From Southern Roots to Norther Shoots: The Black Farming Movement
Written by: Krysta Williams, Community Engagement Manager
This past fall, Rob and I had the extreme honor of joining hundreds of other Black and Brown Growers and food justice warriors at The Black Urban Growers and Farmers Conference in Harlem, New York. The theme for the weekend long conference was “From Southern Roots to Northern Shoots”, grounding our current work in our strong history in the South. As someone who grew up in California, separated from my own family’s history as foundational players in this country’s agricultural story, it was so inspiring to sit in rooms with folks of all ages passing down our history and lifting up our shared strength and knowledge. Too often as Black folks we only remember the negative associations our communities have had with land, which is why when youth (or any age person) of color is offered the opportunity to work the land, there’s often an initial hesitation or reference to the ways our bodies have been historically exploited for profit, particularly when it comes to land.
In contrast, being in a space that was Black and Brown led provided countless ways to recognize all the knowledge and hope we have cultivated through partnering with the land to care for our communities. In Philadelphia we visited Bartrum’s Garden and Mill Creek, two Black-led community farms that are supplying their communities with fresh veggies through a sharing-economy, modeled after the Freedom Farm Cooperative started by Fannie Lou Hamer during the Civil Rights Movements.
As part of the Bartrum’s Garden’ youth program—which pays youth to work on the farm and participate in a mentorship program—students care for the Diaspora Garden—a beautiful space carefully planted with seeds that represent those our ancestors brought over braided in their hair in the hulls of slave ships—sorghum, okra, millet, sesame, and watermelon.
Through out the farm visits and workshop sessions, we connected our future with our past, recognizing how in times of crisis, Black farmers, have often been the ones to provide both a protected space and sustenance for our communities. We drew from oral histories like those of Martin Luther King, Jr. and L.C. Dorsey, and learned how places like Soul Fire Farm and Hilltop Urban Gardens are continuing to carry the torch to end racism and injustice in our food system and to raise up a new generations of Black and Brown Freedom Farmers.
Through out the weekend, I was overwhelmed by the generosity, warmth, strength, and knowledge of our communities as we visited and shared together. We returned to Pacific Northwest, full of inspiration and the recognition we are a part of a long-line of Freedom Farmers. We will continue to fight injustice and sustain and strength our communities through our connection to the land and each other despite incredible opposition.