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Archive for August, 2011

I was standing on 40 acres of uncultivated farmland on a crisp October day when I met this young black farmer; Soon-to-be-farmer actually. I was like him, or he was like me: interested in farming, looking for how to get started, noting the significance of FWB – Farming While Black.

While I looked out over the gold and burgundy hills surrounding us as the sun slipped down, I had a feeling we’d be working together at some point soon. I was right.

Jalal Sabur, 32 years old, is an organizer for WESPAC and a student of Just Food’s Farm School NYC program. He grew up in White Plains, NY and is planning to move upstate to start a farming collective with other food justice and earth cultivating young folk. He  is on a mission to feed and educate his people.

Check out my interview with him below:

Brown.Girl.Farming(BGF): Has anyone else in your family farmed before?

Jalal Sabur (JS): My dad farms in Pennsylvania. He has an herb farm and was an herbalist first; curing cancer and AIDS. He recently got married and his wife has a youth entrepreneurship organization and they combined youth growing food with an entrepreneurship program called Dig It.  They grow food year round and sell it at markets and they run a mobile market.

BGF: Do you know if you have any other farmers in your family history?

JS: No, but my ma’s side of the family is from Tennessee, so I’m pretty sure they were farming at some point. They were into food. They had a restaurant. I grew up with a large garden behind my house, so it’s natural for me to think about food. But it wasn’t until I met my father that I paid more attention to it.

BGF: Tell me about the farming you’re doing now.

JS: Currently, I’m in farm school, which is a new urban agriculture program by Just Food. It’s a two-year course on all aspects of farming, from food justice, to carpentry, to small farm business management. We’ve been going pretty heavy into soil and the importance of soil, botany and crop identification. But we also get heavy with the theoretical part of it all – ‘What is food justice? What is food sovereignty?’

BGF: What is food sovereignty to you?

JS: Food Sovereignty to me is to have control over your food; to have self-determination around where and how your food’s coming to you; who is growing it and who’s making money off of it. Food sovereignty to me looks like what Shirley Sherrod was doing in the ’60s with a land trust.  They had about 6,000 acres, growing food and no one else could come develop on that land. But then I also think about international struggles and land loss issues, like farmers in Sudan, the Dominican Republic and Honduras and all these other places. That can’t happen. That shouldn’t happen in any nation.

BGF: How are you trying to contribute to that movement?

JS: For me, it’s trying to figure out a way to develop a project that’s highly sustainable, where we’re growing quality food at a low cost. Where people, Black people – who’ve been most affected by industrial food culture – can access high quality food. It’s really important to me that whatever I contribute to this movement is done with integrity and from the bottom up.

BGF: What got you interested in food and farming?

JS: I guess I’ve always been interested in healing my community. Healing them from the trauma we receive, addressing inequities in our community – particularly economic inequities. Growing up I worked in social work. My family was in social work and it’s all I saw – that the system was creating a dependency – and I wanted to create an independent, self-sufficient status for Black people.  Farming is our history. Black people helped build [the agriculture system], but we’ve lost touch with it. How do we get that back? I used to do a lot of homeless and housing organizing, always working on hunger issues; always seeing housing and land issues and people struggling to get housing and then on top of that trying to get good food. But you look at farming and you’re getting housing, land and growing good food, and you should be getting paid well to do it. I kind of feel like if our people went back to farming, we wouldn’t be struggling to survive as much as we are in urban settings.

BGF:  But what do you think about the current struggle of small farmers, especially Black farmers?

JS: See, that’s the thing. It goes back to the food sovereignty question. There’s a reason why there’s a struggle to be a farmer, because of corporate and government control over food and agriculture. They’ve created a dependency for farmers and how they get their seeds, their crop subsidies, and how their products are distributed. If we supported a movement to make sure farmers can survive, then folks could figure out a way to be truly self-sufficient.  We have to find alternatives to living in a toxic environment.

BGF: What does your community think of you farming?

JS: Most of my close friends support it; they see the importance of it. Some people I talk to are like “That shit reminds me of sharecropping”, they can’t get over that. But for the most part, people see the need for our people to have food and the importance of being a Black farmer. They see the importance of creating that independence.

 

**This post is part of a new series on my blog where I’ll be sharing firsthand stories from other brown farmers. If you’d like to share your story as a farmer or descendant of farmers of color, click here for more info!

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This weekend I’m celebrating. We’ve finally launched the online directory and map, The COLOR of FOOD,  to the public, listing and locating farmers of color as well as other food system and food movement communities of color.

The COLOR of FOOD community believes these voices must be heard or we will not have a truly just food revolution. The directory creates a space to identify, map and connect our communities, while demonstrating successful models for changing the food system and addressing the systemic racism that lies within its structure. This systemic issue is the root of so many disparities we see today, specifically food access, farmworkers’ rights, farmers’ land rights and the health of our communities.

Below are some words from the growing community!

“White supremacy permeates every aspect of American society. It clearly manifests within the food system and the burgeoning ‘good food revolution’.  That is why it is especially important that African-American, and other non-white farmers and gardeners network, and are encouraged and supported.  The COLOR of FOOD contributes to that work,” says Malik Yakini, COLOR of FOOD Board Member, IATP Food and Community Fellow and a founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and D-Town Farms in Detroit, MI.

The North Leupp Family Farm is part of a network of independent grassroots Diné (Navajo) and Hopi organizations… [and] we need to become part of a nationwide network of Indigenous Peoples and People of Color. This can only become a reality if we know who is out there. Net sites like The COLOR of FOOD gives us that opportunity,” says Hank Willie, North Leupp Family Farm (NLFF) of the Diné (Navajo) Nation in Leupp, AZ.

“I’m so glad to find [The COLOR of FOOD]! I’m Chinese heritage, born and raised in the US.  I’ve done food and urban gardening/ag for many years and have farmed rurally.  I’d love to be in your directory and to have the young adults of color with whom I work and who are training as urban farmers both be in the directory and use it as a resource.  I’m so glad you’re doing this,” says Irene HongPing Shen of Brooklyn, NY.

“This site and work are necessary, many have spoken about it for sometime…about how necessary a directory would be in this movement,” says Tanikka Cunningham, Executive Director of Healthy Solutions in Washington D.C.

“We are of course interested in being listed and working with this initiative. We have worked for many years to keep the people of color rural communities engaged and united to good effect, and with the additional voices of the larger food sector, we can do much more,” says Lorrette Picciano of Coalición Rural.

For More Information:

It is quick and easy to join the directory or to help spread the word among farmers, workers and food leaders in our beautiful Black, Latino, Native and Asian communities. Please visit our website for more info and to sign-up for the directory. Also join us on Facebook!

The COLOR of FOOD is a new non-profit initiative focusing on the intersection of race and food by raising the voices of Asian, Black, Latino and Native American farmers and food system/food movement communities in the dialogue on just and healthy food. We do this by highlighting models of farm and food initiatives led by communities of color, telling farmers’ stories, and repainting the picture of food and agriculture for people of color. Visit http://thecolorofood.org for more info.

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I’ve had some requests for updates and visuals of what I’ve been up to on the farm lately this season, so I’m taking a break from all my musings about big picture farming and the good fight and instead will just show off our crops and herbs! 😉 Enjoy.

Me (my shadow) harvesting Sumac! The flower seen in bottom left corner grows native on trees here and we climb up on top of the farm truck every Tuesday to gather as many of these Vitamin-C rich flowers as we can get away with (avoiding Dutchess County State Troopers is key)

A typical harvest time set up on either a Tuesday morning/evening prepping for our Wednesday Bronx markets or a Friday and Saturday morning prepping for our Dutchess County markets! Seen here: Sungold Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic, Red Chieftan Potatoes, Leeks and Purple Beans.

Me, willingly posing for this photo, at our South Bronx Farmers’ Market. Our most popular items: fresh and dried herbal teas!

Our wonderful, beautiful, magical herbs!!!! No, we don’t grow that herb (I’ve learned that in this day if you’re a young farmer, people automatically assume you must be growin marijuana) No our herbs include Bee Balm(right purple), Chamomile (center white), Hyssop and Nettle (left purple and green), Catnip(right white), Lavender(center purple) and Lemon Balm (top left green).

Jalal, good friend and organizer of the Freedom Food Alliance, helping us out at our South Bronx Farmers’ Market!

The Happy Cucumber plants after getting mulched! They need LOTS of water and love the heat!

All my favorite cherry tomatoes – Sungolds, Black Cherries and Yellow Pears!

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