Archive for May, 2012

I took a detour last week and backtracked from Atlanta to Asheville, NC ( North Carolina keeps callin’ me back) to attend a conference I was invited to and to connect with the IATP Food and Community Fellows , most of which represent a dynamic group of people of color growing or focusing on food and food sovereignty for their communities.

Instead of trying to find the words to encapsulate each of these amazing leaders, I’ll let a few of them tell their stories here in IATP’s videos:

Valerie Segrest, Native Foods Educator

Valerie beleives that returning to traditional food systems is the most effective way to address health disparities prevalent in tribal communities

Don Bustos, Traditional Farmer

Don Bustos produces food on the same land in New Mexico that his ancestors have farmed for 300 years

Brahm Ahmadi, Social Food Entrepreneur

Brahm’s vision is to create a hub for good food and strong community in Oakland

Kelvin Graddick, Young Farmer

Kelvin sheds light on being a young Black farmer who is working the same land that his grandmother farmed in Georgia five decades ago

Thanks to Valerie, Don, Brahm and Kelvin for the inspiration! Click here for more fellow videos.

The COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary tour: Currently en route through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana! Holla at me if you know of farmers of color I should stop and see in these areas!

Read Full Post »

Cotton, one of the staple crops grown in North Carolina throughout history, is still grown in fields all around Tillery, NC

“40 Acres and a Mule” is what many emancipated slave descendants and sharecroppers were promised during the New Deal, or Resettlement period, under President Roosevelt. Resettlement communities were created throughout the South, and Tillery, North Carolina was the largest Black Resettlement Community in the country.

It is now home to Black farmers and elders who can remember moving here to farm with their families so many years ago. It was my first stop in North Carolina after leaving Virginia.

Mr. Daniel Whitaker, 93 yr old farmer in Tillery, NC

One of my favorite sit-downs so far, is without a doubt, my time with Mr. Whitaker. He is a sweet and strong-willed 93 year-old hog farmer and WWII veteran who rebelled against the New Deal system by turning down the offer of 40 acres and a mule and saved up his own money to buy himself land, which he still owns today.

Gary Grant of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association shows me documentation over the decades-long struggle for Black farmers

I also sat with Gary Grant of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association who, in addition to gifting me with his infectious laugh, imparted upon me history and knowledge on the struggle of the Black farmer; stories of struggle which can only be told by those who have really lived them, as he and so many members of Tillery have.

Mr. Haywood Harrel a 2,000-acre farmer in Tillery, NC

I am not solely focusing on organic and sustainable farmers in The Color of Food / photo documentary. And that’s because, sometimes, history, resources, and knowledge base guide a 2nd and 3rd-generation farmer’s business. That’s an important piece that I want to recognize when looking at farmers of color. No matter how uncomfortable it made me to see Mr. Harrel wearing a Monsanto cap when he greeted me on his farm, next to his fields of wheat and Round-Up Ready corn, I listened to him talk about the support and resources available to large, conventional farmers like him through Monsanto and the USDA, and I could see how some farmers choose to go that route. When the alternative is getting zero support while fighting to keep your land and desperately find a market, who can blame them? The problem lies not entirely in the farmer’s choice, but in between the rock and the hard place that government funding and corporate push is forcing them to be.

This last stop before leaving Tillery left me reflecting on the rich history of defiant Black farmers like Mr. Whitaker, but also on the bitter irony of today’s Black farmers, like Mr. Harrel, working to put money in the hands of Agribusiness giants. A relationship all too reminiscent of sharecropping in my opinion.

Check out this video made about the history of Tillery by the Concerned Citizens of Tillery!

These posts are just small excerpts from the upcoming Color of Food / photo documentary book.  The COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary tour: Currently en route through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana! Holla at me if you know of farmers of color I should stop and see in these areas!

Read Full Post »

Mother of Seeds

Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sits in the Acorn Community house she helped start

Thanks to Renard Turner of Vanguard Ranch, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the founders of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and the Acorn Community near Charlottesville, Virginia.  Ira is well known in the seed world, having played an instrumental role in growing the worker-owned seed business housed in the decades-old intentional community Acorn. Her knowledge on growing food and growing for seed currently has her busy writing a guidebook and keeping up her blog column for Mother Earth News. Ira learned to love gardening through her grandmother, who she remembers grew collards, sweet potatoes and had pecan and guava trees. Her grandmother also made soap and many other natural, homemade products. So when Ira spoke about being one of very few people of color living in intentional communities throughout her adult life and how she’s witnessed the growth of the movement to be sustainable and natural, she commented, ” Growing up, this is just what we did. Its nothing new.”

We discussed the possible reasons for why the percentage of people of color in communities/communes like Acorn is so low. What’s your opinion?  We also talked about how Ira was reluctant to encourage Black farmers in the Southeast to grow for seed at first, for fear of the business’s success in the early stages. But now, with a customer base of over 100,000 and success an obvious quality of the business, she is reaching out to farmers of color who are interested in growing, saving and selling their seed! Get in touch on the website, linked above, if you or someone you know is interested.

As Ira would say, democracy is in the seeds. Let’s all join the revolution – go plant.

Brother Lewis

Brother Lewis, a goat farmer near Charlottesville, Virginia shows me his land, his goats and his dogs

A fellow goat farmer and good friend to Renard also volunteered to meet with me before I left the area. I drove over from Acorn Community to Brother Lewis’s home on 30 acres, where his family has been farming for decades. He’s raising about 40 goats and sells them directly to consumers through word of mouth in his community. Brother Lewis is raising his goats and his vegetable crops organically, but like many of the other farmers I’ve interviewed, he thinks it’s funny that Organic is a label nowadays. “It’s just what we’ve always done…we use the chicken manure as fertilizer,” Lewis says, ” Back then, when your roots depended on growing food, it’s what you did. You didn’t think about it being the ‘right’ thing to do.”

Brother Lewis grew up farming but taught himself about how to raise goats by talking to other farmers, such as Renard, and reading. He spoke about how depending on your community, particularly in areas rich in agricultural history, is the best way to learn. “Sometimes all this [formal] education makes you miss the simple things,” says Lewis, “We just need to respect the land and it will give us what we want.”

Brother Lewis is a strong believer in his words, “It’s not about me, it’s about us.” And our definition of ‘us’ needs to expand all the way to the soil.

Sisters Grow


I spent an afternoon with Tamara and her mother Gwen(left) and Stef (above) in Richmond!

On my last stop in the state of Virginia, the home of big tobacco farms, I paid a visit to some sister food community organizers, health advocates and gardeners in Richmond. Tamara Elmore of TELMORE Gardens, her mother Gwendolyn Young and Stef Paige-Reese, who connected with Tamara through a group called Sisters Grow (a Facebook group for girls and women of African Descent growing food).  Tamara started growing her own food due to her neighborhood’s food access and is now expanding her backyard garden to the front yard in order to grow for her neighbors and get them involved. Stef is on a mission of “reconnecting with self “and continuing her social justice activism through becoming self-sufficient.

We talked about the history of Richmond’s food access, old Soul Food restaurants, health for Black women and plans Tamara and Stef both have for their food and farming futures. Tamara and a friend are starting a farm called Two Sistahs and A Hoe (you know you love it). While Stef has been reconnecting with her own family’s roots in agriculture through her relatives’ farms in Virginia and wants to start a farmers’ market in Richmond.

Their take on food access in Richmond and starting a movement of change is ” If you never speak up about your situation, nothing will be done about your situation.”

These posts are just excerpts from the upcoming Color of Food  photo documentary book.  The COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary tour: Currently in Florida and Georgia!

Read Full Post »