Skip to Content

Noyes News, May 2008

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
Receives 2007 Noyes Foundation Award


The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health was selected for its leadership efforts to ensure the fundamental human right to reproductive health for Latinas, their families and communities. The $100,000 Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation Award, initiated in 1998, is designed to strengthen and sustain key organizations working to advance social justice. NLIRH is the 22nd recipient.

Founded in 1994, NLIRH places reproductive health rights within a broader social justice framework that seeks to bring an end to poverty and discrimination and affirms human dignity and the right to self-determination. NLIRH engages in public education, policy advocacy and community mobilization to protect and advance reproductive justice.

"We are extremely honored and grateful for this award. It will help us continue to influence policy, organize a diverse constituency, and ensure that Latina leadership and perspectives are front and center in the reproductive justice movement" said Silvia Henriquez, NLIRH's executive director. "The Noyes Award will help with our sustainability, providing resources to open a satellite office in Washington, DC, strengthen donor cultivation and expand organizing efforts in Texas.

"We are particularly happy to have selected a strong women's rights organization in 2007, the year of our 60th anniversary," said Victor De Luca, president of the Noyes Foundation. "Jessie Smith Noyes was an advocate for women and girls in the early 1900s with the YWCA of Brooklyn. She would be proud to see the Foundation honor an important organization like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, which works across the nation to improve the lives of women and their families."

Previous recipients of Noyes Awards are:

      1. Appalachian Sustainable Development
      2. Center for Rural Affairs
      3. Environmental Health Coalition
      4. Federation of Southern Cooperatives
      5. HIV Law Project
      6. Idaho Women's Network
      7. Indigenous Environmental Network
      8. Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
      9. Kentucky Coalition
      10. National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture
      11. National Network of Abortion Funds
      12. National Organizers Alliance
      13. Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center
      14. New York City Environmental Justice Alliance
      15. Northwest Women's Law Center
      16. Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA
      17. Rural Coalition
      18. South Providence Development Corporation
      19. Southern Echo
      20. SouthWest Organizing Project
      21. White Earth Land Recovery Project

Two Socially Responsible Investment Professionals
Join the Noyes Foundation Board

Bruce Kahn and Ben Lovell have been appointed to the Foundation's Board of Directors for six year terms (2008 – 2013).

Bruce, a Brooklyn resident, is a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in the Republic of Cameroon. He is an investment management consultant with Smith Barney where he advises clients on socially responsible investing. Bruce received his doctorate in Environmental Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and a National Science Foundation Fellowship.

Ben, who lives in Maine, is vice-president with Robert Brooke Zevin Associates in Boston. He has been managing socially responsible investments since 1985. Ben has also been involved with a number of nonprofits, including Maine Businesses for Social Responsibility, the Maine Initiatives Fund, the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League and the endowment committee of York Hospital.

Noyes by the Numbers for 2007


$3,172,525 in grants - 100 grantees



Grantee Stories

Bianca Encinias, lead campaign organizer for Southwest Network for Economic and Environmental Justice, was featured in Albuquerque Magazine as one of "15 People Who Will Change ABQ in 2008." The tribute cites Bianca's encouragement of youth involvement, and her work on environmental justice policy at city and state levels. "Whether raising awareness of environmental toxins and the resulting health effects that disproportionately affect poor communities, or educating youth about the legislative process and how to make their voices heard, Encinias was born to be a community activist," the magazine notes.

Three UPROSE environmental justice youth advocates, Jennifer Casamayor, Crystal Castro and Judith Cardenas, were recognized for their leadership and community work with the Air Monitoring Project, a pilot program of the Health Environmental Action Network to measure the levels of greenhouse gases and contaminants in New York City's Bushwick neighborhood.

Jennifer, Crystal and Judith received Imagen Awards, which honor Latino/as for their positive influences in television and film, and in society. The awards were presented at the Imagen Foundation's Women's History Month event and the honorees were profiled in Latina Magazine.

Anthony Flaccavento, director of Appalachian Sustainable Development, was profiled on the PBS television show, NOW, hosted by David Brancaccio. The November 2, 2007 show, Growing local, Eating local, reports on the changes being made in rural western Virginia, former tobacco country, where farmers are producing locally-distributed organic fruits and vegetables.

Since the birth of the environmental justice movement, communities of color have challenged the mainstream environmental movement to broaden its definition of the environment and to include a variety of voices and viewpoints. The EJ movement's current dilemma is to ensure that poor people and people of color are included in the green movement addressing global climate change. Robby Rodriquez is director of the SouthWest Organizing Project, a 28-year-old New Mexico social justice organization that was at the center of the EJ movement from the beginning. His thoughtful article in the current issue of Colorlines challenges mainline environmentalists to ensure that equity and justice are at the center of their climate change solutions, and challenges EJ activists not to sit around and complain that few of the ideas of the "green wave" are new, but instead to do something about it. It is a double challenge worth reading and heeding.

Local Food a Hit in South Dakota, New York City
and Washington State

Dakota Rural Action's South Dakota Local Foods Directory lists over 75 local food producers and farmers' markets statewide, features original artwork, and offers tips on using and storing locally-grown food.

We're thrilled with the great response…Demand for the directory proves what our committee already knew: people want to eat fresh, quality food from local producers. Now it's even easier to find it. Kristianna Gehant, co-chair of Dakota Rural Action's Small Farms Committee.

If you would like a free copy, contact DRA at (605) 697-5204 or by email. Otherwise, check it out online.


Just Food reports that New York City's community supported agriculture movement continues to grow! In 2001, there were 19 CSA programs through which urban community residents bought shares in local farmers' harvests. Today there are 56 CSAs, involving more than 11,000 New Yorkers. The CSAs have provided markets to over 40 regional growers – many of whom say CSAs account for more than 80 percent of their business.

Just Food continues to work on strategies that will enable a greater number of New Yorkers of all income levels to participate in the CSA movement. Over 30 of the 50 sites utilize flexible payment options, including paying for a share in installments and/or using food-stamps to purchase a share.



Combine support from over 50 farm enterprises and nonprofits with an equal number of organizations championing children's health and community development, along with support from the faith community, school districts, teachers and nutritionists, and what do you get? Local Farms – Healthy Kids, one of the most comprehensive local food programs in the nation.

Ellen Grey, director of Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network, a coalition member, said this new law "... is basically saying food is not like pencils. If a school district wants to spend more money on their food, they should not have to take the lowest bid." The law's $1.49 million appropriation will help Washington farmers and low-income families by:

  • Easing purchasing restrictions so that schools and institutions can easily buy from local farms;
  • Establishing a "Farm to School" program within the Washington State Department of Agriculture to connect schools with their local farmers;
  • Enacting a Washington Grown Fruits and Vegetables Program to fund fresh food snak programs in schools with high numbers of low-income students;
  • Creating a farm-to-foodbank pilot program to support purchasing fresh produce directly from local farmers; and
  • Providing additional funds for the Farmer Market Nutrition Programs, which enables low-income families to purchase produce at local farmer markets.

During the past 18 months, increasing concern about climate change and growing grassroots opposition from communities dealing with all stages of the coal life cycle have derailed more than 50 planned U.S. coal-fired power plants. More than 20 groups are working to add Duke Power's proposed coal-fired Cliffside plant in North Carolina to the deservedly extinct list. In early March, North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, a long-time advocate for clean energy options, and Appalachian Voices, citing a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision, filed appeals seeking to halt construction of a plant that will produce 5.5 million tons of CO2 a year. The appeal cites a February ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That ruling says that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act when it scrapped a policy requiring utilities to install the best available technology to capture mercury, a neurotoxin that can damage developing brains in fetuses and very young children. Plans for the proposed Duke plant do not include the most effective available technology.

The appeal is only one front in the campaign for clean energy. Check out the WARN-produced video satire of Duke's Chief Operating Officer, which includes a call for action you can take, wherever you live and breathe. WARN's website lists the following sobering statistics, among others:

*Home Depot is planting 300,000 trees in the U.S. to help absorb carbon dioxide emissions. The CO2 emissions from the proposed new Cliffside plant, in just SIX DAYS of operations, would negate the entire effort.
* Wal-Mart is investing 1/2 billion dollars to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions from its existing buildings over the next seven years. If every Wal-Mart supercenter met this target, the CO2 emissions from the proposed Cliffside plant, in less than THREE WEEKS of operation, would negate this entire effort.

WARN proposes solutions too. A year ago, it joined 12 other organizations in issuing The Power to Choose: North Carolina's Clean-Energy Future, a blueprint for how the state can meet its energy needs without adding more polluting facilities.

"Desert Rock in a NutShell" (The Washington Independent - Feb 21, 2008)

Investing in renewable energy development and energy efficiency could provide more jobs and economic benefits for the Navajo Nation than building the proposed $3 billion Desert Rock Energy Project, according to an economic analysis released in January by Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. It contradicts assumptions in the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed 1,500-megawatt pulverized coal plant. The report found, for example, that developing clean energy would create 80 percent more construction jobs and five times as many long-term operations and maintenance jobs as the Desert Rock plant. By investing in wind and solar resources, said Dailan Long of Diné CARE: "The Nation could be a leader in renewable technology, boost the economy, protect public and environmental health, and, altogether, do so in accordance with the Navajo Fundamental Laws."

The #1 New York Times bestseller, 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth, is back. And this time, the authors have joined forces with 50 leading environmental groups... including Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. The piece on OVEC asks: "How valuable is watching an extra half hour of television every night? Is it worth sacrificing a mountain?" It goes on to describe what mountaintop removal coal mining is doing to Appalachia, and recommends steps concerned citizens can take if they want to help. You can read the OVEC portion online through April 25, the last day of Earth Week 2008. Or you can buy the book, and check out all 50 inspiring stories.

After eight years of struggle, residents of the Pajarito Mesa, ten miles from Albuquerque, will finally have access to water. SouthWest Organizing Project has been working with residents of the mesa to secure basic services, such as water, roads and electricity, that were promised but never delivered by the seller of housing sites there. The Pajarito Mesa Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority will be signing a contractual agreement to build a water system on the mesa. The Albuquerque Water Authority will be extending the water lines from the county's reservoir, along with power lines to operate the system. It's been estimated that the water system will be operational by the beginning of 2009. Until now, the residents have sustained themselves through purifying their own water, installing solar panels and disposing of their own trash properly. This community has been self-sustaining for over 25 years.

This effort comes from the dedication and determination of a committed group of residents that live on the mesa to improve their quality of life. It truly represents what the spirit of grassroots community organizing is all about. Robby Rodriguez, Executive Director of SWOP.

This huge victory has been long awaited, but it's only the first victory of many more to come, Rodriquez notes. Residents also need public roads for emergency services, electricity and alternative energy.

In March, Francisca Herrera and Abraham Candelario, parents of Carlitos Herrera, reached a confidential settlement with Ag-Mart Produce, Inc. on behalf of their two-year old son, Carlitos. Carlitos was born without limbs and was one of three children with severe birth defects born to Ag-Mart employees over a three-month period in 2006. While the terms of the settlement are confidential, the parent's attorney, Andrew Yaffa, said that he and his clients are "very happy."

Faced with the problems of establishing causation, which are common in pesticide exposure cases, Yaffa pursued a premises liability theory. Because Ag-Mart failed to comply with the notice requirements of the EPA Worker Protection Standards, Carlitos' mother could not make an informed decision regarding her employment. The evidence developed indicated that Ag-Mart's management was aware that the pesticides being used posed a threat to pregnant women, yet let Carlitos' mother (and other pregnant women) work in close proximity to where the company was applying pesticides. The company directed its spray rig operators (who lacked training) to apply chemicals within 200 feet of where crews were picking. Using the premises liability approach, the plaintiffs did not have to prove which specific chemical caused the birth defects, only that Ag-Mart unreasonably exposed them to dangerous pesticides.

Although the terms of the settlement are confidential, the evidence gathered by the plaintiffs' attorneys is public. Yaffa will make this information available to other advocates representing victims of pesticide poisoning. Farmworker Association of Florida and other groups working to improve the condition of farmworkers expressed hope that this information will encourage state enforcement officials in Florida and North Carolina to pursue their administrative actions against Ag-Mart.

The 2008 Grassroots Global Justice Membership Assembly in March brought together representatives from 42 member organizations to debate, discuss, celebrate and plan for the next 20 years of participating in struggles for global justice. Following a key role in the first United States Social Forum, GGJ members developed a vision of where the movements would be in 20 years, and formed some initial steps toward that vision. Delegates also elected a new coordinating council with diverse representation from across the nation, and established working groups to deepen member involvement in the alliance's work.

The Brooklyn Young Mothers Collective is about to launch free doula care and services to pregnant and parenting young mothers in the community with the goal of improving birth outcomes and early parenting practices. A doula is a professional birth attendant who provides physical, emotional and informational support during birth, as well as education during and after pregnancy. The use of a doula in randomized trials has proven to reduce c-section rates, facilitate shorter labor, lessen the use of medications during labor and delivery, increase success in breastfeeding, increase maternal satisfaction, and reduce rates of newborn complications.

The Alliance for Reproductive Justice is the new name for the Alaska Pro-Choice Alliance. In an Op-Ed in the Anchorage Daily News, the Alliance's executive director, Geran Tarr, wrote:

The movement needed to change to more accurately reflect the experience of women, to be more inclusive and to incorporate the experience of women of color. The reproductive justice movement emerged. It includes abortion rights and also includes those who want to have children and related issues, such as access to reproductive health care, environmental health, family friendly employment policies and supportive communities and laws.

Geran's Op-Ed spoke about the many women who live in Alaska communities with limited access to reproductive health care, have limited or no medical insurance and cannot afford to pay for health care services. These issues, combined with other socio-economic factors, affect a woman's ability to make sound reproductive health decisions.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Saludpromujer, a curriculum transformation project at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the School of Medicine at the University of Puerto Rico. Its work has been instrumental in institutionalizing comprehensive family planning, and abortion training and education in the medical, nursing and public health schools.

At a recent anniversary celebration, former students and educators shared stories about their personal and professional experiences with Saludpromujer. The festivities concluded with the debute of the CD: De Esto No Se Habla – El Aborto En Puerto Rico (Of This We Don't Speak Of: Abortion in Puerto Rico). The CD features eight raps on sexual and reproductive health, and emergency contraception messages created in hip-hop style for radio. These controversial and popular radio spots have become important educational tools.

Make the Road New York organized a massive community meeting with over 700 members from Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens, gathering for an afternoon of political engagement, music and theater. Community members presented MRNY's policy priorities for 2008. They shared personal stories of mistreatment and discrimination, and performed political theater to highlight the need for:
  • Increased educational and economic opportunity;
  • Comprehensive immigration reform;
  • Healthy and affordable housing;
  • Equal access to government benefits and services; and
  • Expansion of civil rights across our communities for immigrants, workers, students and LGBTQ people.

The federal, state and local elected officials present offered their support for the policies promising to work for immigration reform, adequate school funding and tenants' rights.

The South Bronx group, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, has launched Greenternships, an apprenticeship and training program offering employment opportunities in environmental careers. The interns will explore issues of personal identity, oppression and social justice, and receive training in organizing, leadership development, political education and civic participation. Greenternships is an opportunity for participants to bridge that critical gap between its youth programs and the job market.

YMPJ has identified a number of public- and private-sector career tracks with local organizations and businesses in fields such as stormwater management, streetscape beautification, urban forestry, urban planning and gardening. For example, Youth Organizers who have received Citizen Street Tree Pruner certification can pursue this career track further through a Greenternship as a Climber-Pruner, a well-paying entry-level job with New York City's Parks Department.

Talking About Structural Racism and Our Food

Sustainable agriculture and food systems work is described as resting on three legs: ecological sustainability, economic viability and social justice. The question is justice for whom? And, why is it so hard to achieve justice for all?

Like our housing and educational systems, our food system is stratified along the lines of race and class. Farmworkers tend to be people of color. Farm owners tend to be white. Consumers able to access farm-fresh food tend to be middle-class and affluent whites. Black and brown people disproportionately suffer from food insecurity, and disproportionately high rates of nutrition-related illness.

Increasing numbers of nonprofit leaders in the sustainable food system sector are confronting racism and privilege at the personal and interpersonal levels. Some nonprofits have begun the journey to become multi-cultural or even anti-racist organizations. These actions represent serious commitments and the Foundation has been proud to help support this work.

Be the change you want to see is a powerful practice. However, personal and organizational transformation, while critical, does not magically alter externally embedded systems. A structural racism lens helps bring personal and organizational focus to the development of strategies for systemic social transformation. It reminds us that inequities in our food system result from the cumulative impact of "racialized" land, credit, agricultural, labor and immigration policies. At a minimum, this understanding demands that all organizations consider engaging in some policy change work – whether at the local, state, national or international level - to help ensure that the reformed food system we are all trying to create doesn't replicate existing race and class divisions.

On March 27th, the Foundation sponsored a web-based seminar, entitled Structural Racism and Our Food: Understanding the Problem and Identifying Solutions, delivered by Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and founding director of the Center for Social Inclusion. Maya explained why the concept of structural racism is important and explored the application of a "structural race lens" to the food system. The "webinar" can be accessed on the Center's website through June 4th.

We are happy that this conversation will continue at the Kellogg Foundation Food and Society conference, where Maya will be a featured speaker. And, we are eager to hear about the experiences of grantees as they apply a structural racism lens to help ensure that our three-leg stool doesn't topple over.

Noyes In Action

What the Staff's Been Saying and Doing

Diversity and inclusiveness were key topics for the staff:


  • Vic De Luca spoke at the conference of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations at the session: Race and Gender Diversity – What Difference Does It Make for Foundation Effectiveness. He also spoke at the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers on the SEO Internship Program – Benefits to Grantmakers. (SEO recruits college students of color as interns in professional fields, including philanthropy.)
  • Millie Buchanan was a discussant at the annual meeting of the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers on Inclusive Diversity in Grantmaking: Application of Best Practices.
  • Kolu Zigbi was a presenter at the annual conference of the Grantmakers in Health, speaking at the session: Power in Partnerships to Tackle Disparities – Diversity Is Our Asset and Equity Our Common Ground.

Vic spoke at the Institutional Investor 2nd Annual Forum on Responsible Investing, How are Foundation Achieving ESG Integration and Aligning Mission with Investments? (ESG = Environment, Social and Governance concerns) And in March, Vic was part of the ten-person delegation from the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers that participated in Foundations on the Hill, a national lobby day sponsored by the Council on Foundations.

In addition...

Vic was profiled in Corporate Board Member magazine in Foundations Join the Ranks of Shareholder Activists, an article that featured the work of the Noyes and Nathan Cummings foundations and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers. Noyes was also highlighted in, Foundations Move Toward Mission Related Investing, One Foundation at a Time. And Noyes' investment policy was included as a model in Mission-Related Investing: A Policy and Implementation Guide for Foundation Trustees, a booklet published by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers

Millie co-authored with two other funder colleagues an article for the Environmental Grantmakers Association's Journal, Mountaintop Removal Mining: The True Cost of Coal.

Related News


The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is launching a national petition drive to demand that Burger King and other food industry leaders work with the CIW to improve the wages and working conditions of the workers who pick their tomatoes, and join with the CIW in an industry-wide effort to eliminate modern-day slavery and human rights abuses from Florida's fields. The petitions will serve as notice that those who sign are "prepared to stop patronizing Burger King now, and other food industry leaders in the future, should they fail to do so." The campaign comes on the 200th anniversary of the U.S. ban against the importation of slaves, and echoes key strategies of the early abolitionist movement that helped hasten the end of slavery in the 19th century. Click here to read the petition and sign now!

Large Foundations Boost Giving in 2006

The Foundation Center reported that the nation's largest 1,300 foundations made $19.1 billion in grants in 2006. This was more than a 16 percent increase over the previous year. The Center attributes this growth to the large grant Warren Buffet made to the Gates Foundation and to a strong stock market. The study showed that health charities received the most funding ($4.4 billion), outpacing education support ($4.3 billion) for the first time in 20 years. Support for the environment and animals totaled $1.145 billion, and public affairs and society benefits, which includes civil rights and social action, community improvement and development, philanthropy and volunteerism, and public affairs totaled $2.04 billion.

Due largely to the Gates Foundation, West Coast foundations provide more grant funding than their counterparts in the East, the first time that has happened since the Center started issuing its reports. Charities in the Northeast sill received more foundation funding than any other part of the country. Corporate foundations preferred to fund educational purposes, while community foundations gave the most to human services groups. Independent foundations, which include family foundations, provided grants to organizations working in the fields of health, international affairs, science and social-science. More information on the report, Foundation Giving Trends, can be found at the Foundation Center.

Where's The Beef?

We are not sure about that, but an interesting report from the Foundation Center shows where the money was in 2006 among the 34,687 family foundations they identified. In March, the Center releasedKey Facts on Family Foundations.

Although giving by family foundations amounted to $17 billion, 49 percent of the family foundations reported giving less than $50,000 that year. The largest was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave almost $3 billion in 2006, over 17 percent of the total for family foundations.

While Gates had an asset level of $33 billion, 60 percent of family foundations had less than $1 million in assets. With $60 million in assets, the Noyes Foundation falls within the top two percent of family foundations. Noyes also falls within the top six percent of giving for family foundations with its annual grantmaking of $3 million.

The Center found that 80 percent of family foundations were established since 1980, with 27 percent coming on line in the 2000s. In contrast, the Noyes Foundation was created in 1947 when only two percent of family foundations were established.

A sample survey of 577 larger family foundations showed that health and education grants were favored in 2006. This set of foundations also preferred program giving over general support or capital and research needs. Also, only fifteen percent of larger family foundations had paid staff; including paid staff at only about a third of the 5,000 family foundations with assets of $5 million or more.

Who Will Lead Non-Profits?

In a recent survey, two-thirds of almost 6,000 potential nonprofit leaders said "no" or were unsure when asked if they would like to be a nonprofit executive director. The sponsors of the survey, conducted in September of 2007, were the Annie E. Casey Foundation, CompassPoint Nonprofit Services,, and the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation. It is expected that thousands of senior-level positions will be available over the next ten years due to the retirement of waves of baby boomers.

The majority of survey respondents worked in the nonprofit sector. Among their concerns were the long hours required, negative effects on personal lives and financial concerns, including inadequate compensation given the demands of the job and not having enough saved for retirement. Additionally, the survey found that the traditional duties of an executive director were unappealing and there was little in the way of training for the next generation of leaders.

People of color more strongly expressed an interest in heading up a nonprofit than did whites. The same goes for respondents who grew up in a low-income family and were born outside the U.S. Clink here to get a free copy of the report: Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out.

Are Charities Spending Too Much on Overhead?

According to a poll done by Ellison Research of Phoenix, 62 percent of Americans thinks that charities are spending too much for fund raising and administration. The public thinks that overhead should cost 22 cents per dollar but believes that charities spend 36 cents of each dollar they receive for overhead. Among adults under 35, 44 percent felt this way, while 70 percent of those age 55 and older believed too much was spent on overhead. Conversely, 20 percent of African American respondents said that too little was spent on overhead, double the responses for whites and Latinos. Just over 1,000 people across the country were surveyed.

Our Trip to El Paso

by Kolu Zigbi, Noyes Program Officer


In March, the Foundation convened representatives from the ten organizations around the country that it funds through the Diversifying Leadership for Sustainable Food Policy Initiative. Twenty-five participants came to this west Texas border town to share achievements and lessons learned, view first-hand the effects in U.S. and Mexican communities of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and learn more about the anti-immigrant movement.

As we walked from our downtown hotel to the meeting site, the Border Agricultural Workers Center, we passed groups of men hoping to be hired as day laborers and streams of people walking into town to take up similar vigils. The Center serves as a gathering place as well as a shelter for agricultural workers, about 12,000 of whom stay in the area to harvest chiles, a $300 million dollar industry. Chile pickers earn less than $7,000 a year and are subject to dehumanizing recruitment practices and working conditions. The Center educates workers about their rights and about organizing to fight for social and economic justice. This beautiful, though modest, modern building has an unobstructed view of the massive office of the Department of Homeland Security, which sits across the road. Just behind the Homeland Security building stretched three sets of high barbed wire fence with the Rio Grande meandering between. The area was dotted with security cameras that sat atop high poles.


Inside the Center the atmosphere was quite different. Crepe paper streamers from the Border Agricultural Project's recent 35th anniversary celebration decorated the ceiling. We sat at tables draped with colorful Mexican tapestries and configured in a horseshoe-shape. We were graciously welcomed by Carlos Marentes, BAP's founding director. BAP is a member of the Rural Coalition, as well as the National Family Farm Coalition. The Center houses a NFFC staff member, Jessica Rao, who coordinates North American participation in the global small-farmer association, Via Campesina. BAP is also active in a cross-border alliance, called Union del Pueblo Fronterizo, which addresses the many human rights abuses which cluster along the U.S.-Mexico border. After a tasty lunch cooked at the Center, we piled into vans and headed to Mexico.

It was rather quick and easy to get into Mexico, the wait and anxiety came when we crossed back into the U.S. We drove along the outskirts of Ciudad Jaurez, a city of 1.2 million inhabitants, passing large, state-of-the-art maquiladoras (export assembly plants) where workers toiled for hourly wages of less than one dollar. Along the side of the highway ran a narrow river of water, black with runoff from the factories and from Ciudad Jaurez's untreated sewage. In addition to the low wages, corporations are attracted to the border's "free-trade" zone because they are not required to pay taxes. As a result, workers' housing, "colonias," lack basic infrastructure. We passed tiny one-room homes, without electricity, crowded together in tight rows and painted rosy colors.

Our destination was the rural town of San Augustine and the Museo Del San Augustine, a community-run museum. At the entrance, a large steel crucifix wrapped with barbed wire commemorated those who died trying to cross into the U.S. Inside the museum were donations from community members – fossils, mammoth bones, antiques, art and photographs. There was a prominent map depicting a late 1990's fight to prevent a low-level nuclear waste dump in Sierra Blanca, Texas, as well as efforts to close a landfill that took in New York City sewer sludge. Outside, the museum was decorated with a large mural celebrating the Zapatistas of Chiapas, whose ideology includes an anti-corporate globalization stance, which resonates with many residents of San Augustine.


We joined local residents in a large community room, where we listened to a representative from the Frento Democratico Campesinos Di Chihuahua talk about NAFTA's impact: how U.S. corn imports have driven down sale prices for area farmers; how water pollution from the maquiladora plants has made it dangerous to eat locally-produced food; and how the region's farmers are increasingly leaving their communities to seek new livelihoods to support their families. It is estimated that since NAFTA was passed in 1994 over two million Mexican farmers have joined the stream of immigrants and migrant workers into the U.S. We learned about massive demonstrations against NAFTA's final phased-in deregulation of sugar, dairy products and beans. Farmers from the Chihuahua joined protesters from every region of the country in caravans than converged in Mexico City on January 31st.


That evening we ate a delicious dinner at Café Mayapan, back in El Paso. Café Mayapan is a socially responsible, economic development enterprise run by the organization Mujer Obrero, or Working Women. We learned more about NAFTA; in particular, how it resulted in the relocation of the city's garment factories across the border. We also heard about Mujer Obrero's efforts to create new economic enterprises to employ women. We ended the evening buying hand-made gifts at their fair trade gift shop before returning to the hotel.


The next morning, Eric Ward, coordinator of the Building Democracy project at the Center for New Community, described the history of the anti-immigrant, or "nativist" movement. He linked immigrants' rights to the civil rights movement, and explained how laws and policies aimed at restricting and controlling undocumented immigrants will have significant direct impacts on all communities of color within the U.S., including the African American community.

Our convening ended with a conversation about the messages we needed to bring back to our organizations, and the ways to engage the broader movements we are part of in a dialog on the intersection of food, agriculture, trade, racism, xenophobia and immigration policies.

We came away from the convening with a deeper understanding about NAFTA; and how it is undermining food sovereignty in the U.S. and Mexico by accelerating the loss of farmland, contributing to environmental pollution (making agriculture unsafe), promoting genetically engineered crop varieties, which threaten the genetic integrity of indigenous species, and generally undermining once largely self-sufficient local economies. We recognized that some of the same socio-economic problems facing Chihuahua and other parts of rural Mexico also plague communities in the U.S. We agreed to use future opportunities to further a dialogue around the nexus between immigration, food sovereignty and civil rights, with the goal of collaborating on advocacy during the next round of debates on comprehensive immigration reform.