Farming and self-determination: Building food networks in communities of color

A report on our first BASE event, a reception and reading with Natasha Bowens on The Color of Food.

Baltimore Activating Solidarity Economies (BASE) hosted our first public event on Thursday August 20, 2015 at Red Emma’s Bookstore and Coffeehouse in Baltimore City. The event included a reception and public reading with Natasha Bowens, storyteller, beginning farmer, and author of The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience, and Farming.


For the reception with Ms. Bowens, BASE invited many of the farmers, community entrepreneurs, advocates, and organizers deeply involved in food equity and food sovereignty work in Baltimore and neighboring areas. There were more than 35 attendees: including farm and clergy partners in the Black Church Food Security Network (formed in the aftermath of the Baltimore Uprising in April 2015), participants in the Baltimore City Food Policy Advisory Council, and members of the Farm Alliance of Baltimore.



Instead of setting a formal program for the reception, BASE co-founders Dorcas Gilmore, John Duda, and Parag Khandhar mingled the attendees and tried to learn about or make new connections across this inspirational and growing network.


BASE had purchased produce from Black Dirt Farms and Real Food Farms, which Red Emma’s worker-owners fashioned into delectable appetizers and snacks. BASE was happy to thank these individuals and organizations for their work to establish and grow an equitable healthy food network for Black and other communities of color and low-income communities in Baltimore.


After the reception, Natasha Bowens presented some of the stories of visionary farmers of color across the United States to an audience of more than 110 in the main Red Emma’s space. Her principal thesis for the project was that even as there was a growing interest in small farms and organic producers, the public face of this movement was almost uniformly White. She went out to find farmers of color, and documented pictures and stories from 75 amazing people. Ms. Bowens sought out elder and young farmers, who were Black, Latin@, Native, and Asian American. She found newer farmers and folks who have been farming for decades.


The stories weave together a narrative of resilience, of ancestral food ways, of the intentionality for Black farmers who must confront what it means to return to what many associated with chattel slavery and stolen labor on plantation farms. She writes of the principled fight to hold onto land and water rights for Native farmers and the tireless efforts of immigrants and refugees to plant the seeds of a new life in the United States. 20770321255_151455947f_k The event gave Ms. Bowens the opportunity to share just a few of these powerful stories through the voices of strong women and men who connected ancestral knowledge with agency and economic self-determination. She also brought a few members of the Baltimore community to the microphone, including Denzel Mitchell of Five Seeds Farm and Apiary, Aleya Fraser and Blain Snipstal of Black Dirt Farms, and Reverend Dr. Heber Brown of the Black Church Food Security Network, to tell their stories and connect the themes of the evening with the conversations that have multiplied after the Uprising. 20582348830_402e7adb30_k The standing room only crowd filled with any number of folks who could have presented, leading to a rich conversation and exchange. There was interest in creating a community-driven, Black-led Baltimore food hub that connected farmers, organizations and community enterprise, and communities themselves to provide good, affordable, and traditional foods to the people. Young farmers paid tribute to elders and mentors who supported their work and emphasized the importance of teaching more young people and continuing to document and share stories as Ms. Bowens had done in The Color of Food.

For BASE, the event captured the inspiring spirit of communities, organizations, and individuals across the city that are coming together to think about their own solutions to systemic disinvestment from Black communities. Their work is highlighting the gaps in access and ownership between the poor and wealthy in the city and proposing food sovereignty alternatives. Food sovereignty emphasizes that food systems should be local, autonomous, and independent of a global market system that is destroying the environment even as it disrupts and devalues traditional knowledge and food pathways. For a brief explanation and history of the global food sovereignty movement, see Raj Patel’s post “Food Sovereignty: A Breviary.” For more about BASE and our work to support community-driven solutions and equity-based alternatives to an economy built on a foundation of structural racism, please sign up for our mailing list , follow us on twitter, or like us on Facebook.

The Color of Food


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Read the article at Medium