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By Shannon Cothran, Journalist

One of America’s few organic farm schools is located in Ferguson, Missouri, the town the nation now knows as the place where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by local police. Molly Rockamann, the founder of the organic farming training organization EarthDance, lives in Ferguson and says that the shooting and the subsequent protests expedited a tough conversation she and her staff were already having – one about race and agriculture.

They began the discussion after an African American urban farmer friend brought a problem to Rockamann’s attention: a recent Missouri Department of Agriculture student program included only Caucasians: “There was not one person of color in the program,” Rockamann explains. So the staff at EarthDance sat down to discuss how to begin having a conversation about race and agriculture with the greater farming community in the region.

{{ image(3225, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”: “300”, “height”: “200”}) }}“At EarthDance we don’t shy away from the hard questions because that’s where the real work happens,” Rockamann says. “So I wanted us to have a conversation about how we could facilitate a discussion around the topic of race and agriculture. Interestingly, we literally talked about it right before (Michael Brown’s death), and then when it happened, it was even more obvious how significant of an issue this is for our own community.”

The community of Ferguson is, of course, more than what was portrayed on national television news during the recent protests. Rebecca Zoll, president and CEO of North County Inc., a regional development association, says: “The story that hasn’t been told is that the City of Ferguson has made amazing progress for its residents and businesses, even during a decade that has seen a downturn in the economy.”

But Michael Brown’s death has forced the town to take a long, hard look at its problems instead of just celebrating its accomplishments. Zoll continues, “While the recent civil unrest has certainly made it glaringly evident that there is work that must be done around the economic and racial disparities within both a small area of Ferguson but also the entire St. Louis metropolitan area. We have – as a community – been working toward progress for the past decade and will continue to do so.”

The award-winning farmers market where EarthDance sells its produce had its best market of the year the Saturday after the shooting, even though it was raining that day. “I think people just wanted to be with neighbors, and many people from the greater St. Louis area wanted to show their support for Ferguson,” says Rockamann.

A month later, market attendance was low. Rockamann believes the initial boost of extra support came because people knew how much it was needed.

{{ image(3233, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”: “300”, “height”: “200”}) }}“I certainly hope that what happened doesn’t mean that fewer people come to our area in the long run,” she says.

“Overall, this tragic incident, and even more so the aftermath of it, has given us all a heightened awareness of how far we have to go in terms of bringing about real equality – and not just equality but building real, honest relationships between people who don’t look the same and don’t have similar education and economic opportunities,” says Rockamann.

So Rockamann has tried to give back to her community. “In the week following Mike Brown’s death, I think a lot of us felt so helpless. I went to the protests, went to meetings, and patronized Ferguson small businesses,” she explains. “Then I took a step back and I tried to see what the work of peace looks like. I know that working towards a more equitable and sustainable food system for all is part of that peace and justice work.”

Rockamann decided to offer some free community classes at the farm to promote healing: trauma release, non-violent communication, and yoga. She also invited two anti-racism facilitators to train the EarthDance staff. And the farm continues to offer its affordable produce at its farm stand, a work-study program for local high school students, and inexpensive agricultural education for all.

The people at EarthDance have been doing work for inclusion, peace, and justice since they opened in 2009 but were inspired to work better and harder by their community’s struggle.

Their medium is food, and the work is going well. Slow, but well.