Love Notes – BUGS, Builders immersion, New Communities 50th anniversary

“‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.”

Alice Walker
Olivia Watkins, Leah, and Karen Washington at their BUGS workshop.

“Homecoming: Remembering and Reclaiming our Futures through Soil and Soul” was the theme of this year’s Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners conference hosted in New York City this October, and indeed the workshops, panelists, and keynote speakers reminded us that when we connect to the land perhaps for the first time in this lifetime we are in fact reconnecting given that our ancestors stewarded and had meaningful relationships to the land for thousands of years. Damaris, Lytisha, and Noah met Nfamara, a Gambian rice farmer outside Kingston who is also the last person in his lineage holding a drumming tradition he continues to pass on to others in his communities in New York. Damaris and Amani hosted a workshop exploring what it can mean to move beyond survival and into a life of thriving and resilience, especially given the mental and emotional health challenges farmers often experience due to social isolation, economic instability, and the stresses associated with living in an increasingly climate chaotic world. Leah was part of a morning keynote panel discussion with Ashante Reese, Dr. Monica White, and Rashid Nuri about what it means to preserve the legacy of Black farming and then later hosted a strategy workshop session with former farm apprentice Olivia Watkins and Mama Karen Washington about the reparations work of the Black Farmer Fund and the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust with a discussion about securing land and capital in Black communities. 

Announcements:

  • Farming While Black, one of Esperanza Spalding’s favorite things, is available for purchase on Powell Books, an independent bookstore in Portland, and Indie Bound, a website that connects consumers to local, independent bookstores in their area. Reserve your practical guide to liberation on land today! 
  • Read our 2018 Annual Report
  • Next year Soul Fire Farm is building home gardens and sponsoring CSA shares for refugees, immigrants, and people impacted by state violence in the Albany, NY area. Please pitch in for a Solidarity Share or to support a home garden today.
  • Check out this trailer where Leah summarizes talks about Farming While Black and learn more about our work by checking out The Muffin Man, Resilience, VOA News, Un-plated, Reformer, Emergence Magazine, Valley Table
  • And for folks who plan on visiting the farm, please drive slowly on our road. The speed limit on our road is 10 mph, and we request that folks do not turnaround in a neighbor’s driveway out of respect for our neighbors. If you miss the turn, continue down Route 2 until you reach the next actual road from either direction, Josh Hall Pond Rd traveling West to East, or Taconic Lake Road traveling East to West. Thank you!
Farm manager Larisa, assistant grower Lytisha, and assistant farm manager Damaris.

It’s been two months since our last update, and it’s incredible how differently the land looks now versus in mid-September. We’ve witnessed the hefty transition from the greens of late summer to the the bright autumnal colors of leaves lacking chlorophyll as food production shuts down in deciduous trees in preparation for what we see now – the stark transition to winter. Snow covers the ground, trees are bare, and the land is growing silent as beings begin hibernating, including the farm and our farmers. Noah, our summer apprentice, left in late September, Damaris and Lytisha are heading to warmer climates this weekend, and Larisa is preparing to spend more time snuggling up with her child in Kingston. Our CSA ended the last week of October, with many affirmations from members like this one: “Thank you not only for nourishing me physically, but for enriching my life and nourishing my heart and soul with your words and your very important purposes.” 

Our friends from Rock Steady.

With the harvest winding down, our farm team had some spaciousness this fall that allowed them to visit and be inspired by other farms like Hawthorne Valley, Laughing Earth, and Claudine Field Apothecary. Some of that spaciousness was attributed to support we got from our friends at Rock Steady Farm and Flowers who came out one day and enabled us to get a jump start on our end-of-season farm clean up by helping us remove plastic mulch, coil up irrigation and hoses, and clean up other supplies in our fields. We also have much gratitude for the volunteers that came out during our October and November community workdays to dig hundreds sweet potatoes, process herbs and garlic, and mulch our fields. And in particular, we want to give a special shoutout to Cheryl, our administrative program coordinator, for holding it down for us during these last two community farm days! We accomplished so much and it was definitely in part because of you! 

Our second BIPOC Builders Immersion.

Jonah and Kai, a facilitator from Builders Immersion who has continued working with Jonah this fall, just completed the roof of our soon-to-be new chick brooder, woodshed, and tool storage unit! The construction of this building began with the timber frame training that was the first Builders Immersion of the year, and during the second one in September participants continued working on this structure. During this latest session, Jonah was particularly touched when participants surprised the facilitation team by offering affirmations to each of them and he was told that “Jonah, you are our teacher; we will carry your name forward.” We are excited to see the continued evolution of this structure in preparation for the spring. Jonah also had the pleasure of working with Sean and Kai again in a carpentry workshop they offered in October, which was simultaneously translated in Spanish by our friends Raul and Adriana from the Hudson Valley Farm Hub. 

Amani with students from Miss Hall’s School.

In addition to our training programs this fall, other visitors to the farm included students from Miss Hall’s School in Pittsfield, MA who visited us in October and November, as well as students from Clark University who helped clean up our tomato high tunnel. Teiahsha Bankhead and Kat Culberg from the Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth came all the way from California to spend time with us on the farm and learn about our project. And our farm team collaborated with the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) and the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) to host a field day where we discussed the communication strategies we use as a team to transform conflict and provide feedback to each other, and then discussed some of our soil health practices and Soul Fire’s journey from heavy tillage to lower. 

Mama Shirley Sherrod at the New Communities 50th Anniversary.

Leah was in Georgia for the 50th anniversary of New Communities, the first community land trust in the United States that continues to serve as a model for the more than 800 community land trust models that exist today. New Communities, Inc. was formed in 1969, when the organization purchased nearly 6000 acres of land in Leesburg, Georgia, which was the largest tract of Black-owned land in the United States. That land was lost due to violence and discrimination, but in the largest civil rights settlement in history, the class-action lawsuit of Pigford vs. Glickman, they won a settlement that enabled them to purchase a former plantation that is now collectively owned by Black farmers. During this meeting Leah convened with ya’s elders, mentors, and comrades, discussing the national land trust movement and drafting a vision of what the movement of Black food and land sovereignty could look like. 

Stephanie Morningstar, co-coordinator of the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, with Damaris at NESAWG.

Damaris loved hosting a workshop on mental health, farming, and strategies for supporting health and wellbeing for an audience of mostly teen farmers at the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) conference, where they also learned more about policy initiatives in the northeast that are supporting farmers. That week Larisa also spoke at the opening event of the Carbon Sink Farming Convergence hosted by the Pauma Band of the Payómkawichum (Luiseño) Nation on the Pauma and Yuima Reservation in Southern California where there were 150 delegates representing tribal leadership, farmers, policy makers, technical advisors, and movement builders. This indigenous-organized and -led  conference was focused on discussing strategies for adapting to and mitigating climate change with the belief that our food system can positively shift by re-integrating indigenous foodways, supporting farmer-led projects, and engaging technical assistance providers, consumers, policy makers, scientists and advocates in solution-finding. 

Amani and Leah at Glynwood.

In addition to speaking at and attending conferences this fall, we continued our work of encouraging others to consider the ways they can address racism in the food system via individual and collective actions through Uprooting Racism trainings hosted by Amani and Leah this fall on the farm, at the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), and at Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming. Leah also engaged with folks about ways we can move towards eradicating oppression in the food system during li’s talks at Stone Barns, the Saratoga Food and Wine Festival, Dartmouth College, the Food Tank Summit, Williams College, the Schomburg Center, the Albany Public Library, and during the NAFSN Good Food Talk webinar. During her keynote at Buffalo Food Sovereignty Week, Leah talked about the power in people historically disenfranchised by land-based trauma “reclaim[ing] their rightful place of dignified agency in the food system.” Amani spoke about Black ancestral connection to land and food at the Hennepin County Library and on the panel at the Hunger Solutions Food Summit in Minnesota and at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council this past month. And Leah attended the Boston Book Festival in Roxbury and was on a panel with other presenters on returning to the land. 

BIPOC FIRE Alum Ashleigh Eubanks!

There are seven days left to support our friends starting the Central Brooklyn Food Coop (CBFC) – one of the only urban Black-led food cooperatives in the nation, and the only one in New York City! Black Brooklyn residents and their allies have been organizing for the past 5+ years to open a food coop that is a community center and food hub in the heart of Brooklyn, committed to sourcing from Black and PoC growers and producers as well as using the coop as a space to connect and learn through cultural foods with political education events, cooking classes and more. A link to the kickstarter is here!

Oppression underwrites our food system, and a tangible action we have taken for addressing food security and food sovereignty issues in our communities is taking reparations into our own hands through the creation of the Reparations Map for Black-Indigenous Farmers. We recognize that the food system was built on the stolen land and stolen labor of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and other people of color. We also know that we cannot wait for the government to acknowledge that stolen wealth and land must be returned. Some farmers have already received funding through this project, and we want to provide that opportunity to other Black and Brown farmers. If you have resources you want to share contact a farmer directly to share them, or if you have a project you want to include on the map contact us!

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This month’s Love Notes was written by Lytisha Wyatt.