• Tim

Black Farming: Another Unsavory Side of the American Food System

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

An introduction to the unconsidered reality of racism and vegetables as a tool of oppression in the United States throughout history to the present day through black farming.


HUMAN CRUSH: Tiffany Washington, farmer and personal heroine, founder and farmer of Dobbin-Kauv Garden, Austin, TX.

If weaponized produce sounds ridiculously extreme, it's because it is. It's real and it's been happening from the moment the first slave set foot on the soil from which sprouts the food for hundreds of millions of people still as you read this. The history of black farming tells a clear and continuing story. 


What image comes to mind when you think of farming? For most of us, it's an idyllic scene with the sun setting behind acres of neat rows of mono-cropped corn, their silk shimmering in the setting sun as a silhouetted farmer wipes the sweat from his brow, signaling the end of another long day of contributing to the food security of his fellow citizens. Is the farmer in that scene black or white? Mmmhmm. Is that white farmer growing food for black or white consumers? Right. I'm willing to say that very few of us think or have thought about where our food comes from, perhaps with a slight uptick since the mainstream presence of sustainability and the “eat local”/farmers market movement in the past few years. Even fewer are familiar with the culture and politics of agriculture, and a very tiny fraction of those few have even are aware of the racism that is implicit with each meal, courtesy of the industrial complex. That’s not to shame you. It’s just to say that it hasn’t really ever been part of the larger conversation for most of us. (The shame is reserved solely for those who have considered it and don’t care and anyone actively upholding these systems from within. To them: Eat a spotted dick without the spots.)


dm in Alabama. Photo by Dorothea Lange, No known restrictions. For information, see U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/res/071_fsab.html

I’ve spent a good deal of my life around farming and agriculture. When my family headed south, we landed in Kentucky, smack dab in the middle of the land of cows, corn, and tobacco. I never realized that all of the world didn’t smell like cow manure until I was old enough to make the distinction upon returning from a roadtrip to visit the relatives who were still on the east coast up in New York and New Jersey. I remember the day when, having pulled over for our first pit stop within Kentucky state lines, I stepped out of the trunk of our white and wood-paneled station wagon to make the obligatory stretch-and-audible-yawn and thinking, “This place smells like sh*t…” (I was totally uncensored in my head even as a child.) When the smell didn’t go away even as we pulled into our driveway, I realized that it always smelled like this. I was just accustomed to it, just as I was with the knowledge that farmers were white and grew food for white people. I had a two or three black friends at that age, outnumbering my even rarer chinese friends by one or two. I knew they all had to eat outside of the school cafeteria, but I didn’t know where their food came from, honestly. I thought there must be a special Krogers I had never driven past or perhaps they had family mail it to them from other parts of the world. This was all pre-cooking Tim when I thought the broccoli in sweet and sour stir fry was 100% a different kind of broccoli because the broccoli we ate at home had no flavor at all unless “salt and steam” is considered a flavor. Year after year I was deeply disappointed when we did our seed shopping at the beginning of gardening season and they still hadn’t stocked “sweet and sour” broccoli at Ace Hardware. (Kevin Decker, you were the luckiest kid I knew…)


When I left New York City to live on a farm in Hawai’i, the only teeeny-tiny bit of what could be considered racism that existed—and with good cause, don’t get me wrong, but it was perhaps more of a long-standing tension created by imperialistic caucasions throughout history—was from locals towards the hoards of non-locals showing up and farming their land. Even so, it never stopped us from learning, working, celebrating, and eating together and furthermore sharing the fruits of our labors with the community. In my time there, you could see farmers of all levels and dedication from all over the world coming together with the common interest of feeding the population and ultimate goal of securing the island’s food source independent of Big Ag. In addition to the Hawaiians, dirty, dirty hippies (myself included) made up the rest of this community and issues of race and bigotry were only ever part of a conversation in the context of “how does it still exist?” Perhaps it was a byproduct of living and working in paradise, or perhaps it was telling of the quality of individuals who were drawn to the lifestyle. Food was for everyone. Abundance didn’t exist unless everyone had more than they needed. But until yesterday, it never crossed my mind in a significant way that racism could exist in farming. 


While optimistically trying to revive my once thriving rooftop garden cum hallway with a skylight garden, I got a text from my good friend in Austin inviting me to an online lecture as part of Austin Organic Gardeners’ “75 Years of Resilience: Fall Garden Series” online program that night. The guest speaker was Tiffany Washington, founder of Dobbin-Kauv Garden Farm. Aside from being a service disabled combat veteran, PTSD survivor, a mother of four, and a brilliant spot of light on humanity, she runs the only Black-owned farm in Austin. The. Only. Black. -owned. Farm. In. Austin. Texas. If you zoom out to the larger landscape of black-owned farms in the state, the region, or the country, those statistics don’t ever reach even an average number at under 2%.. 


Tiffany’s presentation was phenomenal. Beautifully researched, it could be a book (please, Tiffany, please!). In the meantime, there is a book on / guide for black farmers which just jumped to the top of my reading list. While I’ll never fully experience what it is that Tiffany was detailing, just listening to the stories of broken promises, land theft, and oppression towards the black community after emancipation alone brought me to tears. (I had to write in my question rather than ask on video because I was crying and couldn’t get my shiz together enough to get the words out.) I realized that although I don’t condone and am diametrically opposed to all of this, I’m an unwilling agent of the system, as we essentially all are and have been, if you’ve ever eaten a meal in the United States. 


Whew it's getting hot in here. Are you guys hot? I'm hot. I'm ... I'm gonna get some water. Take a cold shower maybe... Negro tenant farmer, Lee County, Mississippi. Rothstein, Arthur, 1915-1985, photographer United States. Resettlement Administration.

I shut down the Zoom app after the meeting feeling a lot of things. For the most part I felt thankful for Tiffany and her shining her light into the hushed convalesence of the "Greatest" Country On Earth. I felt validated and affirmed by my connection with her, having the shared experience of farming as the only helpful method of dealing with PTSD (this will be another topic here soon). I felt a renewed sense of ignorance and how small our individual lives become when we pan out to the bigger picture. I felt scared to be human, to be capable of doing the things that other humans do and have done. But I also felt helpless, as many will, wondering how I can change my role in all of this. Since I can’t stand the feeling of helplessness, I’ve compiled an initial list of ways to educate yourself and support organizations to help turn this around until we can all celebrate the fall of the industrialized empire of basic human necessities. 


As a bonus, I took note of Tiffany's favorite plants—basil and broccoli—and came up with a special recipe fit for goddess, the Tiffany Charred Broccoli and Basil Goddess Slawlad. Alternatively, Break-caste at Tiffany's Broccoli Basil Goddess Salad. Basi


Now that it's almost midnight, I need to start my usual day's work. Today was dedicated to you, Tiffany. Keep up the amazing work. You're going to change the lives of so many, just as you have been doing. xot<3


Support Tiffany Washington


If you only do one thing to support from this entire list, start with Tiffany, the rad hero I mentioned above. Visit her spot (we called all farms in Hawai’i “spots” and it stuck) when in Austin DOBBIN-KAUV GARDEN FARM or check out Tiffany’s Linktree where you’ll find her entire online presence in one place. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, watch her presentation on YouTube and Donate!



READ


Civil Eats is a great resource in general but this article on "Leaders of Color Discuss Structural Racism and White Privilege in the Food System" is a great

place to start your journey into making things right.


Farming While BlackSome of our most cherished sustainable farming practices have roots in African wisdom. Yet, discrimination and violence against African-American farmers has led to their decline from 14 percent of all growers in 1920 to less than 2 percent today, with a corresponding loss of over 14 million acres of land.  Further, Black communities suffer disproportionately from illnesses related to lack of access to fresh food and healthy natural ecosystems. Soul Fire Farm, cofounded by author, activist, and farmer Leah Penniman, is committed to ending racism and injustice in our food system. “


“Black Farmers In America,” NPR


A New Generation of Black Farmers Is Returning to the Land,” Civil Eats


Progressive Governance Can Turn the Tide for Black Farmers,” Progressive America

“In January 1865, when Union Gen. William T. Sherman issued an order to allocate 40 acres to each freedman, the black ministers who lobbied for the policy envisioned vibrant, self-governed black agrarian communities dotting the Southern countryside. Unfortunately, President Andrew Johnson’s revocation of this order later that year and the institution of the Jim Crow regime after reconstruction left rural black Americans to build their farming communities from scratch.1 It wouldn’t be the first time that the U.S. government worked to undermine black farmers—and it certainly won’t be the last.”

LISTEN

Becoming an Ant-Racist Food Industry podcast, Food and Beverage Insider

 Improving justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) in the food and beverage industry will take dedication to culture, consumers and communities, and it’s necessary says Laura Dickinson and Sheryl O’Loughlin, cofounders of the J.E.D.I. Collaborative.


WATCH


“Homecoming...Sometimes I am Haunted by Memories of Red Dirt and Clay”

 Homecoming uses the story of Charlene Gilbert's family, who grew cotton and vegetables in Montezuma, Georgia, to tell the story of black agriculture in the south from the Civil War. By 1920, there were nearly one million black farmers in American, a number that dropped to fewer than 18,000 by the end of the century. While those figures parallel the decline of farming nationwide, Homecoming points out how racist practices affected Black farmers.  students and licensing


Tiffany Washington’s presentation for Austin Organic Gardeners, August 10, 2020


“Why Are All The Black Farmers Vanishing?”


“Why Aren’t There More Black Farmers In The United State?”



ALLY YOURSELF / DONATE


National Black Farmer’s Association

The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) is a non-profit organization representing African American farmers and their families in the United States. As an association, it serves tens of thousands of members nationwide. NBFA's education and advocacy efforts have been focused on civil rights, land retention, access to public and private loans, education and agricultural training, and rural economic development for black and other small farmers. 

Donate


Black Church Food Security Network

Black farmers who are listed within our directory benefit from direct access to Black Churches, seminaries, and Christian Denominations, marketing to our national audience, and networking with other farmers.

Donate


Soil Generation Farm Brigade

At Soil Generation, we know that urban gardens and farms have long been a site of resistance, resilience, and self determination for Black and Brown communities. In supporting these valuable spaces, Soil Generation has assembled a farm brigade to come out to your garden and help put in the work needed. If you steward a garden/farm/green space in a Black and/or Brown community, please let us know what kind of assistance you need by filling out the form below. 

Donate


Black Food Justice

NBFJA seeks to build with Black-led and centered organizations and individuals who develop Black leadership, support Black community, organize Black self-determination, and build institutions for Black food sovereignty & liberation. Our members do this through consistent, community-driven programming, resilient and inclusive membership structures, and accountable leadership. 

Donate


Black Urban Growers Association

Black Urban Growers (BUGS) is an organization committed to building networks and community support for growers in both urban and rural settings. Through education and advocacy around food and farm issues, we nurture collective Black leadership to ensure we have a seat at the table.

Black Urban Growers (BUGS) is an organization committed to building networks and community support for growers in both urban and rural settings. Through education and advocacy around food and farm issues, we nurture collective Black leadership to ensure we have a seat at the table.

Donate



SUPPORT BLACK OWNED RESTAURANTS


EatOkra is your guide to black-owned restaurants. If you'd like to support local black businesses, or maybe just find a new favorite place to eat, download the EatOkra app now.


Black People Eats A growing directory of restaurants


AVOID


Sorry, guys. Trader Joe’s


Papa Johns


Nestlé, Hershey’s, and Mars for their continued engagement in slave labor. Using kids.


Pepsi Co, Coca-Cola, Frito Lay for targeting minority children to consume garbage



Anything you’d add to the list? Send it to info@pinchido.com and I’ll add it.





African American farmer in corn field, Alachua County, Florida



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