Not “like” a Revolution, it IS a REVOLUTION!

Sharon June 30th, 2009

Reader Randy sent me this today, and it just makes me happy to see the boom in urban agriculture:

 ‘Both Allen and Myers agree that the boom in urban farming for African-Americans is born out of necessity and not just echoing traditions.

“Minority people are affected by poor food, more than any other groups,” and many inner cities lack access to quality fruits and vegetables, Allen says. “Our food system is broken.”

“When you’re poor, when you don’t have access to resources, you have to create your own,” says Myers. “So this is a way for people of African descent to use their creativity to grow their own food.”

Many poorer communities don’t have full-scale grocery stores. Allen charges that companies have red-lined those areas and won’t build stores there.

So community activists like Myers have taken up the fight.

“[Starting] community gardens in local communities, specifically in urban areas, is important, so you create your own food security network,” says Myers. “You’re not relying on large grocery stores to provide food for everyone because if those grocery stores have problems, your access to food is done.”‘

The most important places to grow food have always been the places where people already are, and where good food is already needed.  Urban food deserts and rural ones both  need to build their agricultural infrastructure – and quickly, because conventional safety nets are already showing signs of fraying.  The good news is that nobody has to tell ordinary poor people they are screwed if they don’t take care of themselves – they’ve been doing that a long, long time.

African American farmers have suffered disproportionately under industrial agriculture – in the last 30 years, 35% of white American farmers have lost their land, while 80% of black American farmers have.  The average white American farmer is farming almost half again as much land as he was in 1970.  The average black American farmer is farming 1/5th as much land as he was in 1970.  Meanwhile American black farmers are involved in an ongoing lawsuit against the USDA, demonstrating that that agency helped drive thousands of black farmers out of business by denying them the same loans they were granting to white farmers.  The settlement numbers will probably end up in the billions.

African American people have suffered disproportionately from industrial food as well – obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are more prevalent in black communities, as is salt sensitivity, driving up the health costs in both personal sufffering and material expense.  Poor urban neighborhoods half 1/5 the square footage of grocery store space in many areas, and most of the food is in bodegas and convenience stores, whose higher prices strain budgets. 

We need more black farmers, and better food in black communities.   Since the average age of African-American farmers is even older than the average age of American white farmers (63 vs 59), and because their parents and grandparents so overwhelmingly lost their land, the next generation of young farmers is going to come out of the cities and the city gardens.  Not only is it desperately important that all urban neighborhoods produce as much food as possible, it is even more urgent that we begin using those neighborhoods to train up farmers in the way that they should go – using smaller plots of land, intensive methods and low cost, low input organic techniques. 

The good news is that this is happening – that the shift in food systems isn’t an elite revolution, as sometimes is suggested.  Gardening has a long tradition in African-American communities – traditions that clearly aren’t that hard to reignite.  In World War II, African-American families dominated the Victory Garden movement – while white affluent families were the ones in the pictures, in Dallas, 90 percent of black families had a Victory Garden, while only 40 percen of white ones did. 

I’m doing a lot of radio interviews lately (I’ll be on NPR in Chicago this afternoon), and a little bit of my schtick is this – one estimate suggests that in just the last two years we’ve added *8 MILLION* new gardens – virtually all of them food producing.  That’s in just two years!  We’ve only got 92 million to go – that means we’re practically halfway there.  That line always gets a laugh, but I’m not joking – it isn’t just like a Revolution in agriculture, it is a revolution in agriculture – we’re having it now.

Sharon

8 Responses to “Not “like” a Revolution, it IS a REVOLUTION!”

  1. Judyon 30 Jun 2009 at 10:33 am

    In my very integrated, middle/working class community, there are now THREE community gardens that I know of. One of them is just a block away from me. This project was conceived by three young black women — two of whom have completed a Master Gardening course. They’ve gotten city grant money, and are proceeding organically and sustainably. Two regular community ‘work’ times are scheduled each week. Children are encouraged to participate.

    “You say you want a revolution, well you know
    We all wanna change the world”

    Bring it on!

    Judy
    (from your first AIP class)

  2. Heather Gon 30 Jun 2009 at 10:36 am

    Excellent to hear about!

    On non-white people farming, you may or may not have heard of Nuestras Raices in Holyoke, MA?

    http://www.nuestras-raices.org/~nuestra1/

    Economic, cultural, community, and agricultural development in the Hispanic community there. Community lots for gardening, home gardening, etc. Plus they have at least one festival each year, open to everyone, to try out the food, etc.

  3. [email protected]on 30 Jun 2009 at 10:46 am

    Two great posts from you today, Sharon. I don’t know how you do it.

    Perhaps we can look to Will Allen for the future of urban African American farming. Let’s hope so.

    It’s not that I doubt anything you say here, but I’d love to know your references for the numbers you cite on the growing ranks of gardeners and the makeup of Victory Gardeners. Could you provide them, please?

  4. nikaon 30 Jun 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Nuestras Raices is awesome and super fantabulous! Their parties really rock too (dancing people and dancing horses, roast pigs, dancing cubayalas)

    see this photo set on flickr for shots from 2 years ago.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/nika7k/sets/72157600705908401/

  5. risa bon 30 Jun 2009 at 3:50 pm

    I grew up in Atlanta and I remember (this could well be the early 70s I’m remembering) that there was a freeway approved and hundreds, if not thousands, of houses — whole swathes of the cityscape bulldozed. You could drive for blocks and blocks and blocks and it was all concrete front steps to nowhere, with English ivy taking over the trees (and in some places, kudzu). And then the freeway was successfully challenged, and the empty land sat there — and sat there. And my heart went out to it — my heart of avarice! Oh, to farm those thousands of acres! It looks like FINALLY someone took this on.

  6. New Mamaon 30 Jun 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Will Allen’s operations are in Milwaukee not too far from me. He is an amazing man doing amazing things. He recently contracted with a local cemetery to grow food in their old greenhouses (which once were used to grow flowers for the graves but have since been abandoned).

  7. Sharonon 01 Jul 2009 at 2:35 pm

    KATE, APOLOGIES FOR ALL CAPS, MY SHIFT KEY DOESN’T WORK FOR REASONS OPAQUE TO ME. I PROMISE I’M NOT YELLING. THE V-GARDEN MATERIAL IS FROM AMY BENTLEYS EATING FOR VICTORY, HER BOOK ABOUT FOOD SYSTEMS IN THE US IN WWII. THE OTHER FIGURES ARE FROM A NATION ARTICLE IN 2007 ON BLACK FARMERS – I’M AWAY FROM MY DESK SO I CAN’T FIND THE MONTH AND YEAR AT THE MOMENT, BUT WILL WHEN I GET BACK AFTER THE WEEKEND. IT WAS IN THEIR ANNUAL FOOD ISSUE.

    SHARON

  8. risa bon 02 Jul 2009 at 6:06 pm

    So yer not yelling, then why are you hoarse? ;)

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply