Black Farmer and Urban Gardener Conference

March 1, 2011

From Tashiana

Justin Torrico (CCF), Michele Hatchette, Nia Francis (Harlem Seeds), Tashiana Colston CCF

I was fortunate enough to attend the first annual Black Farmer and Urban Gardener Conference, on one of the three days it was held (from Nov. 19-21), at Brooklyn College in New York. The Conference was presented by Black Urban Growers, “an alliance of Black urban farmers and gardeners, food activists and allies united in rebuilding our community wealth and health by reconnecting to the land and our traditional roles as agriculturalist and environmental stewards.”

I was moved by the turn out of people who came out in support of black farmers. It was beautiful to see the mixed bunch of a crowd that the conference attracted. It was nice to see more than shades of brown in support of black farmers, to know that there are other people of color and other white people who understand the importance of having more black farmers, and the dire need to deconstruct the racism and classism in our food system. These were people who weren’t questioning why the conference was made for and directed to black people, unlike the majority of the white people I encounter on a daily basis. Instead, the non-black people at the conference were there with us, questioning the very systems that make it necessary to have a black farmer and urban gardener conference, they were becoming a part of the solution rather than questioning whether the conference had exclusionary practices. But in all honesty, I was most inspired by the different shades of brown, the dreads, the natural ‘fros, the pressed out hair, the roller set curls under Sunday-best hats, smooth skin, to the wrinkled evidence of wisdom on every black farmer/gardener/food activist in attendance. It was beautiful to see faces like my own, my cousins, my mother, my brother, my uncles, my grandmother, my aunts who are actively trying to literally and figuratively feed our beautiful black communities. It was moving to know that while I may be the onliest black wombyn on my farm, there are other black farmers consciously trying to feed the movement, and fuel a revolution!

The welcome was given by Karen Washington of La Familia Verde, her energy and enthusiasm were phenomenal. She highlighted that the conference was about creating a dialogue about the food system and black farmers that should go beyond the conference, a dialogue that led to action.  She stressed that black farmers are at the forefront of exerting our agency for the betterment of ourselves and our people, “We no longer want a hand out, we want a hand in on the solution.” In his welcome, the borough president of the Bronx encouraged the innovation of farmers to help improve the standards of living and the health for people of color. He cited vertical and rooftop gardening as innovations that will help communities of color in urban areas. I was pumped when he hit on the notion of sankofa, “ Thinking ahead, is looking back.”

The keynote speaker was Will Allen, the founder and ceo of growing power, inc.,  a farm and community food center in Milwaukee. Will is considered the leading authority in the expanding field of urban agriculture. I really respect him as a black man using methods his father, a sharecropper taught him; methods that are truly sustainable and healthy… that take in a great consideration for the health of the soil. Will trains community members to become community farmers and he showed us how he’s able to do so through a lot of innovation (like growing on asphalt, aquaponics, vermicompost, intensive growing methods etc.). He was also happy to see so many faces that resembled his own, saying that at so many of the farm related events that he attends he looks out and sees less than a hand full of people who look like us. He was also really happy to see that about 60% of the attendees were people under 40, which gave him hope that farming roots will be passed on. He encouraged us to figure out how the system works by including everyone (corporations etc) at the table, pushing us to be more realistic than idealistic. I was a little bummed when one of his slide photos boasted the Wal-Mart executives touring his farm and he said that some of his farms products would be in Wal-Mart stores in Milwaukee soon. I guess that’s what he meant when he said include everyone…

I’m not sure that this approach (working with profit-maximizing corporations with a history of marginalizing people) will work out in the end. I don’t see small (black) farmers having interests that are aligned with that of large multi-national institutions. Shit just doesn’t add up.

While his call for us to “control the movement” and letting the, “revolution be televised,” was inspiring… and his encouraging words about moving forward with making good food available for everyone instead of planning first were comforting…I wanted more…More black power talk, more black encouragement, more black consciousness in his vocabulary… Which in retrospect seems unfair, he has made thousands of job opportunities in farming available for people of color in urban areas, created educational programs that span reading, writing and farming (which includes science whether the kids know it or not) to many young black children-farmers. He’s ‘bout it ‘bout it

For the first breakout workshop session there were so many good options…

  • The Next Generation: Youth Creating Food Change
  • Reclaiming & Reframing Black Farmers’ History in the US
  • Undoing Racism in the Food System: Lessons from the Detroit Struggle
  • Kid’s Hands On Cooking Demo (Led by my great friend Michele Hatchette of Harlem Seeds)
  • Using Herbs as Companion Plants in Your Organic Garden
  • Scaling Up! Greating 100,000 New Farmers: Local and National Resources for Rural and Urban Farmers
  • The People’s Struggle for Food Sovereignty: From Local to Global, Another Food System is Possible!
  • Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
  • Black family Land Trust
  • Urban Farming as a Framework for Holistic Community Development
  • Increasing Access to Affordable Foods in Communities of Color

I chose “Reclaiming & Reframing Black Farmers’ History in the US” based on my belief that looking back to our past will have a very positive effect on constructing our future.  The workshop was led by Gail Myers, a black cultural anthropologist out of Oakland, CA and Jennifer Steverson from the Weeksville Heritage Center. Myers traced an African based knowledge throughout some of her own research, in interviews with black farmers in Ohio and throughout her readings of black farmers and contextualizing the history of black farmers throughout America. This African based knowledge she referred to, and many other scholars refer to as Africanisms, holds that everything has a use, often an everyday use. She has concluded that black farmers have taken this philosophy and applied it to farming using everything from old scraps of food to feed the soil, tractors parts to rebuild fences etc. This recycled mentality creates an aesthetic…brickologe (spelling?). She outlined how black people used gardens as a cite of resistance and agency in times of slavery, creating alternative territorial systems; pathways away from the sight of their masters. Jennifer highlighted some black farmers of the past (Oliver Toussaint Jackson, Lucreatia Marchbanks, William “Curly” Neal, Daniel Webster Wallace), the autonomy of free black farmers and organizations/networks like the Negro Cooperative Extension that taught canning, beekeeping and the latest farming technology and methods at Tuskegee. They recommended books; You May Plow Here, African American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South, Uncommon Ground, and To Love Wind and Rain.

I think expanding on this knowledge of black farmers’ past and (re)introducing it to everyone and (re)establishing farming as a positive occupation for people, is necessary. I think collectively we need to examine why so many of us are continuing to move away from farming. We also need to examine what the consequences of not having a hand in the food that sustains us means…. We need to look at the agency we had and can have in feeding ourselves…we can’t free ourselves until we can feed ourselves (national black farmers association mantra). Until then, we’re depending on the people that uphold the very systems of domination that are keeping us down, to feed us…what’s wrong with that picture?

I give my deepest thanks to everyone who was a part of making the first black farmers and urban gardeners conference possible… from those who organized, those who volunteered, those who spoke/presented, attendees etc. It was necessary for my soul, my spirit, my sanity and will drive me further!

 

-Tashiana

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2 Responses to “Black Farmer and Urban Gardener Conference”

  1. Bro. Asifah Muhammad said

    Greetings Family,

    Please come out to the SEEDS of SIGNIFICANCE URBAN FARMING / GARDENING CONFERENCE NEW LOCATION: THE ALUM CREEK SHOPPING CENTER 1030 ALUM CREEK DR.

    SPECIAL GUEST !
    Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
    http://detroitblackfoodsecurity.org/
    Urban Farming As A Framework For Holistic Community Development
    Speakers: Aba Ifoema & Kwamena Mensah
    At the Seeds Of Significance Conference II

    Saturday, March 26, 2011
    Doors open at 10am
    10am – 4pm
    tickets $25individuals
    $20 students & seniors
    Children free up to 12years old
    early registration is recommended
    http://citysos2.eventbrite.com/

    Seeds of Significance Urban Farming / Gardening Conference II is a city-wide endeavor to attract more participants to the movement while embracing a diversity of perspectives and approaches to change. Participants are members of youth ministries, growers, educators, farmers, chefs, cooks, developers, nutritionists and social service providers.
    For more information call 614-285-4767

    In Community,

    Je`sus

    PS.
    Please find the attachments get to the necessary people in your network, Thank You.

    P. Je`sus Patrick
    Seeds of Significance
    Conference Coordinator
    S.O.S.

    “When someone shares something of value with you, and you benefit from it, you have a moral obligation to share it with others.” Chinese Proverbs

  2. Bro. Asifah Shabazz said

    Greetings Farmers & Community Vendors

    What better way to start a Farmers Market in an Urban Setting, which could give the community a wholistic & healthy way to shop.

    Business Quarters is opening the Alum Creek Farmers Market at The Shoppes @ Alum Creek. We are located at 1030 Alum Creek Dr. Columbus, Ohio 43209

    We are also accepting applications for outdoor vendors for the the grand opening April 28th, 29th, 30th throughout May. We are opening up a new doors to a Urban Cultural Venue. We would like our African, African-American, Latino, Asia and the rest of the human family can join us in this process.

    Please Contact us for more information (614) 735-3984

    Bro. Asifah Shabazz Muhammad
    Senior Manager

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