Posts Tagged ‘Growing Power’

There were ten of us. Some rooted in different generations, others in different cultures, and some living in separate places. A few of us had never met before.

But all of us shared a passion for feeding our communities.  And together we were setting out on a journey… to the mushy center of fighting racism.

Sixteen long hours later we all arrived, sleep-deprived, at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Milwaukee. This was the site of Growing Power’s Growing Food and Justice for All Gathering 2011.

This gathering was to be about dismantling racism in the food system, coming together as food activists and growers to understand how to do this work with one another and take what we learn back to our communities.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d been to conferences like this before where there are often hard discussions, emotional sharing circles, and intense anti-racist and leadership training. But for this conference, I was slightly skeptical.  Mainly because Growing Power has been developing relationships with corporations like Wal-Mart and Sysco recently, and I didn’t get how an organization funded by the king of screwing people over was going to lead a conference on how to keep people from getting screwed over.

Immediately in the welcoming speech, I was rolling my eyes. Will Allen, the head of Growing Power(GP), was trying to rally us around the idea of working harmoniously with corporations. To be clear: the same institutions responsible for sustaining systemic racism and oppression within society for decades.

My crew and I weren’t buyin’ it. And apparently we weren’t alone. Later, on the mural “tagging wall” in the conference lobby, someone drew a big red box with the words “Wal-Mart !?” written inside of it.

There was a general “WTF?!” buzz when on the tour of GP’s different farm sites too, where we rolled up right in front of Sysco. This multinational food distributor conglomerate had given GP a slice of land, stamped with their brand. My thoughts immediately jumped to whether this compromised GP’ s growing tactics. The crops looked pristine – Were they spraying pesticides? Chemical fertilizers? Using GMO seeds?

But as the tour went on, I learned this wasn’t the case at all. Growing Power did not compromise their growing tactics. In fact, not only did they not spray anything on these Sysco crops, nor use GMO seeds, they also didn’t irrigate or even use organic fertilizer at this particular site. They simply relied on the rain, sun and hard work of their farmers to grow copious amounts of healthy food. It was impressive.

Lesson #1: Don’t Assume

I also seemed to soften up on the fact that they were working with Sysco. Not to the point of wanting to walk hand-in-hand with corporations, but just to recognize that this meant the public schools in Wisconsin would now source their food from a healthy farmer instead of many other farmers Sysco would normally source from.  However, I wasn’t as easily swayed with justifying the whole Wal-Mart relationship.

But I was blown away by the amount of production GP was making possible on only 2.7 acres of land. (17 greenhouses, goats, chickens, turkeys, tilapia, mushrooms, compost, solar water and rain catchment systems)

The question of sustaining the integrity of one’s work while sustaining the finances needed to do that work, was a recurring debate throughout this journey.

Lesson #2: No One Seems to Have the Answers to This Vital Question

Once we moved past the skepticism and debate however, we finally arrived at the beautiful, mushy center of love and traditions.

It made perfect sense to me that those two themes were woven into a conference about dismantling racism. Love and tradition are important themes that I think get lost in most gatherings like this.  Many conferences I attend are all full-speed-ahead action steps and networking, but this one reminded us of why we are doing this work. It gave us time to connect with each other’s cultures and honor each other’s traditions.

I heard stories from many people about what calls them to this work. From Bean, whose ancestors immigrated from Japan to grow pineapples here, to Dawoud who began working on a goat farm to heal his post-traumatic stress disorder as a war veteran. I learned about Michael’s native wisdom on the herbs of tobacco, sweet grass, sage and cedar. We rallied with farmworkers and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers at the local Trader Joe’s to demand more money for the tomatoes Immokalee farmworkers grow.  We listened to the beat of the drums played by the brothers from the Oyotunji African Village.

We paid respects every morning at sunrise to indigenous burial grounds nearby.  We kept a sacred fire burning the entire gathering, and shared stories, wisdom, songs, languages and hopes around it.  We had Capoeira and Bembe sessions and even the women gathered for a Mother Moon full moon ceremony.

These moments outside of the workshops were vital to creating a space for understanding, love and respect, which are the only ways we can even begin to approach the beast of racism.

Lesson # 3: Every Fighter Needs a Mushy Center

Now we’re ready for anything.

Read Full Post »

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


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

Read Full Post »

{Check out the more detailed write up on Chicago’s black urban farming scene in my series post on Grist.org}

Unfortunately my time in ChiTown was not as long as I’d hoped, but who knows maybe I’ll be back there again soon.

I’d originally applied to intern with Growing Power, a booming urban farm and education org that’s based in Milwaukee with some great projects going on in Chicago, but due to their celebrity status level of business (GP was founded by ex-NBA player Will Allen and is a very large and expanding productive farm), they had to cancel their fall intern program in Chicago and push my application back to the Spring or Summer.

I think I’d rather be in Chicago when it’s not minus 10 degrees anyway.

But when booking my train to Detroit, I decided to veer to Chicago first and just check out the Growing Power gardens, along with some other urban farm projects there.

Everyone I’d ever met from Chicago had always casually told me that it’s the greatest city in the world – they’d say it so seriously and without blinking that you’d wonder if it was a proven statistic. But as soon as I was there, riding above the Brooklyn-like neighborhoods on the “L”, looking out at the skyscrapers near Lake Michigan, I could already see what they were talking about. This place had charm.

I had only decided to stop into Chicago a day before, so I’d quickly scoured CouchSurfing.com for a place to crash and was lucky to have a sweet grad student at UIC open her home to me on short notice. She met me at the L station and hooked me up with maps of the city and tips on where to explore.

When I told her I wasn’t really there to explore much else but some farms in the Southside, her face was pure confusion. Not only at the mention of farms, but in the Southside of Chicago much less, a neighborhood that was notorious for having one murder a day.

But this is exactly why I was excited to see this farm project.  Growing Home is an organization that works with formerly incarcerated and substance abuse residents in the Southside to provide job training on their urban farm which consists mainly of three large and productive hoop houses.

And the Growing Power Chicago gardens were really impressive. The one I was able to visit was located right in the middle of Grant Park and had absolutely no weeds and looked immaculate which I couldn’t wrap my head around after coming from farms where weeds were a mainstay. GP also has a couple more sites in the Southside of Chicago and work with inner-city youth for farm-based education.

The sliver of work that I saw going on here was dope and I wished I’d had more time in ChiTown…until next time!

Next Stop D Town.

(The past few weeks have been moving faster than me, so these posts are a little backdated, I will  try to catch up to real time soon–as I am now back in Brooklyn for the Black Farmers Conference!)

Read Full Post »