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5 Black Farmers and Food Activists Who Remind Us That Black Lands Matter

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Police brutality against Black people and the mass incarceration of our communities are constantly grabbing media attention. However, the massive loss of Black life to diet related illnesses in Black and Brown communities is talked about far too infrequently. The disconnect between Black communities and nutritious food is no accident. By the early 1900’s, Black people owned and operated an estimate of 14% of farms in the United States, located mostly in the South — this was the peak of Black farm ownership. Due to white supremacy and racist schemes within the United States Department of Agriculture, there has been an enormous decline in the number of farmers. Here are a few Black farmers and food activists who are continuously making the conscious decision to reclaim food agency in the food system today, while reminding us that wholesome eating and connection to the land has always been our story. 

Leah Penniman

Farmer, educator, author, and food activist, Leah Penniman has over 20 years of experience in farming and agriculture as she has worked for the Food Project, Farm School, Many Hands Organic Farm, and Youth Grow. She has even worked alongside farmers in Ghana, Haiti, and Mexico. In 2010, Penniman Co-founded an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm, Soul Fire Farm as a pledge to put an end to food apartheid and white supremacy in the food system. The growing revolution of Soul Fire Farm started out as a family farm in her community of upstate New York. With Soul Fire Farm, Penniman continues to address the painful history of framework to Black and Brown people in the United States, while also growing fresh vegetables and the community surrounding it. This food sovereignty program include: farming training for Black and Brown growers, reparations and land return initiatives for northeast farmers, food juice workshops for urban youth, home gardens for city dwellers living under food apartheid, doorstep harvest delivery for food insecure households, and systems and policy education decision makers. 

Ron Finley

“Gardening is gangsta.” With these words, Ron Finley began the Ron Finley Project in 2012, a gardening training facility which speaks to his vision to rejuvenate communities around the world through gardening, knowledge, and togetherness. Finley demanded the right to garden and grow food in his neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles to fight against food deserts, and change the demand by growing his own food and community. With his motto: “Gardening that’s gangsta, being educated that’s gangsta, building your community that’s gangsta to me,” Finley uses The Ron Finley Project by providing community and opportunity to donate to the project in order to help spread the movement to communities in need. By doing this work, Finley assures us that urban gardening helps change not only food, but it enhances engaging community, has an impact on the air that we breathe, and even changes the biodiversity of the soil in the neighborhood and the ecosystem. 

Tracy McCurty 

Tracy Lloyd McCurty, Esq. has a long line of expertise in agriculture, community engagement, environmental justice, environmental law and policy, farming, and food equity. She is the Co-founder and Executive Director of the Black Belt Justice Center, a nonprofit organization committed to the conservation and restoration of Black farmlands and communities through representation, advocacy, and education. McCurty serves as an advocate for multigenerational farm families in the rural South, and the Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project.

Asaud Frazier

Entrepreneur, farmer, and food activist, Asaud Frazier Specializes in horticulture, agriculture, and food sustainability. Frazier has studied both environmental science, and plant and soil science at Tuskegee University where he rediscovered his love for farming and agricultural education within the Black community.  Upon graduation, Frazier founded Ella Beas Farm, a family owned farm in Southwest Alabama as a way to restore healthy eating, food sustainability, and agricultural outreach. The topic of sustainable resources, food deserts, and urban planting has always been in conversation for Frazier in his household as Land ownership has been prevalent in his family since the late 1800’s. With the movement of Ella Beas Farm, Frazier reassures us that we should get engaged in farming in order to create a sustainable and secure economy. 

Jillian Hishaw

Jillian Hishaw, Esq. , LLM is an agricultural strategist, farmer, entrepreneur, attorney, and philanthropist who is taking the food industry by storm as she is considered one of the very few Black women with an LLM in Agricultural law. Hishaw has over 15 years of experience of local, state, federal, fellowship and nonprofit experience. Inspired by her grandfather and his experience with land loss, Hishaw founded F.A.R.M.S., a legal and education non-profit that provides resources to upcoming farmers and rural youth in the Southeast. F.A.R.M.S is short for Family Agricultural Resources Management Services. F.A.R.M.S also has a food bank program that allows the non-profit to purchase fresh produce from farm clients from across the country and donate to other food banks, pantries, homeless, children, and eldercare centers. Resources include: educational workshops, and connection to an attorney with the F.A.R.M.S. network. With F.A.R.M.S., Hishaw is committed to protecting Black farmlands, feeding the local community, and restoring food sustainability. 

We Buy Black Intern Writer

Kaylah Mack

My name is Kaylah Mack and I am a senior at Spelman College where I am pursuing my undergraduate degree in English with a concentration in Journalism. My interest in Journalism stems from my love for writing, storytelling, and public speaking. In my free time, I enjoy listening to podcasts, meditating, exercising, baking, spending time with nature, and catching up with loved ones.

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