Young and New Farmers in the Struggle for a Decolonial Food System

Black and white photo of cupped hands holding seedlings

Report Back on the National Farmers Union 2019 Youth Convergence

by Adabu B. Jefwa

From the 4th to the 7th of March 2019, nearly sixty young and new farmers gathered for the “National Farmers Union (NFU) 2019 Youth Convergence” in Parham, Ontario, 60 km North of Kingston on unceded Algonquin territory. The NFU is a farmer-led food sovereignty organization and a member of the global peasant movement, La Via Campesina. This convergence was, to my knowledge, the first time in a generation that young and beginning farmers had come together in such large numbers, from across the country, to talk about the issues that matter most to them.

There was a lot of excitement in the air. I personally did not know quite what to expect. After a long winter of school assignments, I’d almost forgotten all about farming. For many, as spring was approaching, the convergence interrupted very important farm planning and seed ordering work necessary for the upcoming season. Nonetheless, people were enthusiastic and everyone seemed to have an aura of eagerness to connect with and learn from each other.

The purpose of the convergence was to gather self-defined young and new farmers to come together to talk about the challenges we face within the food system, specifically in Canada, but across the globe as well. Discussion topics included ‘The Political Economy of Agriculture’ and ‘Farming in a Changing Climate’. There was a strong emphasis on ‘Building Solidarity to Decolonize the Food System,’ which was a workshop that focused on how Indigenous and non-Indigenous farmers, hunters, gatherers, and supporters can challenge settler-colonialism in the food system.

This is what drew me to attend the convergence. Not only was it organized to address farm production issues, it also focused the socio-political elements that shape production, and farmers’ lives and experiences. The challenges that arise out of political, environmental and social realms seem very distant from the everyday struggles faced by farmers working outside in the field. Although the economy and politics shape farmers experiences, these topics are rarely discussed within most mainstream food and agriculture organizations. For this reason, I felt the convergence was extremely important. It created a space for participants to talk about the systemic issues that impact farmers, the land and all people. At the same time, the convergence allocated time for folks to engage in farm specific details, such as farm management and growing practices.

The presentation by former Ardoch Algonquin Chief and professor, Bob Lovelace, was of particular importance to me given my commitments to decolonization. Prof. Lovelace spoke about building alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. He invited us to ask questions and participate in small-group discussions about what actions we can take and how we envision making change to decolonize the food system. As settlers on colonized lands it is important for us to, first, understand and acknowledge the ongoing colonial history of Canada and second, put intention into seeking justice in partnership with Indigenous peoples. Prof. Lovelace outlined a five-pronged approach to building solidarity between settlers and indigenous peoples and emphasized that it all begins with Research. Without knowing the history of the land and people it is impossible to engage in effective actions for decolonization. He then spoke about the importance of the four other prongs: Community Education, Legal Action, Direct Action and Healing as a means of supporting Indigenous peoples struggles.

We had discussions about issues around young farmers access to farmland. From what I understood, Prof. Lovelace was against the whole system of privatized and commercial land because it constitutes a colonial relationship to land. Canada’s settler-colonial system of land ownership reinforces dispossession of Indigenous peoples. It is also bad for Canadians as many of us across the country, especially young people, struggle with land access due to the high cost of land.

In one especially dramatic moment, Lovelace asked the nearly 60 farmers in the room to raise their hands if they owned the land they farmed. Only three people indicated that they owned land. This is because of the huge barriers of cost, access to financing and lack of support for farming, especially organic farming. (And even when farmers ‘own’ land, it’s usually not ‘owned’ by them but by the bank!). Lovelace emphasized that alternative relationships to land are possible, and already exist within Indigenous systems. He also emphasized that cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and settlers requires building trust and meaningful, long-term relationships. Only then, through true solidarity based on personal connections, not based in a self-satisfying identity of allyship, can a strong foundation be established for developing alternative systems that center around land and food sovereignty for both Indigenous peoples and Canadians.

A major contributing factor which made the convergence possible was the funding allocated to covering each participant’s travel costs, accommodations and food. Those from Ontario travelled by car while others took trains and planes from across the country. But everyone was reimbursed for their travel costs and no one was required to pay for the amazing meals that were served during the convergence. This made the convergence accessible for the many young and new farmers who are, by and large, struggling financially. On top of that, all of the dinners were locally sourced from farms around the area, including kegs of beer from a local brewery. Well nourished, and well accommodated, we were able to maintain high spirits throughout the duration of the convergence. This enabled a very open, vulnerable and cooperative space for folks to discuss the heavy topics we addressed.

The title ‘convergence’ was intentionally used to differentiate the event from a conference. A conference usually implies a formal, academic, lecture-based style of learning. The organizers, however, wished to create a more lateral climate in which everyone was welcomed, and encouraged, to share their knowledge and skills. This was accomplished by dividing the large group into smaller groups of 8 to 10 people. The groups were prompted to discuss amongst themselves then reunite for a sharing session whereby everyone contributed to a large group discussion. This allowed for people to share their perspectives and ideas and made for a comfortable space for people to work through challenging concepts without the pressure of 60 people listening.

The structure of the convergence made for an open and inclusive space that overall made people feel inspired and empowered to move forward in continuing the fight for food justice within the agricultural and broader food system. This was one of the wonderful outcomes of the convergence and reflects the need for these types of gatherings to occur more frequently amongst farmers with an inclusion of people who understand the importance and value of land.

This is not to say that there was no room for improvement. The convergence would have benefitted from a more culturally and racially diverse range of speakers and attendees. For me, struggles within the food system center primarily around engaging racialized communities and including racialized people in the fight for food sovereignty. Within Canada, it is extremely important to recognize and engage in Indigenous movements and struggles for sovereignty, but as a country built on white supremacy, it is also important to consider the ways in which racialized people and immigrants are included in activism for food sovereignty. Moving forward I urge for organizers, not only in the NFU, but within agricultural and food organizations more broadly, to put intention into including the voices of racialized people and immigrants, and especially migrant agricultural workers, for they play a huge role in the current agricultural system and hold a lot of knowledge that can contribute to envisioning alternative farm and food systems.

Farming matters because we all eat and we all rely on the land. We all also rely on caretakers of the land to regenerate a healthy, balanced ecosystem and provide us with the nutrients necessary to survive. Ensuring the sustainability of agriculture means deconstructing the current agricultural system based so heavily on corporate industrialization. It also means shifting to a more diverse range of alternatives that are suited to work in favor of all people across the globe. The NFU, La Via Campesina and many food justice organizations are working to make this shift possible. Gatherings such as the Youth Convergence that intentionally create space for building relationships between people who understand the importance of farms and land and are committed to preserving knowledge related to the land are necessary, and make it possible, to continue the movement for food justice and food sovereignty.

Adabu is a black queer student, farmer and DJ. She is committed to building a sustainable food system that is inclusive of black, indigenous and racialized people across the globe. She also believes in decolonization and building relationships through sharing knowledge and celebrating diverse cultures through food and music.

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.

Community Spaces

A Conversation with LAL

By Adabu Brownhill

     As a Queer black gender bending person, I live for spaces that center Queer and trans racialized people. Living in Canada those types of spaces are hard to find, sometimes impossible to find, unless you live in a bigger city with a diverse population. I actually moved from Guelph to Toronto just to be able to have access to spaces that are primarily for folks of colour and Queer and Trans people. Unit 2, a well-known community space in Toronto, run by two radical artists, specifically changed my entire perspective on safe and inclusive spaces. My introduction to Rose and Nic/LAL was life changing as they have an incredibly beautiful concept of community and hold their community down in ways I’ve never seen before. I interviewed rose about Unit 2, which is her loft apartment where she lives with her partner Nic. They live there, make music there and open their home to an entire community of Indigenous, Black, POC and Queer and Trans folks. They’re two of the most amazing, badass people I’ve ever met and they’re a huge inspiration for me and many other folks.

First off, the word ‘community’ is really trendy these days. what does community mean to you?

Hmmmm that’s hard.

      I mean our community (Nic and mine aka LAL), is pretty interesting and diverse so it’s kind of all over the place from queer/trans folks to straight folks (and in between) from BIPOC to allies, artists to academics…so my sense of community is always changing or I’m always learning how to make community more meaningful and how to support it.

    Community to me means treating people like family or chosen family. sometimes you don’t like them or they piss you off but you find ways to love, and forgive them (or not), or you love them just cuz.

     I think community means to forgive each other, have compassion and try our best not to come at each other but i to understand if we do from time to time, cuz we are all dealing with so much shit and pain and trauma.

     I believe community means to have each others you back, so if you need something then I’m there for you and I will drop what I got going to support. If you need food or cash or housing then we are here to support, and vice versa.I think lot of people talk about community, but really they are looking out for themselves, this annoys the crap of me but I have to learn not to get upset and allow people their own path.

What are ways that you build community?

    I build community mostly through word of mouth, through other relationships and also just being open to the universe (you def have to pay attention when you do this as well!). I def build through our arts/community space, like Unit 2. A lot of folks contact us and find out about what we are doing through friends and such We end up building community through the space, both performers and community members. We def build through music as well and art and social justice. I mean def have an online community but the community is very much connected to our ‘in life’ community, it’s just a continuation of how we work in the ‘non virtual world’.

    I think I also support a lot of folks, either with their art or lately been trying to be supportive one on one with folks who need some support and help. This is a very different way to build community cuz it’s one relationship at  a time but it’s also super important. I don’t want my job or my arts practice to get so busy that I don’t have room for folks nor do I want my art to be the only thing i really focus on. Life is my Art so community building is def part of this.

You’ve turned your home into a community space. How did that start?

Well, I got tired of the scene in Toronto, not being able to do what we wanted, always bowing down to corporate types (not always of course!) but just wanting to something different. It started off as just us trying to run some parties and provide space, and we slowly realized how there wasn’t enough safer space for Q/BIPOC folks and accessible space in terms of economics, and ability. Again we hadn’t really thought of any of this when we started and luckily (well it’s not really luck!), we got a space that was pretty accessible (the main space), and as we learned more about what folks needed, Unit 2 just began to shape itself. It’s been six years! and we’ve learned a lot and continue to learn and share space. The hope is to make it a full time community/arts space and get more people involved who want to create a DIT (Do It Together) vision. Big ups to Toyin Coker, Ange Loft, Kevin Jones, Juli(e), Ki, Cherish Blood, all the volunteers, and other folks who have lived at Unit 2 and supported and helped shape the vision of Unit 2!

 What do you find challenging when it comes to community/community spaces?

      It’s a lot of work. Wow so much work (laughing) and though we love it we def need some help for sure. We are reaching out more and more cuz we are burning out and we got a new album coming out so we can’t always run things for like nine hours plus set up and cleanup!

     It’s also a lot of energy work, cuz I’m basically keeping track of the room and the energy and vibes. From the outside it may look like we are (Nic, the volunteers, promoters and I) partying but really we are very much aware of what’s going on, in order to keep things safer.

     I used to be worried about all different communities coming together but now I’m feeling like this a great way to build trust, eat, dance, smoke, whatever before we start to do political-based work. 

    It’s also challenging to get folks to believe in DIT spaces, but people are craving for it. Just getting people to work together can be challenging but thus far it’s been pretty easy, just a lot of time and energy goes into this shit.

What are some cool QPOC (queer people of colour) community spaces that you know of in Toronto? Can you mention some outside of Toronto?

Blocko for sure, not a physical space but def Block (Black contingent of Pride) have been creating space for years!

There’s Double Double land for concerts, though I’m not that familiar with them and are building with them slowly now, but April is mad cool. 88 days has been building space/shows for years within Black queer shit. Outside of Toronto there’s loads, QPOC in Winnipeg, who we just connected with are doing amazing things and we are just beginning to find more Q/BIPOC space throughout Canada. Yes Yes Y’all has been doing parties for a while and d’bi young’s Watah school as well. In the US there’s tonnes from Allied Media conference in Detroit to DIY spaces in Oakland. we are planning a tour in the US are reaching out to folks. In Seattle there’s folks like Moni Tep and Black Constellation folks and My Parade has a DIY Q/BIPOC concert space in their home. There’s a lot in the US for sure and we are just beginning to build with folks. Brooklyn boihood in NY as well have been doing some wicked things. Just found out about Boys of Bangladesh but haven’t been able to connect yet (out of Dhaka). Black Lives Matter is doing a whole lot and in Toronto is working on a Freedom school for Black youth. Il nana is creating dance spaces for QBIPOC folks in Toronto, Crafty Queers is also doing some amazing work. The Drag musical creates space for BIPOC youth create Drag performances, and Native Youth Sexual Health Network is doing some amazing work, oh there’s also Children’s Peace Theatre! Gosh, there’s a bunch!

What advice can you give to people who are interested in organizing some sort of community space ?

Be patient, work with people who you trust and want to build with. Don’t get too ego’d out and allow things to unfold and build organically.Get people involved to support and do what you love. If you don’t love it, then don’t do it cuz it will burn you out. Ask for help when you need it and be open to feedback and making changes! don’t get into this power ego shit. work from a place of community and try your best not to let personal biases get in the way. Listen to people and don’t be afraid to try new shit. Try to make stuff accessible in all ways and reach out to communities, build bridges not walls! Take breaks when you need and be honest about what you can and cannot do! Be transparent or learn to be transparent, and share information and money!


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 others 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.

LAL
In the late 1990s, LAL introduced a political edge to the electronic underground, bridging the gap between art and social justice. They have carved out a strong diasporavoice in the Canadian music scene, which remains largely unexplored by mainstream media. They are queer / straight, black / brown, Asian and West-Indian and they are a mix of hiphop, techno, downtempo and international sounds. Unit 2 is their home and DIT (do it together) art and community space they run out of Toronto with friends. The space is mandated to support Q/BIPOC communities and our allies.