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Posts Tagged ‘food apartheid’

Photo: Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun.
Harold Morales, left, an associate professor at Morgan State University, loads boxes of vegetables with help from Troy Costner, center, and Artar Isreal, right, at Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm to deliver to a community center.

In a time of wintry weather and a return to isolation, it’s nice to think of warmer days and communities working outdoors together. Today’s story is about an urban farm in Baltimore that is providing healthful food where it’s needed most.

Stephanie Garcia writes at the Baltimore Sun about Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm.

“The lot at the corner of Springhill and Cottage avenues in Baltimore used to be vacant. Today, it’s home to one of the top 10 innovative farms in the country, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Known as Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm, it was founded eight years ago by Richard Francis, affectionately known as Farmer Chippy, who was looking for a community from the Caribbean diaspora in Baltimore and wanted to grow food for — and with — Park Heights residents.

“The farm has grown beyond Park Heights, with farmers aiming to grow 250,000 pounds of food across 30 city-owned vacant lots, all leased by the Plantation. … Collectively, these farmers and others in Baltimore plan to build the city’s first AgriHood, or a marketplace and community-shared agriculture and training resource institute. …

“Francis [has] secured partnerships with the University of Maryland, Coppin State University and Holistic Wellness and Health, which offers fresh plant-based cooking classes.

” ‘We’ll be positioned and ready to serve our youngest citizens, those who are at risk in Park Heights,’ Francis said. ‘The institute is going to put agriculture in the classroom and following through with our children so that they can become farmers and chefs before they become scientists, doctors and lawyers.’ …

“Francis said the farm’s name is intentionally provocative. ‘We wanted to remind children of the colonizers, that this is where it all started,’ Francis explained. ‘One group produces and the other group developed a thriving economy. Today, we say equal rights and justice for all on the Plantation. Let’s include those who were left out.’

“Agriculture is found across Baltimore, with over 20 urban farms and 100 community gardens, according to the Baltimore Office of Sustainability. It is a hotbed for art and community service, hosting poetry open mics and bringing quality produce to Maryland correctional institutions. [The Plantation] also has connected families with resources beyond farming and agriculture, helping dozens of neighbors with energy-saving grants and other services to help prevent eviction and homelessness.

“One community partner is the Morgan State University Center for the Study of Religion and the City. … Harold Morales, an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at Morgan State, usually visits the urban farm on Thursday afternoons. He can be found pulling weeds, planting, harvesting and distributing one of the 300 free food boxes donated weekly through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. Morales also helps with grant writing and research for the Plantation. …

“Park Heights Renaissance, a nonprofit organization focused on land and economic development, awarded the Plantation a $25,000 grant to support agriculture in classrooms across four public elementary schools in Park Heights. Children ages 5 to 15 are learning how to grow, harvest and package nutrient-dense foods for families in the community.

“Morales refers to the Plantation as a little piece of the Caribbean in Park Heights, where land, food and community come together. ‘Shovel, rakes, soil. Those are the things you need to survive in the urban context, but that’s not what people usually think,’ Morales said.

“Francis has seen plenty of similarities to his native Trinidad and Tobago. ‘Park Heights is like a Third World city. It has been neglected, it is heavily populated with Black and Brown people,’ he said. ‘It has a port, and it has a thriving economy happening outside of the poverty. We have an amazing educational system in the Caribbean, just like here with Johns Hopkins and the likes. But we are still unable to retain our talent, because most of these people graduate and go outside for opportunities.’ …

“Caribbean crops like sugar cane, sweet potatoes and Trinidad scorpion peppers are grown at the Plantation. Youth farmers learn that plantain leaves have healing properties for bites or stings and can be used like a bandage. …

“ ‘What’s often referred to as food deserts more appropriately should be called food apartheid,’ Morales said. … Francis echoes that sentiment and wants to transform Park Heights from a food desert into a food oasis. AgriHood Baltimore is key for this vision to come to fruition. ‘It is the close of the summer season for us, and we’re getting ready for next year,’ he said. ‘We’re coming bigger, better, faster and stronger.’ “

More at the Baltimore Sun, here.

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Photo: Soul Fire Farm.
Soul Fire Farm is an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm in upstate New York that raises and distributes “life-giving food as a means to end food apartheid.”

Having blogged about this forward-thinking farm in 2019, here, I thought I would go back and check on how it’s doing today. Its focus on food apartheid and climate change are more relevant than ever.

Darryl Fears at the Washington Post interviewed Leah Penniman, a founder of Soul Fire Farm in rural New York.

“A heavy snow was falling here in the Taconic Mountain Range outside Albany when Leah Penniman moved to the farm she bought with her husband. It was the day after Christmas, Penniman recalled, ‘and I cried.’ They were not tears of joy.

“Penniman was having second thoughts. ‘I was, like, can we just stay in Albany?’ Her family had left that city’s impoverished South End community because it was a food desert — devoid of grocery stores with fresh produce or sit-down restaurants. But she worried about losing friends she made there. ‘I wasn’t so sure about this rural thing.’ …

“But as the first seedlings grew at the new Soul Fire Farm, so did she. Today, Penniman, 41, is a leading spokesperson for the movement to increase the ranks of Black, Brown and Indigenous farmers. Hundreds of people are on a waiting list to attend her classes on regenerative farming that reduces carbon emissions and mitigates climate change, refuting a belief that Black people and other underrepresented groups do not want to farm. …

“Leah Penniman’s 2018 book, Farming While Black, a guide to regenerative farming that called America’s paucity of Black farmers ‘food apartheid,’ turned heads. …

“According to its 2019 annual report, Soul Fire Farm Institute trained 120 people of color at week-long farming immersions and 905 activists at workshops. The report also said 675 youngsters learned about farming and food justice.

“Four new small farms are in operation partly as a result of those internships: High Hog Farm in Grayson, Ga., 40 miles northwest of Atlanta; Harriett Tubman Freedom Farm in Whitakers, N.C., 15 miles north of Rocky Mount; Catatumbo Cooperative Farm in South Chicago and Sweet Freedom Farm, about 60 miles south of Soul Fire in New York. …

‘What I’m particularly excited about is the capacity for Afro Indigenous regenerative agriculture to participate in carbon drawdowns,’ Leah Penniman said as she dug up potato plants recently at Soul Fire. ‘So we are demonstrating how to capture carbon in the soil using our ancestral methods of no till and composting, all these fabulous ways of growing food and medicine.’ …

“Penniman is part of a cadre of farmers who are teaching new ways of farming, said Ricardo Salvador, who runs the food and environmental service at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“ ‘Her efforts with Soul Fire Farm are an argument that you don’t have to exploit people, you don’t have to exploit nature and still produce abundant, nourishing food for communities,’ he said. ‘She’s training people who come to the farm, who take short courses or do internships … to rethink access to land.’ …

“Soul Fire Farm, a cooperative with several owners, is a member of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, 30 farming and food activist groups run by Dara Cooper. …

“Fighting discrimination in American farming is central to what the network does, Cooper said. But so is offsetting climate change.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture accounted for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. Research has shown that traditional farming practices such as tilling and plowing release carbon dioxide when they cut into the earth. …

“Cooper said activists should be wary of lionizing a single person, a mistake the civil rights movement made with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But she praised Penniman.

“ ‘There is something very special about Leah,’ Cooper said. ‘She’s a farmer, she’s studied, she’s brilliant, she’s an amazing teacher and educator. Anybody who’s attended her talks are fired up and ready to go afterward.’

“Penniman … plunged her hand into the dirt and held it eye level. ‘There’s worms in this soil,’ she said as one inched toward her bare fingers. ‘There’s nematodes in this soil, all kinds of beneficial organisms.’

“She smiled as she admired the habitat — creepy crawlies, bugs and microbes living healthy lives on her family farm, which rejects using pesticides that kill them.

“The worms and millions of tiny organisms have a symbiotic relationship with dirt, and plants sequester greenhouse gases and convert it to an organic form. Trapped in the ground, the gases cannot rise into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. …

“A Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground noted the finding that a 1 percent increase in organic matter in an acre of soil pulls down about 10 tons of carbon dioxide.

“ ‘Agriculture is the biggest way humans impact our landscape,’ Kristin Ohlson, author of The Soil Will Save Us, says in the film. ‘We have unleashed through agriculture over the centuries millennia of carbon from the land, and now it’s part of that legacy load of carbon dioxide.’ “

Read more about Penniman’s intriguing backstory at the Post, here.

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