Miss Gooding, and her supporters, are more concerned about race and gender than protecting the environment (at least in the petition), and it seems possible that the state commission is more concerned about profit than protecting the environment.
I’m all for protecting the environment, and reducing the amount of pesticides that is released into the soil and water – and especially into our bodies. But Miss Gooding has sabotaged any sympathy I might have for her by focusing on her gender and race. Instead of focusing on the actual issues, she (and her supporters) have chosen to fling charges of racism at their opponents.