Conversations in the Community with Shakara Tyler and Erin Preston-Johnson Bevel

March 25, 2021

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Though the original Go Fund Me is no longer active, you can always contribute to the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund via CashApp ($detroitblackfarmer). If you’re interested in donating other kinds of things (land, farm equipment, other kinds of needs Black farmers may have), you can send them an email at detroitblackfarmerlandfund@gmail.com      

 

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Video Transcript

All right. It's 1230, so we're going to get started. I'll ask my fellow speakers to share their video and come join us. All right, So we're excited for today's conversations. My colleague Naim Edwards, who's also a community food systems person with MSU Extension is going to be our special co-host today. So thanks for joining us and Naim, I'll pass it to you to introduce our other speakers today. [Naim] Thank you, Abby jumping right in. Greetings, good afternoon everybody. My name is Naim Edwards. I believe the topic for today is essentially a discussion of the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund. And I am happy to welcome Dr. Mama. Shakara Tyler and and Erin do you have any preferred titles? [Erin} Mama Erin is fine! [Naim} Welcome. And I simply wanted to preface the discussion with Cabin Fever Conversations and a lot of topics that MSU focuses on and certainly the agricultural sector and academia is production. Sustainable techniques, pest control. The gauntlet of things that make agriculture more viable from pretty much a commodity or production standpoint. But there is a whole realm of social, political, economic, racial components that are often under discussed, but warrant just as much discussion and light and space as the how to grow vegetables piece. So when Abby asked if I had a topic to offer or think about for this year's Cabin Fever series, one of the things that came to mind was the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund which I will let Mama Shakara speak more about, but essentially it was an effort to start to address, or more directly address land ownership and issues around not having land being shared equitably and not having kind of equal representation. African Americans, especially in the city of Detroit and the agriculture scene for land ownership. So with that, I can let Mama Shakara and Mama Erin introduce themselves and we will jump into the questions piece. I also wanted to say we had anticipated having Mama Jerri Hebron on as well, but she was not able to make it. And I simply wanted to ask that everyone share thoughts, prayers, positive energy, send those her way. We are happy to have Erin in her place So thanks Erin for filling in last minute and I'll pass it to both of you all. [Shakara} Thanks, Naim and Abby and others, it's really great to be here with you all. So I'll start by introducing myself. I'm Shakara Tyler I've been a part of the MSU community for some time, working as an academic outreach specialist. at the Center for Regional Food Systems in the past, and I've also, obtained my Ph.D from Michigan State and the Department of Community Sustainability studying black agrarianism and the intersecting philosophies like around food sovereignty, climate, justice, et cetera. And I work very closely with black farmers in Detroit and other places around the country. And that's how I got involved with the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund I'm a board member of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and the Detroit People's Food Co-op. And I'll pass it to Mama Erin. [Erin] Thank you Mama Shakara. I hope everyone's doing well. My name is Erin Preston-Johnson Bevel. I'm a Michigander I have lived here since I was six. I did go the University of Michigan so I am a Wolverine, here but it's all love. And then I went to DC. I went to law school there. I call myself, a recovering lawyer of sorts. So I worked in the government, spent 12 years in DC, and that's where I met my husband. And so ever since my husband and I met, we have grown food together. So whether it was a small community garden plot or now we have a large backyard where we have a pretty awesome garden operation that we're getting ready to start for the season. So as I became a mother as well, it just became so apparent to me how important it is to, you know, for, for us especially as black people, brown people, people of color, on BIPOC folks for us to be growing our own food and reclaiming our relationship with land, which looks very different maybe than what it did in ancient times or even in early America. So I have become involved with the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. I'm the newest member of the board. So really excited to use some of my kind of Legal Eagle knowledge for, for my community and also just bringing together the worlds of things that are so important to me, which is the culture in agriculture, right? And the culture of my people. And also, again, as a mother, as a wife, as a family person. Just the importance of us teaching our children and teaching the next generation how to grow their own food, and how to take care of the land. So thanks for having me. and I'm a member of the board of the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund [Abby] We're really excited to have you both here and it's great to learn a little bit more about how you got to where you are. I'm wondering if you can just start by if you all could share the story of the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, including the "why" of how it came to be and then maybe built in that we like to ask our panelists what brings them joy, or hope about the project they're currently working on. So what about a is bringing you joy, or inspiration. Who would like to start first? [Erin] I don't know if I can Share my screen now, if you will disable the screen-sharing I can share my screen and show you something that, that does bring me joy about the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, I mean, it, of course was born on the fact that there are in Detroit majority black city, right? And we're seeing this transition to urban, urban farming, urban agriculture but it wasn't representative of the city. And even when you get into some of the logistics of, you know, again, I think we'll talk about this later. Land acquisition and how can people utilize and beautify their communities, which is a lot of, you know, what I think a lot of our awardees wanted to do was just take these parts of their community and turn it into something that's not only beautiful, but that can also, that can feed people, that can bring people joy. The practice of gardening and stewarding land. is very important and so the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund was born from this desire and this, and this need for black people in Detroit to be able to take these parts of their city and beautify them and utilize them, as they would like to, as agriculturalists and as farmers. That was really the seed, right? [Abby] Yeah, if you want to share your screen, you can share, [Erin] I can very quickly show this is what brings me joy, right? This is what we were able to do just in one year, right? There are gardens and farms that are going to be coming up all over the city. Black farms, people that are going to be connected to each other. So working together as a cohort in a sense, but it's still all over the city. and when we were able to put this map together, it is such a good representation of what brings me joy. [Shakara] That's on point Mama Erin And I'll add a little bit about the people and their relationships that sort of started at this process as well. And so Tepfirah Rushdan who is the co-director of Keep Growing Detroit realized in her work of connecting city farmers and gardeners to the Detroit Land Bank Authority and other people that were involved and land acquisition in the city. Black people in particular much more difficult time assessing land compared to white Detroiters And we know that this isn't particular to the city of Detroit. This is a national trend... a national phenomenon where people of color, specifically black people, have a lot of difficulty acquiring land, whether it's leasing or purchasing. And so in her professional technical assistance role at Keep Growing Detroit, she began to have multiple conversations with myself, with Baba Malik Yakini, who's the Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network with other people in the city. Mama Jerri Hebron, other people, other black agrarian organizations in the city to see what we can do about this. And so this has really been our institution as it has emerged, has been sort of meditating behind the scenes for a few years. And we were trying to figure out what to do, how to do it, and how to organize ourselves. And last spring during the beginning of the pandemic and the recent uprisings that converged in the pandemic. And how there was this huge, overwhelming spirit around donating resources, not just money, the resources generally to black indigenous people of color communities. Tepfirah reached out to everyone and said this is the time we have to move on. this now. We're in the right political moment where predominantly white institutions are flowing money to people of color organizations, Black organizations in particular. And this is a really ripe moment for us to take advantage of to address this issue. And so we set the goal of raising $5000 launching a campaign on Juneteenth 2020. And we ended up raising five thousand dollars within the first day or two. And by the time the campaign ended, we ended up raising over 60 thousand dollars by August, I think it was. So we were completely blown away. We didn't expect that at all. The overwhelming community support was a sign that we are on the right track. This is the, this is what we should be doing to solve we should be doing it. And so now we have the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund that's led by a team of black woman agrarians in the city. And we're gearing up for our next campaign for Juneteenth 2021 and we have the goal of raising.... definitely.... hopefully.... we can double the amount that we raised last year with awarding approximately 25 percent more Detroit farmers and gardeners with land in the city, land grants in the city. [Naim] Excellent stuff. So I really wanted to, I guess dig into the compost, if you will, about the significance of the fund, why individuals would want to give $60 thousand? And I was thinking, we could start with what happens when black people don't own land as a way of indicating why black land ownership is important. And once black people own land, how does that lead to change in the community and the stuff that the whole Fund was established for. [Shakara] I can start from there. I'll start with some basic statistics. So according to the USDA Ag Census, white farmers comprise approximately 94 percent of farm operators on a national level. And 98% of the acres. And of course, this isn't by coincidence. This is strategically designed based on the stolen wealth, that was, was basically distributed to white settlers and excluded people of color, particularly African descendants, who were newly emancipated through the Emancipation Proclamation. Which was a sham. But that's a whole different discussion. And so we are living in a political, we're living in a moment in our world where we are seeing the vast wealth inequities and how they impact our society in terms of what land ownership looks like, not only within Michigan or Detroit, but on a national level. And so it's really important that we understand that the more land we get into black people's hands, the more societal transformation will occur because land ownership represents a lot more than profit. Land ownership represents economic well-being, represents political power. And all of these things that had been socially constructed with the onset of colonialism and imperialism and all these things. And so land ownership is extremely important when we talk about social justice, food justice, food sovereignty. All of these really niche ideas and practices that are assertive. Pontificated in various circles, academic, non-profit, et cetera. And so land ownership really is the center of, of all of the justices because when we talk about redistributing land more equitably across populations, particularly those that have historically done the work on the land and will continue to do the work on the land because of how our society is shaped. We really get to the core of vast inequalities and inequities around hunger, poverty, houselessness And the list goes on. I'll pass the mic to Mama Erin. [Erin] Oh, yeah. I mean, you you said it just right. I mean, if you, when you think about, again, the Founding Fathers and the creation of what we know as America now know it was based on the thoughts of people who own land. America has always been about who owns land and that's who's at the table. And that's who, you know, owning land also has a very huge role to play. not just even political power, but even like political status, right? Like just, from a historical standpoint. And currently we still we still see it. And not only that, you know, again in terms of people BIPOC folks, people of African and indigenous descent. And our role and the role of many cultures around the world as Earth keepers, right? And so when we're talking about also making sure that more land is in black hands. That's also about bringing back the culture of Earth keeping of stewarding the Earth, and getting away from this concept of land and Earth as profit. You know that the Earth is a living being and the Earth needs Earth keepers to be in constant communication with it. And I think we've seen how detrimental the the kind of imbalance of land distribution and land ownership has caused obviously during the pandemic. You know our planet is, is crying out for help and assistance because we've completely changed to this, this mindset of land for profit and are not thinking about how are we going to again sustain ourselves. You know, agriculture has always been and has developed from a culture. It's sustaining its life-sustaining. It's how we have sustain life as humanity on Earth. And so, you know, if we're going to dial back... just like what Mama Shakara was saying, you know, all of the justices are converging here. If we're going to save our planet If we're going to make sure that there is a planet for our children to farm and a place for them to grow food, for them to live. We have to reassess the relationships that we have and the understanding that we have of this ownership of land and that ownership being only made for profit And food. Our food systems We have to make sure that our food systems are sovereign. Our food systems, that people have an opportunity to participate in the food that they're eating, hopefully the food that they're growing. So all of these things come with the ownership of land and continuing a cycle where black people, brown people, BIPOC people, particularly black people, do not have the same kinds of access whether to land or to the capital to acquire land. We're going to be stuck in the same place. There are people who are ready and willing and more than able to do this really important work. And, you know, the Black Farmer Land Fund, a big part of that was connecting the resources with those people and making sure that those people have the opportunity to do the things that the land needs and that our city needs. [Abby] Yeah, I think that's a really great transition to talking about the impact of the fund. I know you've shared so much about kind of the organizing efforts in my community before even the creation of the fund that went into making something like this being able to capitalize on the moment of last year. I'm wondering if you can share a little bit about some of the impacts that that fund is going to have, is currently having and it's going to have on not just the farmers who are accessing it, but on the urban agriculture scene in Detroit in general. [Shakara] Yeah, there's a few factors that speak to the significant impact that we hope to see. Specifically at the local level one being just portraying a more diverse urban farming landscape and also honoring the black agrarian traditions that have really uplifted or had been embedded in the quilt of the city of Detroit for decades. Like there's a really beautiful, not well known history of how black people migrated from the South to Detroit. Throughout the great migrations throughout the 20th century. And how their agricultural knowledge that was embedded in the South that was transferred from the continent of Africa. through that whole African diasporic lineage is really alive and well in Detroit, and has really bolster the cultural economy, social capital, I mean, it's so on and so on of the city. And so I think the the impact is really illuminating that and making it more visible and present for people that don't see it very apparently because for whatever reason. And so another component is understanding that again, historically, white settlers back in the 18th and 19th century receive 270 million acres through the Homestead Act and other accompanying legislations. And this is why we see the vast economic inequities that we see today. And it's very simply transferring land to more black families and communities in the city is a direct reversal of that. Like even if it's one acre, even if it's like a 500 foot square lot next to someone's house. The micro action steps that we can begin to take to reverse the stolen wealth and the stolen labor matters tremendously. And so we're we're leveling the playing field essentially. And yeah, it's gonna take all hands on deck. We don't need just economic resources. We need reparations in the form of infrastructure, in, in the form of people's time and energy to help mobilize together and so I really want to uplift the framework of reparations as, as an important lens for this work. Because we understand that this is what is owed to black families, communities, to black people, do to centuries of divestment, displacement, dispossession of land, and other resources. And so the impact is really massive across multiple levels because again, as we said, land is at the core of everything. And so when we began to transfer land, we can really begin to macro and micro or speak to the macro and micro shifts on a transformative level and really put our money where our mouth is and not just talk about social justice as if it's this theoretical discussion that makes us feel good. Now this is a very tangible act. This is a very explicit process that has to be centered in that, that takes economic resources. Mama Erin, you got it. [Erin} we are just I mean, again, you always set it out, but I was just, going to add a couple of things just in terms of the agricultural wealth and knowledge of the people here. And this is something that Mama Jerri told me. Mama Jerri was going to be here to talk to us. And one of the things I'm sure she would mention is that, you know, when she was growing up here in the city, all of her neighbors, everybody had a backyard garden. You know, everybody had a garden. Everybody was growing their own food. This was, this was normal. This is something that, you know, again, it's part of the African diasporic lineage. It's something that was brought up and was sustained through hundreds of years, a midst terrible circumstances. And so these are cultures that we see continuing to thrive in the city and wanting to provide the space for that. And to make sure that we can continue to see that not just as a, again, everything on the micro level has impact on the macro level, right? Like Dr. Tyler was talking about. And even more so that goes into when we started the fund not knowing that we were going to get up to anywhere near 60 thousand dollars. And it was a lot of people who donated in terms of it being all hands on deck. It wasn't like getting, you know, thousands of dollars here and there. It was very much a grassroots effort of people who were donating very small amounts and people were continuing to just be a part of it. It was a movement in a sense And it was just something that continue to build and continue to build. And it really did show how even these small contributions by certain people could, could balloon into something much bigger. And now have created, helped us to finance the framework for something that has been in the vision for quite some time. So, you know it's a paradigm shift that has to happen. There's thinking, there's institutions. There's all kinds of, you know, the, the players that are a part of agricultural work. We've been building on a system that was, that was built on the backs of free black labor, right? And so we have to begin... In fact we can't just begin to acknowledge that that's important, but we have to take tangible steps. So okay, now that we recognize this and we're ready to acknowledge it, what are we going to do to fix it? How are we going to get to the next step and the transference of land and supporting frameworks of organizations like ours are putting land into black hands is essential to that. [Niam} Thank you Mama Erin. Yeah, I certainly feel like There's 1000 ways to get to the same endpoint, but as practical as it is to do a fundraiser, you know, people probably might say something like, "Oh, you should work harder to try to get folks to get their own land" or do job... You know, a real popular thing in Detroit is job capacity building and training people for jobs. But simply using tools that we have, like go find me or any crowdsourcing fundraising source to actually take money... And not only take money, but create kind of a horizontal public platform for allowing anyone who believes in it to support at whatever level they're capable, and then taking that money and turning it into something that can continue to be fruitful, continue to build wealth is really awesome. And I'm gonna just go ahead and hit Enter in the chat box. I was taking notes on just the terms and wording that you guys are using. And I think you're being very intentional with the words that you select as you communicate with us. I also wanted to say one of the words that was mentioned was diverse culture and diverse history. So black can often be like something that's easily stereotyped or monolithic. And I was curious if you could paint a picture of, of who the applicants to the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund are, what they look like, age wise, experience, gender, et cetera. If you could paint that picture for us to whatever extent is appropriate. [Erin} I could start. It was it was just amazing to have an opportunity to see what you're asking about, right? Like this, this vast swath of people of different ages in terms of whether they have had some kind of training or, are self-taught in terms of growing their own food. Or have been taught through their grandmothers and, and their lineages. Just, I mean, and then also in terms of what our awardees want to do, I would say by and large, many of them on existing gardening situations, right? So these places, you know, obviously everyone knows the Detroit does have a lot of blight, has a, you know, vacant land. And so there are a lot of people who have stepped into that space and said, Hey, you know, this is something that I wanted to take ownership of it. And so, you know, whether I can get through all the stuff with the DL BA or not. You know, I'm going to bring, some fruit trees to my community. Like I want to grow some vegetables in my community. We don't have access to as much fresh food as we would like so we're going to start doing this together. There are some block clubs. I think there was at least one-block love that applied and they they were able to, to get awarded. So veterans, There's a couple of our awardees that are supporting veterans. There a lot of people who were supporting youth, mentoring youth and again, bringing youth into understanding and being stewards of the land. And the ages.. There are younger people and then I think our oldest awardee was like 80...84 or something. I mean, just an astonishing testament to a life. He says he grew up on a farm. And so this is, what he does and he's like, "I want to make sure that the children in my community are off the streets and they're farming and they're putting their hands in the land. Then it's just such an inspiring again, like you said to see black farmers are not a monolith and they have so many different stories and there are so many different ways that they want to accomplish. You know, really, I think a shared goal obviously is, is to just beautify and continue the agricultural legacy of our people, right? And so just having the opportunity to see that and bring that to life is such an honor. So it is a great group of people. [Shakara] Yeah, Thanks for that Mama Erin and I'll add that also many of the awardees are community organizers and activists. So their work extends beyond the food justice scene too, as Erin mentioned, youth development and educational justice. Religious and faith activism Water Justice Housing Justice all of these things. And so it's what we say Land intersects with all of these other components. We really see that and it's reflected in our awardees and their work and their commitment to the communities. And also elders. We know that elders are the foundation of our community. And so it's such a blessing and an honor to help facilitate the land acquisition process for elders that have been on the land, working particular parcels of land in the city for over 30 years. One of them in particular said that he's been working on this lot, I believe not so far from his home for 30 years and he's like "Just tell the city to give it to me. Like I've been the one maintaining it, cutting the grass,