Archive for October, 2011

NEW Video!

I wanted to share with you all, this video: a little piece of why and how I am on a mission to continue telling the stories of brown farmers worldwide. Today marks only 15 days left of my fundraising campaign on Indie GoGo, so I ask of all of you, my readers, to give to this effort which is more important to me than anything I’ve ever done.  It only takes $10!


Thank you from the very deep of my heart!

And my sincere apologies for so many emails, tweets and Facebook posts about this folks…. Almost there!!

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There are Black farmers losing land faster than Monsanto can split open seeds; and then there are Black farmers building up land with money handed to them by Wal-Mart.

This is the furrow we find ourselves in right now as Black farmers. Caught between keeping our heads above water and the integrity of our work above the bulls-eye of corporate ag.

This seemed to sum up the vibe of last weekend’s 2nd Annual Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference, held in New York and attended by over 300 farmers, urban growers and food activists in the Black community and other communities of color nationwide.

Much attention was given to the urgency of mobilizing and organizing around the 2012 Farm Bill, highlighting resources for  farmers in the Northeast, and ensuring that farmers of color are counted in the 2012 USDA census.

We heard from Audrey Rowe, Administrator of Food & Nutrition Service at the USDA. While she didn’t have much to say about the Pigford case and the money that Black farmers are still waiting for from the USDA,  she did speak of her experience starting the Black Oaks Center in and outside of Chicago, and her efforts at supporting the Advisory Council on Minority Farmers.  (a council which many members of the audience and myself would like to see representing and meeting in all regions instead of just the South…black people did move North too, remember USDA? But a good start anyway.)

However, the spotlight was really held for the countless Black leaders in food and farming who have been holding it down in their communities for decades: Farmers who have been preserving African traditions through their agriculture, nutrition education and culinary healing.  Growers who have been educating youth of color to advocate for their own food sovereignty.  Survivors using land in New Orleans to rebuild community. And bold leaders who have ventured into majority white rural areas to live off-grid, without much support from their community, because they want to own their freedom from a broken system.

I especially enjoyed hearing from the Black farming collective, Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture.  Based in Atlanta, they are building solid, impressive structures for feeding their communities in the South, and members like Eugene Cooke are replicating that structure in communities as far away as Kenya.

That effort of reaching far and wide out to each other, as brothers and sisters in this movement for food sovereignty, was the thread I took away from the conference.  Rashid Nuri from Truly Living Well reminded us that Black farmers during the civil rights era put up their hard-earned land in order to bail out activists marching alongside MLK.  This kind of unity is the only glue that will get this food revolution to stick; get any revolution to stick.

I couldn’t help but think of OccupyWallStreet, and how we should be working together to decolonize the food system. Jalal Sabur says let’s OccupyMonsanto. I say let’s OccupyUSDA, OccupyCongress, OccupytheWhiteHouse. Just because Wall St. has the government in the palm of their hands doesn’t mean it’s excused for allowing rock bottom to knock on so many doors.

Coming together last weekend and seeing all that power in one room was undeniable.  If we can just harness it all and send it full blast in the right direction, we – Black farmers, farmers and agtivists of color- can lead the way out of this mess.  If there’s one thing I know is certain about the Black community, it is resilience… through anything and everything.

logo credit: Tristan Joy

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As part of my COLOR of FOOD Documentary series, I want to share this great piece about kitchen gardening in Asian America. Sent to me by Nina Kahori Fallenbaum from Hyphen Magazine.

But first, I encourage all of you B.G.F. readers to help make the COLOR of FOOD documentary a reality and DONATE HERE — right now your donations are being matched so you’ll be giving double!

Now, enjoy Nina’s story:

THERE IS A SCENE I’ll never forget in Spencer Nakasako’s 1998 documentary Kelly Loves Tony. A Mien mother cooks an inky-black brew of homegrown herb soup for her daughter to bathe in after giving birth. Charming scene in the mountains of Laos? Nope it’s East Oakland, CA, and she grew the wild potion alongside a concrete driveway next to a chain-link fence. It is here that Kelly’s mother and other Southeast Asian families have turned parts of the “Murder Dubs” into arable land using ancient know-how and, sometimes, seeds smuggled through war zones and refugee camps. I once saw a Mien woman in full native embroidery, patiently tilling a vacant lot beside a porn shop on a busy Oakland street. This is Asian America, and our sometimes-incongruous immigrant habit has a new English name: “kitchen gardening.”

Kitchen gardeners’ are people who grow their own food. It might seem too simple to warrant a special term, but the rise of American-style supermarkets around the world has lead to fewer people with hands-on experience nurturing backyard plots of vegetables and herbs, let alone fishponds or the occasional chicken. But with the spate of recent food poisoning scares and a still-shaky economy, our attitude toward the humble backyard garden is changing.

In 2008, Kitchen Gardeners International gathered more than 100,000 signatures to convince the future president to replace part of the White House lawn with an 1,100-square-foot organic kitchen garden. Now, politicians from Ohio to Maryland to California are eager to show off their own kitchen gardens outside state capitals and city halls. Where do Asian Americans fit into this revival of kitchen gardening? Right at the center, it turns out.

“Even here in the inner city, I wanted to show that we can do it cheaply. Plants and food should never be inaccessible,” says Kayomi Wada, director of the Giving Garden, an affordable urban garden on the campus of the University of Washington Tacoma. As an undergrad, she lobbied administrators to create an Asian American studies curriculum, and in the process, discovered that large parts of the university were built where Tacoma’s prewar Japantown once thrived. Now a graduate student and service learning coordinator for the environmental studies department, Wada is determined to create a living monument to the area’s rich Asian American past. The Giving Garden broke ground on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2008, and its crops will be donated to local food banks.

My mother, Betty Kano, is an artist whose next commission won’t be on canvas: she’s planting a garden using a sustainable farming model called permaculture, adding a Japanese twist in celebration of four generations of our family working the foggy landscape of Northern California. Along spiraled furrows fed with recycled water, she’s planted gobo, daikon, mitsuba and hechima, a type of Okinawan squash. The results will be displayed at the California African American Museum in early 2010.

While kitchen gardening was once our meal ticket, returning to agriculture is an iffy proposition for city dwellers like myself. It’s hard to imagine my sunglass- and sneakerwearing, American-born brethren in straw hats and stepping in fish poop. But let’s keep it real: For every self-appointed descendant of a “samurai” or “Ming scholar,” there were hardworking relatives tilling fields of rice and roots. Growing strawberries, shrimping or packing lettuce put many an immigrant child through college, or at least enabled someone to gain a foothold in order to emigrate.

And why hide it? Agriculture is our knowledge base. It was the use of traditional Chinese grafting techniques that enabled farm foreman Ah Bing to cultivate the nowubiquitous Bing cherry in the late 19th century. Philip Vera Cruz worked alongside Cesar Chavez to establish the United Farm Workers union. Koda Farms in California helped spread the gospel of brown rice to American hippiedom. In 2008, Asian Americans made up only 1.2 percent of people employed fulltime in agriculture, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But those numbers don’t account for all the kitchen gardeners still growing bitter melon and cilantro from balconies and back steps.

Once plans for the White House garden were underway, First Lady Michelle Obama noted, “You know, the tomato that’s from your garden tastes very different from one that isn’t.”

Spoken like a true Asian grandmother saving money and eating deliciously at the same time.

NINA KAHORI FALLENBAUM’s interest in kitchen gardens began in 2000 in Japan, where she lived for four years. “I started a ninth-floor balcony garden and got hooked. Japan is a great place for amateur gardening advice – and obsessions.” The San Francisco Bay Area native was surprised to learn how central Asians and Asian Americans have been to American agriculture, and she hopes the trend continues into the present day, no matter how incongruous it sounds.

**This post is part of a Color of Food series on my blog where I’ll be sharing stories from other POC farmers. If you’d like to share your story as a farmer or descendant of farmers of color, email me > natasha at thecolorofood dot org

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