Monica M. White, Ph.D.

The Black Farmers’ Historian
“There is probably no subject more important than the study of food.”
George Washington Carver
Monica M. White earned a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University in Sociology. She is an assistant professor of Environmental Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a joint appointment in the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology and is a former Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. Her research engages communities of color and grassroots organizations that are involved in the development of sustainable community food systems as a strategy to respond to issues of hunger and food inaccessibility. Her publications include, “Sisters of the Soil: Urban Gardening as Resistance Among Black Women in Detroit”, “D-Town Farm: African American Resistance to Food Insecurity and the Transformation of Detroit” and “A pig and a garden” : Fannie Lou Hamer and the Freedom Farms Cooperative.” Her first book “Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement,” published with the University of North Carolina Press contextualizes new forms of contemporary urban agriculture within the historical legacies of African American farmers who fought to acquire and stay on the land. Using historical and contemporary examples, Freedom Farmers examines the development of farmers’ cooperatives as strategies of resistance, and documents the ways that these organizations, in general, and Black farmers specifically, have contributed to the Black Freedom Movement. As a result of her scholarship and community work, Dr. White has received several grants including a multi-year, multi-million dollar USDA research grant to study food insecurity in Michigan. She has also received several awards including the 2013 Olsen Award for distinguished service to the practice of Sociology from the Michigan Sociological Association and the Michigan Campus Compact Faculty/Staff Community Service-Learning Award. She was appointed to the Food Justice Task Force sponsored by the Institute for Agricultural Trade Policy (IATP), maintains a highly ranked and reviewed blog (soil2soul) and is highly sought after and has presented her work at many national and international community organizations, colleges and universities.
“The reason I have always wanted to be a farmer is because I believed then and believe now that the farmer is the only free man we have in our race.”
Benjamin Carr, Black farmer, 1914
My research is driven by the sociological question of how oppressed groups engage in social movements to transform their political and economic conditions. Within the context of food system activism it asks: What conditions encourage individuals to examine their relationship to food systems? How do individuals begin to see themselves as agents intervening in the food system for their own, and their community’s best interest? What strategies do they engage in order to achieve a healthy, sustainable, community food system? Inspired by Alice Walker’s quote, “In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own,” my research focuses on the relationship between race, class, gender, the food system and activism and offers a nuanced analysis of the resurgence of agriculture by communities of color, in both urban and rural spaces. I examine the discourse around food access, identity, the use and reclamation of land, and the development of community food security. My current research is community organizing and food system activism around urban gardens and agricultural movements using Detroit as a case study. The city of Detroit provides an ideal case study because it represents a vital context for understanding how grassroots citizen-based movements transform the political and economic environment of a postindustrial city. The history of Detroit politics might lead one to expect an insurmountable racial divide that limits solidarity and mobilization. However, my research provides findings of a recent resurgence of urban agriculture in many urban spaces and its potential to improve the urban landscape. Race continues to divide the urban gardening movement as white farmers perceive it as an opportunity to maximize vacant land for environmental redevelopment while black farmers are motivated by access to healthy food. Gender is featured prominently in examining women’s participation in agriculture as a demonstration of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Despite these differences, my research demonstrates that community gardens are spaces of possibility and healing through a shared goal: rebuilding Detroit. Ultimately, my research illuminates new politics in the restructuring of food systems in the United States and abroad. This work contributes to the reshaping of urban cityscapes by extending social-science theory and its application to include communities of color whose work has been marginalized and ignored. These analyses offer practical lessons for overcoming racial divisions and for forging trust relationships between the academy and its neighbors, helping to revitalize and find creative solutions for more vibrant cities. Not only does this work address policy-relevant implications for the City of Detroit, in particular, but for international urban development, more generally.
“Collective Black self-recovery takes place when we begin to renew our relationship to the earth, when we remember the way of our ancestors. Living in modern society without history, it has been easy to forget that Black people were first and foremost people of the land, farmers.
bell hooks
“The reason I have always wanted to be a farmer is because I believed then and believe now that the farmer is the only free man we have in our race.”
Benjamin Carr, Black farmer, 1914
“No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.
Booker T. Washington
Philosophy and Pedagogy
Rooted in respect and awareness of race, class, gender, and nationality, my attraction to the field of sociology was ignited by the opportunity to study how social groups are formed, how norms are created, and how social structures are maintained and challenged.  My commitment to a life of learning has been enriched by my time with students and has driven me to assist others in this exploration. Integral to my work in the classroom is an acceptance and appreciation of difference, an understanding of social structures and institutions, and confidence in the ability of groups to challenge these social structures for their benefit and others.  My approach to teaching is based on eliminating various barriers to education derived from racial, class and gender difference and making use of difference to create more significant and relevant educational experiences for students.

Courses Taught Critical Race Theory Cultural Anthropology Deviant Behavior History of the Black Freedom Movement Introduction to Sociology Individual and Society Research Methods (General and Qualitative)
Sociological Theory
 Social Problems Social Psychology Social Stratification Social Movement Theory Urban Sociology Women, Gender and Society
Teaching interests: Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, Environmental Social Movements, History of Urban/Community Gardening, Food Justice/Security/Sovereignty, Environmental Sociology

Content copyright 2018. Monica M. White, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
latest works
current projects

Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement

In May 1969, internationally renowned activist Fannie Lou Hamer purchased forty acres of land in the Mississippi Delta, launching the Freedom Farms Cooperative (FFC). A community-based rural and economic development project, FFC would grow to over 600 acres, offering a means for local sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and domestic workers to pursue community wellness, self-reliance, and political resistance. Life on the cooperative farm presented an alternative to the second wave of northern migration by African Americans–an opportunity to stay in the South, live off the land, and create a healthy community based upon building an alternative food system as a cooperative and collective effort.

Books White, Monica, M.  Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement. Content copyright 2018. Monica M. White, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Refereed Journal Articles White, Monica M.  2011. “D-Town Farm:  African American Resistance to Food Insecurity and the Transformation of Detroit.”  Environmental Practice.  Vol. 13 (4).    White, Monica M.  2011. “Sisters of the Soil:  Urban Gardening as Resistance in Detroit.”  Race/Ethnicity:  Multicultural Global Contexts. Race/Ethnicity:  Multicultural Global Contexts.  Vol. 5 (1). White, Monica, M.  2010. “Shouldering Responsibility for the Delivery of Human Rights:  A Case Study of the D-Town Farmers of Detroit,” Race/Ethnicity: Multicultural Global Contexts, Vol. 3 (2):  189-212. White, Monica, M.  2009. “Socio-Psychological Processes in Racial Identity Formation: A Case Study of the Autobiographies of African American and Latino/a Activists, Humanity and Society, Vol. 33(3):  185-205. White, Monica, M.  2005. “Familial Influence in the Autobiographies of Black South African and African American Women Activists.”  Michigan Family Review, Vol. 10 (1):  27-44. White, Monica, M.  2003. “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve: The Application of the Kufundisha Pedagogical Model at A Historically Black College.”  Teaching Sociology, 31 (4):  383-396. Chapters in Edited Volumes White, Monica, M.  2009. “Socio-Psychological Processes in Racial Formation:  A Case Study of the Autobiographies of Former Black Panther Party Members,” in Race Struggles, edited by S. Cha-Jua, T. Koditschek, & H. Neville. University of Illinois Press. Online White, Monica, M.  2011. “Detroit, Race and Urban Gardening.”  When We Dream Together: Creating Communities of Opportunity.  Read White, Monica, M.  2010. “D-Town: African American Farmers, Food Security and Detroit.”  Black Agenda Report. Read Manuscripts in progress and under review White, Monica, M. “A Journey to Liberation:  Culture of Resistance and Mobilization in the Newsletters of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.” Under Review at Critical Sociology. White, Monica, M.  “Cultivating Justice:  Teaching, Research, and Community Engagement Through Urban Gardens.”  Under Review at Teaching Sociology. White, Monica, M.  “Planting Seeds of Resistance, Harvesting Change:  Race, Gender and Farming in Detroit.” To be submitted to International Social Science Review. White, Monica, M. “The White Elephant in the Community Garden:  Race, Whiteness and the Urban Gardening Movement in Detroit.” To be submitted to Mobilization.
booking & General inquiries

Areas of Expertise

Dr. White is available to provide expertise, consultation, and commentary to your group, organization, institution, or office on the following subjects:

History of Urban/Community Agriculture

Community-based food systems

Agriculture in Detroit

Race, Class, Gender and Agriculture

Food Justice/Food Sovereignty

Monica M. White, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology

60 Science Hall
550 N. Park Street
Madison, WI 53706
p: 313.363.7766

To request Dr. Monica M. White for a speaking engagement, complete the form below.

Bookings & Inquiries

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