Speaking to Fatuma Emmad about her organization FrontLine Farming in Denver, the listener is immediately put at ease and simultaneously put on their tiptoes, as if missing a single word of what she has to say would be a tragedy.
Emmad, the co-founder, executive director, and head farmer of the food justice and urban farming organization, is one of those rare people who can make her conversational counterpart feel engaged, curious, and a little intimidated all at once. She has a wealth of knowledge and ceaseless passion that flows from her effortlessly.
She spoke with Consensus about the mission of FrontLine Farming, which was formed in 2018 by Emmad, Dr. Damien Thompson, and JaSon Auguste. The group addresses food insecurity, justice, and sovereignty. As she gets a few sentences in, her voice ticks up ever so slightly, and one gets the sense that she could talk about this all day and never tire.
“Frontline Farming is a food justice and farmer advocacy organization. We operate three different farms across about five acres around the Denver region,” Emmad said.
“We are a Black, Indigenous, people of color, and women’s led organizations … and, we also do a lot of their work in policy.”
Continuing and outlining how FrontLine Farming serves its community through policy and outreach, Emmad pulls facts and anecdotes from the ether in a way that suggests this is more than an occupation but a calling for her.
“We actually enroll people in SNAP ourselves. We recognize that any immigrants and a lot of college students, especially during the Trump administration, were scared to access benefits. And in Colorado, we have the lowest enrollment in SNAP,” Emmad said. “So, we go to the pantries we serve as well and get people in the system and follow up and do all that technical stuff, so that’s a pretty cool thing on a food access side.”
Pivoting back to their main focus, agriculture, for just a moment, Emmad makes it clear that not only is FrontLine Farming an organization focused on the product but also the production. For the group, the producers, especially those of color with different ethnic and geographical backgrounds, are just as important as the food.
“But we, you know, we’re farmers first and foremost, but we also work on behalf of agricultural workers across the state and in 2021 passed the biggest bill in the nation for agricultural worker protections,” Emmad said. “Agricultural workers, over 70% in the United States, are people of color. And they are immigrants.”
In addition to serving the local Denver area through its farms and advocating for agricultural workers’ rights, Frontline Farming focuses on educating people on how to farm themselves.
It also gives voice to marginalized groups who don’t typically have access to this type of education or outlet. These conversations are changing how people think of individuals, especially people of color, immigrants, and women, who may be food insecure.
“Yeah, the biggest, some of the biggest challenges we face is just the narrative that often sees any conversation around food as well, ‘they are in need.’ Sometimes we are made synonymous with being poor,” Emmad said. “But the reality is in the United States that we’re actually the food producers, whether it’s from restaurant workers, ag workers … we’re actually the backbone of this nation.”
Emmad quickly says that respect is crucial if someone is interested in entering the community gardening or urban farming space, especially if people are already doing similar things in their communities.
“For people in their very own community, I think it’s important to respect those who are already doing this work. Respect on a daily level those who do this work and find ways to honor that,” she said.
After tying up the conversation with encouragement to home gardeners to engage in greater “seed saving” practices, Emmad sums up her and Frontline Farming’s mission clearly and earnestly in a very simple aside: “Food is what makes nations move.”