I wanted to comment on this item that Fritz van der Laan posted
regarding the National Black Farmers' Conference.
> Schocked again.
> I know there are all kinds of farmers and conferences about what
> and how to grow there products, This is a conference with the
> subject the color of the farmer himself.
There are also Black women who farm, Fritz.
> Now I know the US is socially a developing country but I thought
> they had passed this stage decennia ago.
The use of "developing country" as a pejorative is interesting in
this context. Last I checked, developing countries were where the
bulk of the world's nonwhite, female, and under-21 population
You thought the U.S. had passed what stage? The stage where people
make assumptions about who is and isn't farming, and those attitudes
can prevent or restrict access to that profession as a result? The
need to acknowledge what the cultural and social barriers are to
people who wish to farm? The need to take a holistic, social look at
the barriers to sustainable and other agricultural enterprises, and
not just production practices?
This nation (and much of the wealth of the Western nations,
including the banking industry in the Netherlands) was built upon the
institution of slavery as an essential part of New World agriculture
and the development of its and Europe's cities since at least the
1400s. In the U.S., slavery was officially dissolved only about 130
years ago, and it didn't exactly disappear all at once. This kind
of historical reality shifts and heals pretty slowly.
Mechanisms to support Black people as they claim an empowered place
in agriculture in the U.S. seem to me to fit with that shifting and
healing of an ugly history, rather than a sign of being backward.
Particularly if it's Black Americans building these mechanisms for
But I wonder. Are you implying, Fritz, that identification of
Blackness as an issue in the U.S. is backward, and something to "get
past"? That *being Black* is something for people to "get past"?
That sounds like making people invisible who are coming to grips
with the meanings of being Black. I'd be cautious about that, coming
as I do from a civilization built on making certain people and their
work invisible in the service of others. So if you are "shocked" to
see Blackness as an issue for a farmers' conference, I'd respectfully
ask you what shocks you. The making visible of Blackness, which was
always comfortably hidden? A challenge to the denial of US and
European and New World history, including the Netherlands' part in
I'm not saying that Black people are defined by slavery; I leave it
up to Black and African-American people I know to tell me, as they
see fit, what meanings they construct out of that history. But in my
mind, for Black men and women to own and work land in the Americas
or Europe isn't exactly the norm. I would think there'd be plenty of
need for exploration and support.
You said that the subject of the conference is the farmers' color.
Black isn't a "color." These designations refer not just (loosely)
to skin color but to others' interpretation of that: the cultural
and historical realities and experiences that not everyone can
pretend, assert, or believe don't matter. For some folks, these
designations have moment-to-moment meaning in their lives, in how
they're treated, in their access to resources, and in their sense of
self and safety. Kinda like "woman," "Chicano/a," "Hispanic,"
"Hmong," "native American," "Asian," "Jewish," "gay," "lesbian,"
"bisexual," or whatever. Or, come to think of it, "farmer."
What does this have to do with sustainable ag?
Racism, like other isms, can discourage people from pursuing or
staying in farming as a profession, no matter how good and skilled
and dedicated they are. This conference sounds like an effort to
raise the awareness and issue of race as it relates to people's work
as farmers. When Meg posted this, I was glad to see it. I'd
personally like to know more about it--who expressed a need for such
a conference, their struggles/perceptions and experiences, the
Such gatherings as the National Black Farmers' Conference seem to me
to express a desire to build identity and networking/empowerment.
It's easy to ignore race as an issue--or gender, or culture, or
heart-preferences, or religion, et cetera, when you haven't struggled
with these things. Similarly, I'd gladly see a national organization
of women in sustainable farming, and of gay/lesbian/bisexual people
in sustainable farming, and of people of any race, cultural identity,
or religion--*whatever* gatherings and conversations and weavings it
takes to strengthen people's sense of self and help them build
community and maintain their spirit and their faith, while reclaiming
land and earth and food and home.
We need people called to the land.
I want to see big changes in the agricultural and food system in my
lifetime. My guess is that that's going to take some shifts in who
gets to be part of farming...and that's going to mean some
broad-scale shifts in attitude about things like exactly what social
and cultural forces keep people from entering or staying in farming.
It's not all economic.
One of my questions at this point in history is: who is going to
have the courage to challenge social stereotypes, as well as
production practices, around who gets to do the highly sacred and
absurdly mundane work of bringing food out of the ground, and the
challenges and struggles they face in doing that work. I suspect
that Meg's posting has pointed us to some thread of at least one
I'm suddenly flashing to the cover of an issue of the magazine of the
American Farmland Trust that I saw at the SARE conference in Austin.
It was part of their display there. The cover story was titled "The
Future of Farming." The photo showed four big middle aged and young
white men in farmer caps standing in front of a big barn. I can tell
you *my* heart dropped about six inches, as I, short, 39, and a
woman, looked from that caption to that picture for some reflection
of my role in farming's future as the AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST
presented it there.
So I'm likely to feel empowered by any effort to empower and make
visible other people who have traditionally been made to disappear.
Finally, when initiatives like this conference surface, I'd encourage
anybody who feels a reaction of ridicule, impatience, dismissal,
surprise, or anger to ask themselves: Why do I feel this way? Am I
so poor in connection that others' connecting make me feel poorer?
Thanks for listening, Fritz and all.
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
Community--that's what Jah say. --Alpha Blondy
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