Black, White and Green explores how environmental protection and social justice are envisioned and practiced through green economic exchange. It is based on 18 months of participant observation, 36 in-depth interviews and a survey of 200 customers at two farmers markets in the San Francisco Bay Area. The North Berkeley market celebrates local, organic food in an affluent, predominantly white area. The West Oakland Farmers Market promotes local African American farmers by marketing their goods to West Oakland's predominantly low-income, African American residents. Despite demographic differences, actors from both sites emphasize the environmental and social justice benefits of each market.
In the market context, actors transform social justice and environmental protection from social movement objectives to everyday practices of production and consumption. Farmers market participants "do" environmentalism through the cultivation and consumption of local, organic foods. These products, they argue, lessen the ecological footprint of agriculture. Actors also "do" social justice through local economic exchange, increasing the wealth of local people (and in West Oakland, low-income people of color) compared to agribusiness corporations.
In farmers markets, consumers access an idealized "nature" through the purchase of food. Paradoxically, this commodification inhibits a radical, anti-capitalist environmentalism intimately interconnected to racial and economic equality. Moreover, because the green economy is predicated on the buying and selling of premium goods, it requires the participation of affluent actors. This dependence results in limited attention to social justice in North Berkeley, and threatens the West Oakland Market's ability to survive economically. However, as vibrant public spaces, farmers markets can educate consumers about the social and environmental degradation caused by industrial agriculture, encouraging them to take necessary collective action.
My dissertation takes an environmental justice approach to farmers markets. I expand that literature's vision of sustainable alternatives to environmental inequality, offers food as a new conceptual area and links environmental conditions to racial identity formation. Additionally, I forge connections between the environmental justice literature and critical theories of sustainable agriculture and consumption. Practically, my study reveals that green economic exchange must be paired with collective action in order to create a more just and sustainable food system.