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Posts Tagged ‘black farmers’

I mentioned Gullah culture in a previous post when I’d first arrived in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, which is a hub for many Gullah/Geechee people. But in my next two posts, I want to highlight two family farms running amazing businesses and preserving their family history in the heart of the Gullah islands.

Joseph Fields Farm

Helen and Joseph Fields at their home on Johns Island, SC

“I’m a third generation farmer. Born and raised on the farm. My family’s been doing ‘organics’ here since the 50s, maybe 40s too, ’cause we used chicken manure and cow manure. But then I started doing conventional farming. Now I’ve switched back to organic because those chemicals, they cause cancer,” Joseph Fields.

Joseph and Helen Fields are farming the Fields family land on Johns Island, SC, which has been in the family since the 1800s. “My parents told us to hold onto this land, because land is hard to hold onto. The kids will lose it somehow during the years, through tax or other problems, so that’s what we’re trying to do, is hold onto it,” says Joseph.

And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Joseph and Helen have been farming the land for about 40 years, and about 11 years ago they began learning about modern organic farming through the Bioneers Conference and got certified with the help of the Southeast African American Farming Organic Network. Now, they’re selling organic produce through several farmers markets, to some local schools and most recently their produce is going to Whole Foods!

I drove around the farm with Joseph for the afternoon, who told me stories about growing up on the land, about his family’s Gullah culture and about how he and Helen met so many years ago. He had quite the sense of humor, so his stories were interjected with my laughter, but he also had quite an array of knowledge on farming.  As he pointed out the various crops growing on their plots spread out over the 60 acre land, he shared with me some of the practices they use – like black plastic mulch for their tomatoes and drip tape pumped from their well.

I got to meet some of Joseph’s apprentices, or young farm hands, working and learning from Joseph. Both were in their 20s, one a student, and both were white. I asked Joseph how many of his apprentices over the years are Black, or people of color. He said “none.”

Farming in the middle of Gullah nation, where agrarian roots and food traditions are so strong, and yet the question remains: Where are our young brown people on the farm??

These posts are just small excerpts from the upcoming COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary book! I just arrived back home from the 5 month tour interviewing farmer to farmer. So I will continue to post photos and stories here and on thecolorofood.org site! Bear with me as I am way behind on posts, still catching up from having limited web access on the road. Currently still posting from my time with mainly Black farmers in the Southeast, but more posts from Hispanic and Native farmers in other parts of the country are to come!!

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As the Dogwood and Cherry Blossom trees begin to bloom, I know it’s finally time to begin my trek across the country.

My project to find, connect and hear directly from other brown farmers has been in germination for a year and a half, and I’m filled with excited anticipation now that it has emerged.

I started thinking about the need for this project while I was writing a series called The Color of Food for Grist.org in 2010. The issues of race and food were discussed and the voices of farmers of color rang loud and clear for me, yet I knew they weren’t being heard.  I spent the next year trying to make the idea of amplifying these voices come to fruition. And thanks to the support of many beautiful souls and comrades in this movement, at the end of 2011 the idea became a reality.

Now with the fresh, new season upon us – as my favorite wizard of one liners would say – “It’s all happening.”

The winter  “spring” was spent in much needed hibernation(if you can even hibernate in 60 degree weather). I spent the time preparing for the trip and working at Cedar Springs farm for extra cash to help when on the road.

I researched and bought a car to get around to all the farmers in (Lucille, a 22 year old wagon, aged like a fine wine), which will double as my home for the season. I also acquired all the camera and audio equipment I’ll need and began planning my route and reaching out to farmers to set up interview stays.

Now I’m officially on the road and the COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary tour has officially commenced!

Snapshots of the farmers along the way and pieces of their interviews will be posted here. As well as updates of my route so that folks can reach out to me when I’m in your area if you want to participate, support or suggest a farmer I should connect with!

First states: D.C./Maryland/Virginia area, then North Carolina! Give me a shout if you or anyone you know in these states should be included in this project or if there’s a couch for me to lay my head on 😉

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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 event was one of the last things I wanted to make it to before leaving Florida, but unfortunately the cost to get to Tallahassee meant I had to miss it.  However, I was in touch with one of the orgs involved and a dear friend in NY passed this Press Release on to me, so I wanted to share a summary of what the event covered and how it went!

Putting Black History Month in Perspective:
Farmers, Students, Public Officials and Environmental Activists Connected the Pieces and Make Connections at Historic Summit on the campus of Florida A&M University

Tallahassee, FL – Last weekend (February 18-19, 2011) was a historic occasion at Florida A&M University (FAMU) as a cross-section of environmentalists from various sectors including the government, academia, nonprofit sector and community convened on campus to attend the “Embracing Our Traditions of Partnership” Summit.   The 2-day Summit sponsored by the Southeastern Green Network (SoGreen Network) connected a variety of people from a wide-range of fields in an effort to collectively frame an agenda that addresses sustainable agriculture and 1890 Land Grant institutions while re-connecting the resources of these universities for limited resource farmers – a majority of which are African-American.

 

(more…)

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Many of you have been following my Color of Food series on Grist.org, in fact that’s how some of you found my blog! But for those that haven’t, I wanted to share the complete series here now that the season has ended along with my articles there.

See below for any articles you may have missed!

The Color of Food

In search of black and Latino farmers in the sustainable food movement

6 Oct 2010

In search of black and Latino farmers in the sustainable food movement image I’m stuck on this concept of blending contrasts. It may have to do with being the only brown girl I know interested in farming (although this really shouldn’t be a contrast at all); or maybe it has to do with going from D.C. political advocate to farmer-girl overnight.

» read more

 

 

Hitting the Big Apple’s food-justice buffet

26 Oct 2010

Hitting the Big Apple’s food-justice buffet imageAdded-Value’s website says its mission is to grow a “just food system” and empower youth, so I was a little surprised to walk onto the farm and see no signs of this. For the most part, the farm seemed to be a commercial operation catering to restaurants and a Community Supported Agriculture program and market serving a wealthier, white consumer base…It’s become clear to me that the lack of  direct involvement by community members in some of these projects is the first problem with this movement.

» read more

 

Food justice: It’s not black and white in Detroit

18 Nov 2010

Food justice: It’s not black and white in Detroit imageThroughout my journey I have found that white folks still fill most of the paid jobs at many food justice organizations and even urban farms that promote and support farmers of color. What does that matter? Some say it doesn’t, as long as the intention to get the work done is there. Others argue that the black community should be leading the fight. I stand somewhere in the middle. (Go figure.)

» read more

 

Chicago has got it growing on

15 Dec 2010

Chicago has got it growing on image“In under-served communities there is often an undercurrent that things are owed to us. In a way they definitely are, but we owe some things to ourselves,” said Kern. “When I talk about farming with black youth, slavery comes up in the first 20 minutes, but the only reason I know anything about agriculture is because of my grandma. She had a garden in her backyard, but she didn’t do it for fun; she did it because she had to. Growing was her empowerment.”

» read more

 

Postcard from the first annual Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference

30 Nov 2010

Postcard from the first annual Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference image

Gary Grant spoke to those of us who don’t live in the South about how alive racism still is there, especially for farmers. He painted a clear picture of how some of these regional USDA offices have Confederate flags and lynch nooses hanging on their walls. That sends an undeniable message to any black farmer walking in the door asking about why their loan is delayed.

» read more

 

Brightening up the dark farming history of the Sunshine State

3 Jan 2011

ScottRobertson/CIW

It’s actually fitting that the end of my farming and food justice journey for this season has brought me to Florida. It is where I grew up and is home to my family, and it’s also home to many farmers of color that have emigrated here from the Caribbean and Central and South America.

The only problem is that some of the employers in these agricultural areas of Florida apparently think they’re the Spanish colonizers of 1565 … meaning slavery is OK in their book.

» read more

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Boy walks through pumpkin patch at Harlem Harvest Festival yesterday

Lately I feel like a pot bubbling to the brim that needs to spill out.  I am overflowing with inspiration.  All the experiences I’m having here in NYC, on these different farms, at these different markets and events, running around back and forth across  the boroughs working with a wide range of people, from very different walks of life… I almost feel like a little research fly on the wall, learning, cross-comparing and analyzing this food movement as it grows live in front of me.

I can feel a sense of empowerment in the energy that circulates through some discussions I have been participating in, and that is just what I am looking for.  Particularly yesterday at the Harlem Harvest Festival and Food Summit, organized by Harlem4, a great grassroots organization that came out of Harlem 4 Obama back in 2008.

NYC has 1.4 million people who are food insecure.  So Harlem is working to have these communities take responsibility for their food security by demanding change and even growing food for themselves.  This is what we discussed all day at the Summit yesterday, especially, being in the black community of Harlem, how blacks and latinos can join into this movement (as you may all have read on Grist.org, I’m quite interested in this facet of food justice and urban ag!)

The plight of the black farmer is an issue I keep raising and am still exploring.  If you’ve been seeing the news about the lawsuits filed by black farmers for settlement on subsidies they were cheated of due to racism and discrimination in the USDA — would you want to jump on the urban farming bandwagon as a young black person with that kind of picture painted before you? (Or as a young Latino person? Let’s not forget the ugly agriculture picture painted for our dominantly Latino farm workers, who work under horrible conditions and for shit pay to benefit our industrial farm industry.)

It may have been obvious to most, but it hit me like a mack truck yesterday in the Harlem food justice workshop:  In the 1920s, Black farmers made up 14% of the ag industry — nearly one million farmers.  Then, in the 1930s the federal government began working with farmers to support them after the Depression and give them subsidies.

Hmm, all those white men in power during an era where blacks still held no rights…who do you think were denied that support and money to keep their farms alive?

The timeline, as subsidies continued pouring out and still do to this day (1/3 of our farming industry is supported by free money from the government –they happen to be the biggest food corporations in the world) speaks for itself.  Today, black farmers make up just 1% of all farmers, and they are not the ones reaping in the dough.

Coincidence? I think not.

So, there is my two bits of info for the day.  I am learning so much and I just feel I am on the right path!

Picture taken from SaveBlackFarmers.org

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