Featured Leader: Lindsey Lunsford

Scholar activist and agriculture advocate, Dr. Lindsey Lunsford, inspired by her alma mater, Tuskegee University, is setting the tone for the upcoming generation of rural and urban agriculturalists. Dr. Lunsford is unique in that she worked full-time as a Sustainable Food System Resource Specialist through Tuskegee University’s Carver Integrative Sustainability Center, while still being enrolled in the Tuskegee University Integrative Public Policy and Development Doctoral Program. Dr. Lunsford’s doctoral research focused on the restorying of African American food systems and foodways for the pursuit of cultural justice and food sovereignty. 

Although, still early in her career, Dr. Lunsford demonstrates noteworthy performance and accomplishments in her programming and research aims. Dr. Lunsford was recently named among the nation’s Top 20 Emerging Leaders in Food and Agriculture. Dr. Lunsford, currently studies policy advocacy for strengthening grassroots efforts from state to international levels. Lunsford’s leadership focuses on educating underserved populations on self-sufficiency and healthy lifestyles while encouraging the larger community to pursue sustainable and equitable food-oriented development.

You and your journey

Who are you? (Beyond the job title!)

Lately, I find myself naming myself as a “storyteller”. This title fits not only my vocation but my earnest passion and strivings. I live and work in the South although I was born and raised in the Midwest. I am a member of my community and what that looks like has changed over time.

What inspired you to get involved in food systems work?

I was inspired to get into food systems work from my experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA after college working to establish a community garden in the rural Alabama Black Belt. Before this a community elder named Jimmy Johnson, whispered to me the importance of food in community development and those lessons stuck with me as I grew. 

What does food systems leadership mean to you?

It means understanding yourself so you can effect changes in the world around you. Real food systems leadership means understanding white supremacy’s effects on our currents methods of growing and accessing food and finding your unique way of unraveling that. 

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you, or someone you look up to. Why and how has this person impacted your life?

My mentor at Tuskegee University, Dr. Raymon Shange has affected me significantly and is the type of leader I admire and seek to emulate. “Doc” as we affectionately call him at work, leads by giving you both space and support to grow in your ability and skillset. One of the greatest ways he affected me was by advising me to pursue my PhD at Tuskegee and then mentoring me throughout the process. Sometimes the task felt too magnificent to muster, but he told me that sometimes when you aim high you can truly surprise yourself. I seek to be the type of leader that not only inspires you to aim high but also reminds you to have faith in the power you hold within.

What’s one thing you’ve learned that you’d like to send forward to the network?

Perfect is poison. It’s not that there is no such things as perfect, it’s that seeking or even projecting perfection is a dangerous and altogether toxic experience. I spent many years as many others have, seeking to do “the best” I could in whatever situation I was in. I learned that perfect doesn’t serve me, but joy does. I set my attention now towards joy and not perfection or even anything close to it.

What are you most excited about in your work?
Getting to connect and talk with interesting people from across the world who want to be, see, and do better for the world.

What’s your greatest leadership challenge now, and what are you looking for support for? Something fellow members could help with. 

I want to publish a book and I am not sure if I am procrastinating (i.e. I want it to be perfect) or if it’s not been my time yet. Either way advice from others who’ve published is welcomed.

What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many of your colleagues know or that we wouldn’t expect from you?

I ran cross country in 8th grade. Growing up, I was never much of an athlete and that was the only sport you did not have to try out for at the time. When I made the team, I came in last every single race. I mean every single one. It was bad. My Dad teases me sometimes and says, “Yeah, they’d by cutting out the lights and putting up the chairs and then here would come our little girl, but at least you never gave up.” I am proud to say I kept running and got better (a little) but I love the fact I kept showing up even though I knew I was not going to win then. I knew I would at least get a little better. 

What have you enjoyed the most as a member of the FSLN? What do you hope will happen through this network?

FSLN has helped me connect to people I may never have come across in life otherwise. The connections I have made through the network have been real and restorative. I am grateful for the way the network has made space to connect folks.

Lindsey, the persistent 8th grade cross country runner

You and your journey

When you imagine an equitable and anti-racist food system, what do you envision?

A food system where Blackness is celebrated as life giving and nurturing rather than feared, castigated, and burdened by white supremacist realities.

Over the past few months, the country has seen ongoing protests around systemic anti-Black racism, sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Discussions around systemic racism are now happening across all sectors and at the local, regional and national levels. How might those involved in the “good food movement” ride this momentum to create a more equitable and explicitly anti-racist food system?

We have to do the work within ourselves. The election results were a moral stun to many people in the country. We must acknowledge that there are still populations that don’t see or acknowledge the need to create a more equitable and explicitly anti-racist food system. I think raising our own personal awareness is necessary along with seeking to challenge the narratives that downplay the necessity and purpose of this work.

There’s not a single community within the movement for equitable food systems that isn’t impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, which presents serious challenges on every level and has particular and immediate impact on frontline communities, farmers and farmworkers, food business owners, and food service workers. Given your experience and perspective in the food system, what do communities need now, and how might we collectively and intentionally respond in a way that catalyzes deep transformation and systems change?

Communities need connection now more than ever before. Any help given to those trying to navigate the digital divide whether its caused by age or availability resource is important in helping to keep people connected throughout this time. 

Let’s Get Real- under the iceberg:

Burn out. It’s a thing, and social change is a long game. Have you found ways to balance taking care of yourself with your commitment to creating more equitable food and social systems?

Definitely downloaded and been experimenting with some fitness apps and group challenges during this time. Getting outdoors and running around my neighborhood has helped me to not only feel less “stuck in place” but also given me a chance to connect my thoughts and my body that I truly appreciate.

What is one change you would like to see that might encourage folks to enter and stay in this work for the long haul?

Reparations, lets be honest from a policy standpoint redistributing wealth would make this easier on all of us.

Any words of encouragement or advice to share with your fellow food systems leaders? 

Be easy. Simple words to speak, but hard to live by. Yes, world hunger is a thing (a massive painful thing) but it is also not yours alone to solve or affect. It is ok to embrace ease. We get one turn on this ride they call life, so let’s relax and get some joy in while we’re at it.

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