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.