Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

farming_soul-fire-farms-group-portrait_july2018

Photo: Soul Fire Farm
Run by a collective of black, brown, and Jewish people, Soul Fire Farm works to end injustice within the food system and offers trainings for people of color to learn essential agricultural skills,

I’ve been reading a sad book by Sarah Smarsh called Heartland. It’s about generations of her family on a small Kansas farm, and the subtitle tells it all : “A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.” So far she hasn’t said anything about today’s young people returning to the land with enthusiasm, which blog followers know is one of my interests. I’m into the chapter about giant agribusiness taking everything over.

But I know there are more stories out there offering hope for small, sustainable farming. Today’s story is about an upstate New York farm that focuses on helping black and brown people learn agricultural skills and fight food injustice.

From the radio show Living on Earth: “Leah Penniman is the co-founder of Soul Fire Farm and joins host Steve Curwood to discuss her new book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, and her journey as a woman of color reclaiming her space in the agricultural world. …

“CURWOOD: Tell me a little bit about your journey falling in love with nature and farming, and how it has led you to create your book, Farming While Black.

“PENNIMAN: Well, nature was my only solace and friends growing up in a rural white town. … In absence of peer connection, I went to the forest and found a lot of support and love in nature. And so, when I became old enough to get a summer job, I [was] able to land a position at the Food Project in Boston, Massachusetts, where we grew vegetables to serve to folks without houses, to people experiencing domestic violence. And there was something so good about that elegant simplicity of planting, and harvesting, and providing for the community. That was the antidote I needed to all the confusion of the teenage years. …

“I feel connected to the whole ecosystem, but the plants are incredible. They have these secret lives that we can’t see, or even imagine. So take, for example, the trees of the forest, right? There’s a underground network of mycelium that connects their roots, and they’re able to pass messages and warnings. They pass sugars and minerals to each other through this underground network. And they collaborate across species, across family. And so, when we tune into that, I think we learn something about what it is to be a human being and how to live in community with each other in a way that if we’re not connected to nature, we sort of lose that deeper sense of who we are, who were meant to be.

“CURWOOD: Now, your book is not only a how-to guide for folks who are interested in pursuing a path similar to yours, but it also, well, it has some history, sociology, environmental lessons all wrapped up in this package. Why did you add those additional stories and information in with your guide, rather than it, well, having it be strictly a manual?

“PENNIMAN: Well, I wrote this book for my younger self. So, after a few years of farming, I would go to these organic farming conferences, and all the presenters were white. … In putting together this book, I was really thinking about myself as a 16-year-old and, all the other returning generation of black and brown farmers who need to see that we have a rightful place in the sustainable farming movement that isn’t circumscribed by slavery, sharecropping, and land-based oppression, that we have a many, many thousand-year noble history of innovation and dignity on the land. …

“The raised beds of the Ovambo and the terraces of Kenya, and the community-supported agriculture of Dr. Whatley, those are to remind us that, you know, we’ve been doing this all along, and we belong. …

“CURWOOD: You have a waiting list of people who want to come to Soul Fire Farm and learn how to do this? …

“PENNIMAN: This was something that just surprised me because I thought I was just a weirdo out here, I was going to start this farm with my family, grow food, provide it to those who need it most in the community. And that was going to be it. And I got a call our first year from this woman, Kafi Dixon in Boston who said, you know, through tears, I just needed to hear your voice to know that it was possible for a woman like me to farm, and that I wasn’t crazy, and that there’s hope. Right? And that was the first of thousands and thousands of phone calls and emails to come of folks saying, ‘I need to learn to farm, I want to do it in a culturally relevant, safe, space. I want to learn from people who look like me.’ …

“We’re living under a system that my mentor Karen Washington calls food apartheid. So, in contrast to a food desert as defined by the US Department of Agriculture, which is a high poverty zip code without supermarkets, right, a food apartheid is a human created system, not a natural system like a desert. … There are consequences to that. We see in black and brown communities a very high disproportionate incidence of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, even some learning disabilities, and poor eyesight. …

“CURWOOD: One of the most intriguing sections of your book Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land is this explanation of how you can clean up lead-contaminated soil, which you find in so many places in the urban environment. You have a very practical guide as to how you can use natural plants to chelate, that is, to remove lead from the soil, so that it’s safe to grow food there. I don’t think I’ve seen that anywhere else. …

“PENNIMAN: There’s an incredible plant, it’s an African origin plant called Pelargonium or scented geranium, and it’s a hyper accumulator. So, you can plant it, you acidify the soil, you plant it and it will suck the lead out and store the lead in its body. So, then you can dispose of that plant in a safe place. …

“CURWOOD: And what do you think people of color lost when we lost contact with the land?

“PENNIMAN: Certainly not all folks of color, right? Right now, about 85 percent of our food in this country is grown by brown skinned people who speak Spanish. And … it’s a belief in West African cosmology that our ancestors exist below the earth and below the waters, and by having contact with the earth we’ve received their wisdom and guidance. And with the layers of pavement, and steel, and glass, and the skyscrapers, it’s harder to feel that contact. … When folks come to Soul Fire and get their feet back on the earth, what I hear time and again is, I’m remembering things I didn’t know that I forgot.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

Read Full Post »

When I was at the magazine, I often sought out authors from different regions who could write about the benefits of community gardens to low-income neighborhoods. Kai remembered that and tagged me on Facebook when he posted an article yesterday about a comprehensive farming initiative in inner-city Detroit.

Robin Runyan writes at the website Curbed Detroit, “This week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) revealed its plans for the first Sustainable Urban Agrihood in the North End.

“Wait, an agrihood? It’s an alternative neighborhood growth model, positioning agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development. There are some agrihoods around the country, but in rural areas. This is the first within a city.

“MUFI’s agrihood spans three acres on Brush Street, a few blocks up from East Grand Boulevard. MUFI runs a successful two-acre garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, and a children’s sensory garden. They provide free produce to the neighborhood, churches, food pantries, and more.

“The big part of the announcement was the plan to renovate a three-story, 3,200-square-foot vacant building that MUFI had bought at auction years back. …

“The Community Resource Center will include office space for MUFI, event and meeting space, and two commercial kitchens on the first floor. A healthy cafe will be located on vacant land next to the CRC.

“Tyson Gersh, MUFI President and co-founder, said at the announcement that they want to be the first LEED certified platinum building in Detroit.”

The article credits Sustainable Brands, BASF, GM, and Herman Miller and Integrity Building Group for providing much-needed help on the project.

More here.

Photo: Michelle & Chris Gerard
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

Read Full Post »

In Tanzania, women farmers appearing on a TV show called in English “Female Food Heroes” are bringing attention to the importance of their work and the barriers to expansion.

Oxfam America reporter Coco McCabe writes about contestant Edna Kiogwe, “She grew up in a farming family and knows well the hurdles they face, especially women farmers who, in her country, own only a small fraction of the land. …

“It’s that inequality — and the lost opportunities buried beneath it — to which Kiogwe and 14 other women farmers helped to bring attention this year as contestants in the fifth season of a highly popular reality TV show shot in Tanzania and aired across East Africa. Called Mama ‘Shujaa wa Chakula ,’ or ‘Female Food Heroes,’ the Oxfam-sponsored show celebrates the vital contributions women farmers make in feeding the planet, and highlights the challenges many encounter on a daily basis, including limited access to land, credit, and training opportunities. …

“In the village of Kisanga, where ‘Mama Shujaa wa Chakula’ was filmed [in 2015], the 15 contestants learned a great deal about the struggles local farmers face in feeding their families. Each of the women stayed with a village family for the duration of the three-week shoot, and daily contests included designing tools that could be useful to Kisanga farmers, interviewing them about their agricultural challenges, and putting together skits to help bring attention to those hurdles. …

“Kiogwe [now] spends most of her time in Dar es Salaam, a coastal city about a two-and-a-half hour drive away, where she lives and works as a civil servant. But her city life belies her village roots — and her keen interest in farming. Unlike most women in Tanzania, Kiogwe owns her own land, given to her by her forward-thinking father on her wedding day. She harvests corn, cassava, rice, and sugar cane, carefully aligning her 28 days of annual leave from her city job with peak work times on her small farm in the Morogoro region. …

“ ‘I want to make agriculture like a business,’ says Kiogwe. … With a little effort, greater value can be added to the fruits farmers grow, for instance.

“ ‘Change it from fruit to juice, we can sell it … We can add value to maize — maize flour for porridge — and you can have a good label and good packaging and compete with international businesses. That is my dream.’ ” More here.

According to OXFAMCloseup, the nonprofit’s quarterly magazine, the episodes shot in Kisanga, Tanzania, aired in five countries and had 14 million people tune in. The magazine adds, “Versions of the program are now being produced in Ethiopia and Nigeria, and some finalists have become involved in local, national, and even global farmer advocacy.”

Photo: Coco McCabe / Oxfam America
Edna Kiogwe helps her host family with the morning chores in Kisanga, where the TV show “Female Food Heroes” was filmed in 2015.

Read Full Post »

It’s so interesting to see all the different ways people are taking to farming. We’ve already covered a number of angles. Now Adele Peters at FastCoexist writes about how would-be farmers in Brooklyn are testing out “vertical farming.”

“When it opens this fall in Brooklyn, a new urban farm will grow a new crop: farmers. The Square Roots campus, co-founded by entrepreneurs Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, will train new vertical farmers in a year-long accelerator program. …

“The campus will use technology from Freight Farms, a company that repurposes used shipping containers for indoor farming, and ZipGrow, which produces indoor towers for plants. Inside a space smaller than some studio apartments—320 square feet—each module can yield the same amount of food as two acres of outdoor farmland in a year. Like other indoor farming technology, it also saves water and gives city-dwellers immediate access to local food. …

“It’s intended for early-stage entrepreneurs. ‘We’re here to help them become future leaders in food,’ says Musk, who also runs a network of school gardens and a chain of restaurants that aim to source as much local food as possible.

“After building out the Brooklyn campus, they plan to expand to other cities, likely starting with cities where Musk also runs his other projects—Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh.”

More here.

Photo: SquareRoots

Read Full Post »

Missing the excitement of the summer Olympics? As these Vermont farmers show, any determined and organized group can have their own “Olympics” and have a lot of fun.

Jessica Rinaldi writes at the Boston Globe, “With the world’s attention focused on the Olympic Games in Brazil, a decidedly different type of competition was held in a small corner of New England, as farmers took to the field for the second annual Farmer Olympics in Vershire, Vt.

“After taking part in warm-up events that included a hay bale toss, the crowd gathered for an opening ceremony where a quartet performed the Olympic theme song on kazoo. When the competition began, 60 farmers sprinted up a hill, empty bins and shovels in hand, for the manure relay. The event was sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. In the end it was a team from Cedar Circle Farm in East Stepford who took the gold. Their team’s name? Soil’d.

Click here for a terrific collection of photos from the second annual Farmer Olympics.

Photo: Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
Competing in the Farmer Olympics, Vershire, Vermont.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Leigh Vincola, ecoRI News
David Kuma, left, is learning to farm under the tutelage of Ben Torpey.

In this story from Leigh Vincola, an ecoRI News contributor, several good things are happening simultaneously.

“David Kuma set out to grow more of his own food as he learned about industrial agriculture and all of its poisons. His father, a biologist, always had a garden growing up, so an innate knowledge of plants followed his curiosity.

“Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., raised partially in rural Illinois and then in Attleboro, Mass., Kuma understands urban, rural and suburban lifestyles and how plants can fit into each.

“Today, Kuma is one of three participants in the Southside Community Land Trust’s (SCLT) farm apprentice program …  Acknowledging that it has been historically difficult for minority populations to enter into commercial growing, the program’s mission is to provide organic farming experience and education to those who are interested.

“Kuma is partnered with Ben Torpey at Scratch Farm, a small-scale, chemical-free operation at Urban Edge Farm. Urban Edge is a state-owned, 50-acre piece of land managed by SCLT, where seven separate farms grow and share resources. The farm was established to give new farmers access to land and a community to learn from. As part of his paid apprenticeship, Kuma spends a full day on the farm two days a week and is learning a lot quickly. …

“From transplanting and cover crops to solarizing and low-till cultivation, Kuma is learning what it takes to run a small-scale farm naturally. His eyes have been opened to the importance of soil health.

“ ‘There’s a lot more to it than putting seeds in the ground,’ he said.

“For Torpey, having an apprentice is rewarding.

“ ‘Dave comes with a intuitive sense of plant biology and his curiosity reminds me that what we’re doing is fun,’ Torpey said. ‘It encourages me to experiment with new things.’ ” More here.

Don’t they both look happy? Nature can do that to you.

Photo: Scratch Farm

 

Read Full Post »

A Lancaster, Massachusetts, woman who came to the country at age 12 without a word of English is giving back by helping immigrants get a start in farming — and her model is being picked up around the nation.

Jane Dornbusch at the Boston Globe writes, “Maria Moreira, 62, is fond of the proverb ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ When her kids were small and she and her husband had a dairy farm in this Central Massachusetts town, she had plenty of milk, hungry kids to feed, and a need to make a little money.

“So she started a business making a soft Portuguese cheese — she calls it simply Portuguese fresh cheese — that reflected her roots in the Azores, where she was born.

“That was in 1986. A year earlier, she had seen another need, and, in her own inventive way, she’d set about meeting it. Moreira and her husband, Manny, had a 70-acre field, not far from their farm, that they used to grow corn.

“A Hmong woman, an immigrant from Laos, approached Moreira about using a small corner of the field to grow her own crops. Soon, word spread, and little by little the entire field was given over to immigrant farmers, each in charge of his or her own plot. Today, says Moreira, 275 farmers are growing more than 75 kinds of vegetables at what is now called Flats Mentor Farm. …

“Gus Schumacher, former Massachusetts commissioner of food and agriculture, came to know Moreira’s work when he served as a USDA undersecretary in the late ’90s. He notes that she was among a handful of leaders — others included John Ogonowski (one of the pilots killed on 9/11) and Jennifer Hashley, of New Entry Sustainable Farming Project — supporting refugees and immigrants in establishing themselves as farmers and market gardeners. It’s a movement that has since gained momentum nationally, he says. ‘But it all started in Massachusetts.’ ”

More at the Globehere.

Photo: Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Maria Moreira, of Flats Mentor Farm, holds some lemon basil.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: