Claiming Our Clean Food Sovereignty

An Interview with The Black Farmers and Food Growers Collective

by Adabu Brownhill

Adabu: Who established the organization? When?

BFFGC: The Black Farmers and Food Growers Collective came out of the oppression of the Black Creek Community Farm located in the Jane & Steeles area, where infamous Jane and Finch is just south of the farm. The Collective was established by the Afro-farmers and local community members to address and dismantle racism and oppression as it pertains to our food system as well as the generational food oppression coming out of slavery. We are one of three local cross-cultural food access hubs in partnership with FoodShare Toronto funded through the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Access and Equity Toronto. We are still learning about some of our culturally appropriate foods from Africa and our vast afro food culture, we are also working to connect with other afro farmers in the diaspora from the Caribbean to share farming and food knowledge as it pertains to the afro-people’s experiences in the diaspora. The organization got started in 2013 officially after the Intensive Leadership Facilitation Training (ILFT), working to dismantle racism and food oppression in the food system as it pertains to the community. This training was done by “Growing Power” from Milwaukee and Chicago through the partnership with Foodshare Toronto local Empowerment Group (LEG), “Growing Food Justice For All Initiative.”

 

A: What is the main goal or vision of Black Farmers and Food Collective?

BFFGC: One of the main goals of the collective is to ensure that the “clean” (organic) food we grow gets distributed through collaborative partnerships such as pop-up communal markets in fresh food oppressed communities that are affordable and sustainable. Also encourage communal growing so food-insecure and oppressed members of the community can and will have access to clean and affordable local, culturally appropriate food that can be grown in Canada in the short growing season through collaborative efforts and participation.

A: Who is mainly involved with the organization? Do you have many participants from the Black community?

BFFGC: We are farmers, food growers, small food business owners and food-insecure families and individuals –eight members thus far. Our Collective presently are all Afro-people from the Caribbean, Canada and Africa. We get volunteers from right across the ethnic board. People have been stoked by what we’ve been able to accomplish this year, its magnitude, and the variety of crops we’ve grown.

A: Do you have garden space that you use to grow food? How does that work?

BFFGC: This year we rented a half acre of land from Fresh City Farms – a local organic farm that operates out of Downsview Parkc at Keele & Sheppard Ave, West. We had written formally to the Black Creek Community Farm steering committee in 2014 and made a request for an acre of the land to do the work we are now doing but our request was laid under the rug and locked away! We are now working towards our own farm and growing spaces in the city with future community collaborations wishing to address food security and food justice issues as they pertain to affordable and sustainable and other racialized communities.

A: In my experience agriculture in Ontario is extremely dominated by white people. What are your views on this? Do you feel that Black Farmers and Food Collective address the issue of environmental racism?

BFFGC: Yes, I agree with you but once upon a time we had productive and stable farming communities; this was how we fed ourselves and shared food with each other– trading through commerce and land ownership. After our younger generations left their communities for the big cities they abandoned their roots in the agricultural sector and assimilated into the wider food culture which has impacted us in a very negative way through many types and diseases and sickness. Historically we were also driven off land and much of  this lands  was used to redevelop middle to high-income communities, unfortunately just like like all the other oppressive tactics perpetrated against us these issues were swept under the rug! As a collective member I have the right to live, work, contribute, play and invest in myself and my community just as any other ethnic groups in Ontario and I can do it anywhere in any community I choose. This is what we do presently, we share space with such a high profile farm in the local urban sphere. Our encouragement to community is to empower them through a variety of engagements. We work with our community as they come and we meet them where they are presently but we ensure we leave them more empowered than how we found them through the work we are doing to dismantle racism and oppression and to empower ourselves and the community.

A:  Can you tell me about what kinds of things volunteers can get involved with?

BFFGC: Yes, we welcome volunteers to help us in capacities that they are knowledgeable or want to learn with us. We are still grassroots but are working towards developing and becoming an independent local cross-cultural food access innovation hub for Afro-people and other community members who wants to support our work and experiences.

For more information, check out www.blackfarmersto.wordpress.com


 

Adabu Brownhill
Adabu Brownhill (DurtyDabz) is a Black/Mixed, Queer, FemmeBro dedicated to fighting for Mother Earth and the Liberation of Black & Indigenous Peoples and All People Of Colour. She is a badass DJ as well as a passionate gardener. She strives to decolonize agriculture in Ontario and create farming/gardening spaces that are fun and kool for racialized folks. She dreams of a farm where People Of Colour be chillin’, bumpin hella beats, planting seeds, harvesting herbs and eating gourmet meals while making jokes and enjoying each other’s company. She draws inspiration from radical underground artists such as Junglepussy, Destiny Frasqueri (Princess Nokia), Jay Boogie and Le1f. Her favorite foods are spicy meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.

A Letter to Governor Dayton

by Winona LaDuke

The year is 2015, but colonialism is alive and well in the Great Lakes region, and so is Anishinaabe resistance. In addition to the state’s profound mismanagement of our natural resources, we now face multiple new crude oil pipelines and non-ferrous metal mines proposed in the heart of our territory, endangering our sacred waters, our manoomin (wild rice), and our survival. But our movement to protect our Mother Earth is powerful and growing fast. One arm of the resistance is an effort to affirm our federally-protected hunting and gathering rights in ceded territory. In August, Anishinaabe ricers took to the lakes en masse to harvest without permits, exercising rights guaranteed in the 1855 Treaty, but consistently violated.   

September 3rd, 2015

Dear Governor Dayton

We would like to eat. Our people have been jailed for snaring rabbits, hunting and lost our boats and nets. It is time to evolve our relationship with the state. This last week, your Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to issue some citations to Ojibwe people for ricing on Hole-in-the-Day Lake. That is, after the cameras were gone.The officers went out to track down Morningstar and Harvey Goodsky citing them for harvesting wild rice off the reservation, without state permission. Sort of like “poaching wild rice.” This is out of line. Let me do my best to explain why.

When my ancestors signed the treaty of 1855, Anishinaabe Akiing, our land, was in good shape. We could all drink the water from these lakes; wild rice was throughout our territory; fish, moose and wolves were abundant; and the maple trees were in their glory. That treaty was with the US government, and somehow you are now managing the assets of the 1855 treaty, or most of them. You are failing to care for what we love.

This is what I see. Some ninety percent of the wetlands have been drained. The western third of Minnesota, including the 1855 treaty territory, was once covered with wetlands. Today, even though Minnesota is spending millions of dollars annually, the state is still losing more than it restores. Fish: Well, these days a pregnant woman or a child can eat only one meal a month of a walleye (under two feet), bass, catfish or northern, none of the larger ones. Coal fired generation causes that. The rest of us can eat once a week, before we have to worry about methyl mercury poisoning. Wow.

Now your fisheries department has managed to crash the Mille Lacs fishery. Let me remind you that the Mille Lacs band did not do that, and has volunteered to forgo tribal harvest for next year. This crash resulted from the folly of your politics and the 2006 decision to increase the limit, despite scientific and tribal expertise which set the limit at 350 000 pounds. Minnesota fishery staff secured a legislative approval for 550 000 pounds. Nice work. The walleye population in 2014 was its lowest in thirty years. And, many of your lakes are dying from agricultural runoff and invasive species.

Anishinaabeg people have always lived with the moose and the wolf. You have allowed their destruction by corporate and special interests driven myopic management policies. Let me be clear: In July of 2015, the Center for Biological Diversity and Honor the Earth filed a request to list the Moose as endangered. In just ten years time, moose numbers in Minnesota have dropped from nearly 9 000 to as few as 3 500. Why? Habitat destruction caused by mining and logging industries and over harvesting. Now, scientists agree that the greatest threat which could virtually eliminate moose from Minnesota within five years stems from climate change. Yet the state continues to forward a fossil fuels based energy policy, from dirty oil pipelines, to a “clean energy plan” which uses coal gasification as a centerpiece of stupidity.

Frankly, your forest management policies alone could have almost wiped out the moose. A 2006 study found that six of the twelve known wildlife corridors in the Mesabi Iron Range will likely become isolated,fragmented, or lost completely, and almost 9 000 acres of habitat will likely be destroyed. That’s what new logging and mining projects will do to the moose.

Minnesota has made a mockery of stewardship and respect by failing to understand the nature of the wolf in the north and the centrality of the wolf to Anishinaabeg people. In 2014, DNR announced an increase in wolf hunting permits: 3 800 hunting and trapping licenses available for the coming season, up from 3 500 last year, allowing up to 250 wolves to be killed before the season closed. This forced federal court action, but also forced the Ojibwe tribes to declare wolf sanctuaries on our reservations and push for the same in our treaty territories.

You have cost us many of our trees. Our chief Wabunoquod spoke of how the great pines had been stolen from our people, and cried at the loss, as they were our ancestors. The maple basswood forest system is in serious decline, and many of our most productive maple sugarbush areas in the 1855 treaty territory have been cut, without regard for us. This leaves families without food and sugar.

Now you come for the wild rice. You have cost us fifty percent of the manoomin in the north. Let us be clear, this is the only grain indigenous to North America and is far more nutritious than GMO crops. Yet dam projects destroy our precious food, and now the state intends to weaken sulfate standards which protect our waters and wild rice so that you can open up mining in the north for Canadian, Chinese and other foreign interests.

Then there’s the baffling pipelines – four of them – through our best wild rice territories, all pushing through the entirely dysfunctional system of the Department of Commerce and Public Utilities Commission which will not even speak formally with tribal governments.Please explain to me again, why our people should be arrested for harvesting wild rice? The state has shown no regard for the north. We would like to eat and continue the life we were given by the Creator.

Winona LaDuke

Executive Director of Honor the Earth

www.honorearth.org


 

Winona Laduke
Winona LaDuke is an internationally renowned Anishinaabe author, orator and activist working on issues of renewable energy, food sovereignty, indigenous economics, and human rights.  She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, and is a two-time US Vice Presidential candidate. She is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, one of the largest reservation based nonprofit organizations in the country, and has received a long

list of awards and accolades, including membership in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Reebok Human Rights Award, and the International Slow Food Award for Biodiversity. In her current role as Executive Director of Honor the Earth, she works nationally and internationally on issues of environmental justice in indigenous communities and a graceful transition to a just, green, post-fossil fuel economy.

Shovel to Fork: Organic Farming

By Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte

There is no doubt that eating a natural and pesticide-free meal three times a day is a healthier option than devouring that juicy one-dollar Big Mac from McDonald’s. While I myself grew up with healthy options available to me, the discussion around organic agriculture and cuisine became a passion of mine when my daughter was born. I did my research on which products were from organic sources by the stickers they bore or the companies they came from; I spent countless hours blending sweet potatoes or plums into an edible mush simply because I knew what chemicals were put into them. While making my daughter’s food in bulk seemed to save money, the fact of the matter was that spending an extra five dollars on a box of strawberries was drastically outside my budget as a new mother. I needed a new solution that would meet the needs of my daughter, my values and my pocket book. With the help my father who has a particularly green thumb (not literally), we started our own organic garden from heirloom seeds and trusted plant nurseries. We grew vegetables, herbs and an ever-blooming source of strawberries—many of which were put in the freezer to use over the winter months. Not only was this more affordable and sustainable, but it was grounding, beautiful and filled with all sorts of healthy connections that extended outside of just our nutritional health. The food tasted better too. It tastes real.

Granted, there are now more grocery stores and food supplement locations that are opting to include an increase in organic products for their customers, their prices continue to fall outside the budget of many low to mid income families. Organic gardening and organic farming can be a more sustainable and cost-efficient option for healthy food security. Community-wide organic farming can also create the opportunity to build relationships with the land and our culture as well.

How does organic farming build relationships to the culture? It starts at the beginning of life. It starts by honouring the natural world and our own bodies through ways we work with the land (not just on it). The land teaches us about ourselves through the investment we make to maintain our gardens. This relationship to the process then reflects our relationships to others. Like other healthy relationships, a good relationship with our gardens starts with care, patience and a drive to be understanding. We made sure certain plants received partial sun and that others received full sun. We are aware of companion planting and can determine which plants empower each other to grow and which ones could not function together. To protect our little seedlings, we plant certain flowers and herbs around our gardens that naturally warded off animals and insects and we continue to prune, weed and water them as they grow. We put a lot of our selves into our food and medicines. Sounds a lot like building a community doesn’t it? Our ancestors knew a lot about the land and how to care for it as a community; the land in turn knew how to care for us as well. It was a relationship between entities and not an entitlement to humankind. There was gratification and thankfulness throughout the process and past the harvesting season. For myself, there is that same gratitude from shovel to fork, knowing that our spaghetti sauce was made from home-grown tomatoes or that our salad was tossed with cucumbers and lettuce picked by our children.

 

The most satisfying aspect of it all was seeing my daughter, as a two year old, pick out the wild garlic or the pole beans and know that it was for food and for medicine. She loved them; she really did. I was and am proud to see her develop a strong and ancestral relationship to the land through holistic health. In this way, organic Farming can be cultural security as well. Organic farming has potential be the start of a community-wide reconnection to the land. In building a relationship to the land we are building a relationship to ourselves; our identity (from ceremonies to the ohenton kariwatekwen) is tied directly to land. In many ways, we are the land. This connection is not only essential to our identity; it expands to influence all other aspects of our indigeneity as well.

I believe, that in order to truly fight for our identity or even to negotiate land claims, we (and the generations to follow) need reconnect to our bodies in a real way. In reality, how can we hope to fight for land claims if we have never touched the land?

Organic farming can be a way to not only increase food security and address our major health concerns (diabetes in particular), but it can give our community a large-scale opportunity to live our identity rather than label it. I see it as community-wide healing, restructuring, and grounding. Granted, organic farming can be a time-consuming investment that may not fit into the lives, deadlines and obligations of everyone. But maybe taking that time to slow down is exactly what we need to stop moving so fast and learn to look again through the eyes of our ancestors.


 

Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte
Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte is a young mother, artist, art educator, and art therapist candidate from the Kahnawake Mohawk First Nation community. She is currently completing a MA at Concordia University in Art Therapy, with focus on healing multigenerational trauma and attachment through visual media. Outside of her schooling, Megan is actively involved with the Kahnawake Youth Forum, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and the Indigenous Young Women’s National Advisory Board providing an arts-based approach to social change. Her main project, Skatne Ionkwatehiahrontie, is a young parents program that aims to support attachment parenting, explore sexual health and connect youth to cultural networks. Megan’s social work in these spaces also inspire her artistic development, having her art pieces reflect concepts of healthy relationships, indigenous ‘womanism’, as well as environmental, reproductive, and social justice.