Climate change is one of the foremost factors affecting food insecurity and sovereignty efforts and it’s Black people who will lead the fight against it.
By Zymora Cleopatra Davinchi
Before Black folks were kidnapped and ripped away from their families and ancestral homes—forced into cramped and disease-infested slave ships, and scattered throughout the Americas and Caribbean islands to endure generations of bondage and brutality at the hands of white colonial rule—Black women secretly gathered seeds native to West Africa and braided them into their hair to plant in the ‘New World’.
When Black folks were shipped to the plantation in the Americas, they were given the worst parts of the livestock and their masters’ old food scraps to survive. Yet somehow they still created delicious West African-inspired soul food.
Since the days of Chattel Slavery, Black people have been experiencing food insecurity in their communities due to America’s deep reliance on and fondness of institutional racism. Black folks who’ve endured the life of apartheid have had to find creative ways to feed their communities and families.
In the late 1960s, the Black Panther Party established a welfare initiative called the Free Breakfast for School Children Program, which successfully fed over 10,000 kids every day across the country. This program helped propel the passage of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, which the United States government still operates today to provide free and reduced-cost lunches to school children who come from low-income families.
Today, Black people have the highest reported poverty rate in the United States of America and are two times more likely than any other demographic to experience food insecurity. Food justice is not just a matter of addressing food deserts and insecurity in historically disenfranchised communities. It’s also about land sovereignty for Black people, radical economic justice, access to quality and culturally appropriate healthcare, and about reparations for all of the horrors of anti-Blackness.
Recommended: Part One: Black-Owned Urban Farms in Atlanta
Climate change is one of the foremost factors affecting food insecurity and food sovereignty efforts nationally and internationally. Currently, we are living through the greatest mass-extinction that we’ve ever known, and even though Mother Nature may not care who she takes out, white supremacy does.
Black people are the first and the worst to be impacted by climate change. This means that it is no coincidence that after four years of protest and upset, a predominantly Black city like Flint, Michigan still does not have clean water to drink, bathe in, or cook with. It means that young children in the South Bronx are diagnosed with early-onset asthma due to air pollution in their communities. It means that Black homeowners during Hurricane Katrina were three times more likely to be flooded than their white counterparts due to decades worth of racist housing policies.
Once the climate crisis finally begins to affect white communities, society-at-large will not care whether or not Black communities are underwater, or if they have food to feed their children.
I believe that Black people will inform and spearhead the inevitable food sovereignty movements that will begin popping up around the world due to the worsening effects of the climate crisis.
From Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, and upstate New York, to Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington D.C, Black people have transformed their destitute, poverty-stricken communities into meccas for urban farming in order to thrive and combat systemic food insecurity.
We, as Black people in the US, should work towards converting all of our communities into places where we can sustainably grow fresh food, harness renewable energy, prepare for catastrophic weather, and continue raising our families.
Black neighborhoods are disproportionately subjected to a drought of grocery stores, instead plagued with an abundance of fast-food restaurants, so-called “bodegas,” “corner stores,” and major pharmaceutical companies. This is an intentionally-created condition we’ve come to know as food deserts, and ultimately food apartheid.
Recommended: Part Two: Black-Owned Urban Farms in the DMV
These conditions create a vicious cycle of dependency on depreciating sources of food, and on pharmacies for relative cures. Unfortunately, Black communities have also been denied access to adequate healthcare, and many are uninsured. Due to the lack of access to quality health insurance, many in these communities are forced to allocate precious funds towards temporary symptom-relieving drugs.
As an alternative to relying on the pharmaceutical industry and struggling to pay healthcare bills, fresh food that is grown on urban farms in Black communities can act as a treatment for common ailments. Plant-based diets can lower the risk of hypertension and combat high-rates of hysterectomies, fibroids, and other diseases, according to the medical practices of the holistic health practitioner, herbalist, and author of Sacred Woman: A Guide to Healing the Feminine Body, Mind, and Spirit, Queen Afua. Throughout the United States, urban farming is helping to provide agricultural jobs to community members, support local businesses and start-up companies, as well as granting low-income people access to food in communities without adequate grocery stores.
For example, the urban agricultural organization, Keep Growing Detroit, has proven to be successful in their endeavor to address food insecurity and feed the local Detroit community. Keep Growing Detroit has over 70 recurring gardens and distributes tens of thousands of seeds and transplants to other farmers within their network to support over 1,500 local gardens around the city. They have developed a program called Grown in Detroit, which collaborates with 70 small farmers to help them sell their produce at local farmer’s markets, in which they receive one hundred percent of the proceeds. By the end of 2019, Keep Growing Detroit was able to harvest over 3,600 pounds of food.
Recommended: Part Three: Black-Owned Urban Farms: California
Black people are the original farmers of this country; the agricultural industry and the technology that we have today wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of enslaved Black people. The rice industry in South Carolina and Georgia would not exist without the West African techniques of irrigation and the advanced understanding of hydraulics that enslaved Black people brought from their homelands.
Since the abolition of slavery and the end of sharecropping, Black farmers have been barred from partaking in the agricultural industry via numerous racist policies. Laws such as the California Alien Land Law of 1913, which prevented all people of color from owning land in the state, and the veto of Special Field Orders No. 15 (40 Acres and a Mule) by President Andrew Johnson, which granted reparations to formerly enslaved Black families. In addition, the U.S Department of Agriculture has a longstanding history of discriminating against Black farmers and denying them loans to support their businesses.
Today, Black farmers only operate 1% of the total farms in the United States and have lost over 12 million acres of land due to institutional racism. This, among many other reasons, is why it is crucial to center Black people in the conversation around urban farming and food sovereignty, especially in terms of land ownership and helping ensure that Black people reach their goal of self-determination, for generations to come.
We must support Black-operated and Black-owned farms like Keep Growing Detroit, which works to educate and uplift local community members, more specifically small Black and brown farmers through urban agricultural practices. Take, for example, Soul Fire Farm—which does similar work to Keep Growing Detroit, and is co-directed by Leah Penniman who is the author of the book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land.
We must combat food apartheid and food insecurity, increasing health disparities caused by poor sources of food, predatory pharmaceutical companies, agro-institutional and environmental racism, and land theft within Black communities. Urban farming is one way that we can do this, as Black people. However, for many, urban farming can seem impossible, especially for those who lack access and resources, but there are small ways that everyday people can participate and demonstrate resistance. We can begin by composting, thrift shopping, reducing our overall intake of animal products, reusing plastic bags (as Black people have always done), bringing water bottles to work, or even planting seeds in abandoned plots of land—like Black folks have begun to do in cities like Detroit and the South Bronx.
Black people need to tap back into our roots and begin farming again. Although farming may be re-traumatizing and has the potential to be an incredibly painful journey, due to our first encounters with farming on plantations, our communities depend on us being able to exercise those sacred practices and utilize our ancestral knowledge of agriculture. These long-standing traditions are vital to our survival in the face of climate change.
Zymora Cleopatra Davinchi (she/ her/ hers), is an activist and Vermont Native. This Queer, mixed-race, Black woman has exhibited work at the United Nations, Middlebury College, and the Clemmons Family Farm and Cultural Center. She has curated and facilitated multiple racial and social justice workshops for the Vermont-based nonprofit organization, The Peace and Justice Center. For whom, she created a workshop called The Evolution of Black Beauty, which was the first of its kind, developed specifically for and by self-identifying Black folks.
She also served as the student liaison of a group called Stand Up for Social Justice, a foundation created by two local anti-racist activists. Zymora is now a first-generation undergraduate student at the University of Vermont, where she is studying in the field of Public Communication with a minor in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies.
She is passionate about all things relating to and impacting Black and brown people and communities, especially from an intersectional perspective that takes into account class, gender, sexuality, and more. During her free time, she enjoys collecting vinyl records, visiting art museums, and drinking tea.