Almost 300 celebrated national success
stories in reforming our food system
By: Morgan Powell
Boys and Girls High School recently made history by hosting the third Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference. Marquee food justice groups and growers from California, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and beyond related their stories of successful struggle and love, community productivity and personal growth. Networking from beginning to end, these experts and beginners, dedicated to nutrition, community development, business and public policy, hosted and attended workshops along with other gatherings. Last weekend (Nov. 9 and 10) was anchored by power-packed panel discussions and keynote speeches. This festival of ideas even improved the school’s small garden (near Utica Avenue on Fulton Street) by planting garlic cloves and introducing a blanket of short plants to improve the soil, also known as cover crops. Soon, fall will turn to winter and their Web site will bring all that happened to you. Please see www.blackurbangrowers.org. You will be able to watch videos, see photos and even read research generated at the conference with a view to the future!
How many people of the African Diaspora would it take to make our food system work better for Black America? Perhaps, 1,000 would be a good start. That’s about how many people who have attended this conference since it began at Brooklyn College in 2010. Diversity was in evidence as a group of Afro-Canadians from Toronto made their mark on the closing sessions re-envisioning BUGs membership. Well-wishes came, too, from continental Africa. Latinos who identify with their African heritage were present alongside Asian-American and European-American allies. In fact, one of the many standout workshops was partly designed to create a safe space for people of all backgrounds to come together as equals. “Radical Women of Color in the Local and Good Food Movement” discussed antiracist approaches to doing this work within prevailing institutional structures where power is often gendered and racialized. Bed–Stuy Restoration’s own Dara Cooper co-presented that session with Tanya Fields of the Blk Projek.
Music and meals transformed the school into a moveable modern Timbuktu – an ancient university in the country of Mali. Brooklyn-based performing artists animated the gathering with song (Beatrice Anderson Ensemble), drumming (Sekou Alajae) and dance (Adaku Utah and Samara Gaev-Truthworker). Lunch was partly catered by Bread Love of 375 Stuyvesant Avenue, the reborn Bread-Stuy, formerly at Lewis Avenue.
Local leaders, like Rev. Robert Jackson and Rev. DeVanie Jackson, showcased their work at the Brooklyn Rescue Mission to peers from different parts of North America. “The Business of Sustainable Food: Organizing a Food Hub” laid out what might be called a trinity of pantry, garden and market. Mrs. Jackson remains inspired by the conference. She remarked in a subsequent interview that keynote speaker Monica White, Ph.D. of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, spoke to the core of her values. “She put the hope back in the work. I feel reenergized…just seeing the history, how people came together [during Jim Crow] to create something.” Dr. White gave a richly illustrated Powerpoint talk, even honoring central Brooklyn by discussing historic Weeksville, about cooperative economics in Black communities from the 1800s to Fannie Lou Hamer’s and the Nation of Islam’s farms of the mid-20th century. She challenged us to reckon with the glorious economic legacy of Tuskegee University and available writings about the power of old and sustained cooperative institutions. These enterprises have addressed universal needs for food, land, education, employment, safety, security, transportation, housing and health care. “I got some really good insights; you kinda came away feeling good,” reminisced Rev. Jackson.
Morgan Powell is a horticulturist and landscape designer with over a decade in the trade. He is also a blogger for Outdoor Afro.