Agriculture's necessity in liberation / "I thought of land people live on, develop and make profitable but do not own ... contemporary serfs, forced off when beneficial for proverbial landlords"



While picking shell peas and green beans one steaming day, I got to thinking again about why I'm doing this. I was tired, lost the connection to my task, and missed my family. I am currently interning on a farm in southwest Michigan, owned by liberal, “social justice” young whites, with all white interns, who more times than not still (for all their information on oppression) do not comprehend the extreme disparities between Africans around the world and whites of the most important and basic of necessities. Amidst the irritants (the stifling heat, persistent mosquitoes and gnats, and never-ending reminders that I am the “other”), I have to remember why I came here in the first place.

I looked for an internship that catered to a student with no extensive knowledge in planting, harvesting, and caring for an organic farm. I needed people who were passionate about feeding people food of the highest nutritional value, in ways least damaging to the product and the environment. A group who knows how to manage a farm business, worked with local farmers, and was honest to their consumers about the food they were buying. After a long, unfruitful search for African farmers in Michigan who share my vision of an organic African food network and (re)connecting Black folk with their ability to positively manipulate the Earth, I settled on the farm I currently reside.

During my moment of frustration, I reminisced on the land being seized by corporations & governments from small farmers in many countries in Africa (New York Times: "African Farmers Displaced as Investors Move In") namely Mali, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, etc. I thought of the land that so many Black people live on, develop, and make profitable for the insatiable capitalist system that rules the global economic order but do not own and are therefore contemporary serfs, forced off when beneficial for the proverbial landlords. And I thought of my family in the U.S., many who grew up working with older family members sharecropping but had the benefit of fresh food, as it came from the Earth, sans the harmful preservatives and insecticides such as (formaldehyde and carboxymethylcellulose).


{related: Battle For Brooklyn trailer}

Many of my family members can't understand why I'd do seemingly backward movement farm work, during the summer, on a white farm no less. I was then taken to George Washington Carver. This genius, who was enslaved during his childhood and treated no better upon physical emancipation, continued to labour in the field of agriculture in hopes of providing sustainability for his people and farmers abroad. His research in transforming crops like sweet potatoes and peanuts into reusable necessities such as gasoline, a variety of other palatable foods, and cosmetics helped replenish much of the soil that had been exhausted from cotton and was ahead of its time in environmental safety by excluding the use of precious fossil fuels for his creations.

Foreigners throughout the centuries have plundered Africa’s vital resources, resulting in the vast empires that exist today. Just as a global network of imports and exports has been created between developed nations and exploitation of developing nations, African people can and should create a food network of small-scale farmers across these arbitrary nation-state lines. While "you can’t get back what you never owned"* we should be the stewards of the land granted to us from Nature and use it responsibly to produce food fit for human consumption (*as Nana Peazant from the film ‘Daughters of the Dust’ noted). Land “ownership” in the African worldview, taking back control of our familial lands, is integral to reclaiming our selves, maintaining our families, and nation-building. Self-sustenance saves money by not relying on grocery stores (whose prices will inevitably rise with the decrease of arable land and water fit for consumption), conserves the Earth’s swiftly decreasing materials by not relying on fuel and packaging to transport food over long distances, and re-builds and maintains the innate spiritual connection we share with the Earth. Growing your own food will require one to be politically responsible, as it is tied to land rights (whether it be the regulations of a suburban/urban complex or acres in a state); as an African person anywhere in the world you will have to defend your right to grow natural produce to heal your Self and contribute to the restoration of the Earth.

It dawned on me during my junior year of university that if we don’t learn how to heal our Earth and respect our bodies by providing it with the authentic food it needs (to replenish itself and ourselves), we’ll perish. We can and will remain slaves to a system that creates and manufactures products that break down brain cells and keep oppressed peoples mindless to the fact that they are in fact oppressed if we do not re-member how to grow our own foods. Small-scale farming, wherever you are, is the key to a healthier life as it is not as exhaustive to the soil as commercial farming and uses less of the already dwindling water supply. The flavor of food grown nearby is also more delicious because it does not require preservatives (which will alter a fresher, sweeter, or more savory [depending on the crop] flavor) to maintain natural flavors. Children grown up on food as it comes from the Earth will be less enticed to eat or purchase food that has been waxed or dyed to appeal to the popular look of fruits and vegetables today. Liberation is in the ground we’re at.

I don't have any amazing ideas for inventions (yet) but I’m striving to learn all that I can about permaculture. This would give one the skills to design a farm in any type of environment and train/work with people unfamiliar to the field in using where they reside for self-sustenance. If We (African people) can plant/harvest (in a manner that sustains the Earth we use), sell, and trade subsistence/cash crops with each other, around the world, I think we'd have an amazing liberation scheme on our hands. Agriculture, done sustainably, can not only heal the Earth but also our communities and our spirits. Black people are master preservationists. We can be just as proficient at agriculture (again).

These connections are why I sought out an agricultural internship. I’m learning the different ways of planting, the seasons, weeding, and the basics of sustainable agriculture, organic farming, and agri-business. I have the time and resources here to research more on how to till the land in the few seasons that we have left (four definitive seasons appear to be diminishing).

I thought being here, in a small white town in West Michigan, would bury my soul but in all moments, especially when I'm alone, my Ori is ever present. Moferefun to my Egun and all the Orisa for always being with me and whispering to me of the necessity of these skills. It may not be my "dream job (or internship)," but I'm definitely getting what I need. I came to learn how to find/develop a cooperation of people dedicated to providing wholesome food to consumers, growing the food and the labyrinth of considerations that must be reviewed, and how to ultimately use what you grow as energy that won’t disintegrate this planet or our bodies. As my sister reminded me, “I’m doing what I have to do, to do what I want to do.”

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by Sawdayah Brownlee (Intern, The Liberator Magazine)