As a young girl growing up in the largely affluent village of East Aurora, Kristin was one of the few in her community experiencing food insecurity. She shares, “In elementary and middle school, I was one of a handful of kids in my community who qualified for [food stamps and] free lunch, but I never got [lunch] because I didn’t want to be judged by the kids I grew up with. I chose to go without eating than to be embarrassed.”
Fast forward to her 30s, Kristin began to recognize that it was not her responsibility to harbor shame or embarrassment about her experience. Rather, that she was harmed while at the intersection and mercy of several dysfunctional systems—including the food system. “No one should have to feel that way. Because we all need food, and healthy foods should be available to everybody. It should be done with dignity, not shame attached to it.” She shared.
Even in light of her individual and familial struggles, Kristin recognizes the privileges that she simultaneously held during that time that helped keep her and her family afloat. “I had good access to education. I lived in a walkable community. I started cleaning houses at 11 [in my community] to be able to afford things. So, in many ways, I look back and think, ‘Oh, I was lucky’.”
Collective formed two years later and now owns 37 acres of fertile, second-generation farmland in Orchard Park. Their mission of cultivating farmer-led and community-rooted agriculture and food systems to actualize the rights of under-resourced peoples comes with only three requirements:
“This system honors that every group comes from different cultural traditions and practices surrounding how they organize, how they share, and how they support one another. And that's not on us to tell them to do it differently.” Kristin says. “The current system operates under the idea that farmers are donating surplus vegetables or foods. And the thing is, no farmer, [especially those facing one or more forms of systemic oppression], can afford to do that.”