This past weekend I participated in The First Annual Mid-Atlantic Agroecology Encounter after much planning and anticipation on the grounds of Black Dirt Farm, in Eastern Shore, Maryland; home of the powerful ancestoral lands of Araminata Ross (Harriet Tubman). Black Dirt Farm is a small-scale diversified agroecological farm operation based in Preston, MD at Mt. Pleasant Acres Farms run by Blain Snipstal & his partner Aleya Fraser both returning generation farmers. This was a 3 day 4 night camping expedition on the land learning about Agroecology designed to and for our people.
Now you might be wondering what Agroecology means? It is about a series of ecological principles and values, the revalorization of local/traditional/indigenous knowledge, bringing dignity and vibrant livelihoods back to rural life and food systems labor, and a clear alternative to the industrial model of agriculture. Agroecology is a political and social methodology and process, as much as it is an ecological alternative to Agribusiness. This clarity is especially important given the current efforts by NGO’s, community based organizations and social movement organizations that are raising the banner of agroecology in the United States.
The farm name, Black DIRT, is created to: Bring an image of Black Dirt (which is healthy and biologically active soil) to the mind of the larger community; as well as remind the larger community that as a farmer and farm, the basic tenet of our jobs as food producers and as care-takers of the land, is our responsibility to the soil; one of the basic units in a healthy environment. To retain Black, in Black DIRT, is to pay homage to the black agrarian experience and to the totality of the agrarian struggle in the Americas. The farm is founded upon the diasporic struggle in the Americas and the U.S., and to work from the contributions that folks of color have made to agriculture and society at large.
Black Dirt Farm commits itself to produce nutrient and mineral-dense, high-quality, great tasting and soulfully-infused veggies, fruits, eggs, small-grains and protein through our dedication to our small-scale agroecological model of food production and ecosystem management. The Farm’s mission is support by; its commitment to construct a viable model of sustainable agriculture; to develop and participate in an alternative food system and society; and to actively contribute to the development of the agrarian community.
This event was put on & funded by Black Dirt Farm Collective, CATA, Ecohermanas, Soil Generation, Soilful City, VietLEAD, and other farmers, farmworkers, women, youth, advocates, and community members from the Mid-Atlantic that have been linking together to put forth concrete actions in the resistance to colonialism, racism, industrial agriculture, and patriarchy. The Agroecology Encounter was designed as a Training of Trainers for People’s Agroecology in the U.S. context. It included elements:
This is was the 2nd regional encounter on People’s Agroecology in the US. The first taking place in Florida in 2015 and also in conjunction with the Afroecology encounter held the fall of 2015 on Black Dirt Farm. It is linked to the Agroecology Process in the S.E. US and the US Agroecology Formacion Process. We hope to expand this grassroots effort to other regions, growing a national movement on People’s Agroecology supported and inspired by the work of our many movement allies nationally and internationally.
My journey to the encounter started Thursday afternoon as Angela Adrar and her two kids (Angelica & Kingston), Rev Marjani Dele and myself from Ecohermanas packed Angela’s car and hit the road to the Eastern Shore. It took us about 2 hours due to traffic and a big rain storm. Once we got there it was still raining so we met some of the attendees before setting up our tent. After that we unpacked the car and then went to find dinner. We ended up eating at Denny’s and got a little lost on the way.
On Friday we started the day with a mistica as we started everyday. Rev Dele started with a sing along chant and then the aunties Donna and Paulette came to give us a blessing and gave some more of the history of the land that Black Dirt Farm shares with them.Then Blain Snipstal gave us an over view of Black Dirt Farm and what it means to be a black returning farmer on the Eastern Shore. After words Aleya and other orgs apart of the Black Dirt Farm Collective like CATA, Ecohermanas, Soil Generation, Soilful City, and VietLEAD spoke.
CATA is a farmworker support organization. CATA is a non-profit, migrant farmworker organization that is governed by and comprised of farmworkers who are actively engaged in the struggle for better working and living conditions. CATA’s mission is to empower and educate farmworkers through leadership development and capacity building so that they are able to make informed decisions regarding the best course of action for their interests. Ecohermanas is women working around Mother Earth. Together we create a bold sisterhood culture of awareness, energy and flow around place-based environmental issues, cultivating community and contributing to the greater co-fulfillment of our potential as a whole. Soil Generation is a coalition of Philadelphia residents and organizations who support equity and social justice for community-managed green space, gardens, and farms through advocacy, grassroots organizing, and community education. Soilful City seeks to heal the relationship between stressed communities and the land and create sustainable communities through urban agriculture. Soilful City is a space dedicated to connecting humans and nature through information, ideas, and people in urban environments. Creating Leadership through the wisdom of nature. VietLEAD (Vietnamese Leadership & Advocacy) is a new grassroots organization based in Philly & South Jersey.
Other groups that came to the encounter where some women from the Farmworkers Association of Florida, Mississippi Association of Co-Ops and a lady from Texas.
The Farmworkers Association of Florida is apart of CATA and it builds power among farmworker and rural low-income communities to respond to and gain control over the social, political, workplace, economic, health, and environmental justice issues that impact their lives.
Mississippi Association of Co-Ops is the parent organization of the Mississippi Center for Cooperative Development. MAC member organizations include ten cooperatives, two credit unions and two associated organizations. These community-based groups are located across the state. Those involved in agriculture utilize diverse production and marketing strategies.
After the opening ceremony we started our first workshop. We all counted off by 6 and then got into base groups for the weekend. The base groups where people we meet with before the workshops and to do work together in different workshops. We made names, chants, and agreements to each other. My groups name was “Roots United”. The first workshop of the day was exploring our Agricultural history from pre-ag to plantation ag to the green revolution to present and future ag. We each got to add what we thought of those periods of time. My group started off with the 1900s to the present which we said was the green & industrial revolution area where more and more food was being made in factories as the Great Migration was happening and the Green Revolution was happening all over the world.
Next we all got to go into the forest and read a timeline of our collective people’s history from the Native American’s being made to be farm workers in California to the interment camps of the Japanese to the Black Panther’s and their Free Breakfast Program to the Discrimination by the USDA to minority farmers and the law suites that came of them. After we did a share back of something that resented with us or we didn’t know about.
Once we were down with that we had some lunch. All our meals for the whole weekend where being made by the fabulous chef out of Philly Laquanda Dobson a former Rooted In Community alum and amazing person. Her meals were the bomb! During our lunch brake some of us helped Caryl Henry Alexander who is apart of Ecohermanas and is a artist make a banner for the Agroecology ecounter as well as a Black Dirt Farm Collective banner. We also painted some gourds to make rattles.
After lunch we all went on farm and forest tours. My group went on the tour of Black Dirt Farm first. We all hopped on the flat bed of Aleya’s truck for a little ride to the farm. During this section we learned about companion planting and how different plants need each other to function together. Like how basil and tomatoes grow great together or sunflowers help to shade melons when they grow. Then we learned about the different Latin group names for the foods that go together. Once we were done with that our base groups got together and created our ideal gardens and what we would grow in them. For my group we had sunflowers, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, melons, fruit trees, a mondola among other things. One groups garden was very permiculture inspired with its mondala model. Next our groups switched with the other group who was taking the forest tour. I stayed behind and helped harvest some basil, tomatoes & parsley for dinner.
Once both tours where over we went back to camp and waited on dinner. After dinner I took a nice cold shower in the shower Blain and some of youth helped build which was hooked up to their fresh well water. It was such an awesome experience under the stars. When I got back to camp they where putting up a camp fire and drumming and making music. Then the little kids started to make s’mores which were delish.
The next day was another Mistica led by Katrina Baxter who works with Soil Generation out of Philly. She started us off by speaking of the alter which I created and had many different things upon it from many others. Then Caryl Henry Alexander our resadent artist of Ecohermanas and myself helped lead a walking meditation to the witness tree which was the way Harriet Tubman was able to free many of the slaves plus her parents on the underground railroad. It was the tallest tree in the forest so she was able to use it as a locator. Then Pia an AmeriCorps volunteer working with FWAF lead us in the farmworker clap.
Saturday I was asked to help the little ones or Wild Seeds which was their base group name. I was co-facilitating with Angela and Gerald and some guys from the Baltimore Freedom School with Brotha Randy and Brotha Eric. Orita’s Cross Freedom School – a project of Fusion Partnerships – is a multi-site youth development program designed to inspire the next generation of society’s change makers. We believe youth – and Black youth in particular – aren’t “problems” in need of fixing. Rather they are the solution-bearers poised to challenge racism, poverty, gentrification, gender inequality, the prison industrial complex and other injustices that plague society.
I must give a big hand to Randy who did an amazing job with the kids. He is very good at giving the kids structure while engaging them in the same topics the adults where talking about at a kids level. So the day before the Wild Seeds came up with cool little chant where they talked about Mother Earth. It goes:
“We are the Wild Seeds” “We Help the Earth” “Because it’s Our Earth!” Too cute!
So we first did a recap of yesterday which included playing, a forest walk and even a mission to help Angelica Angela’s daughter get to the showers to cool off as she had gotten a little bit of heat stroke. Then we did this cool guided meditation where Randy had us all get on our backs and look up at the clouds and imagine an image in them. Then we all closed our eyes and tried to imagine that same image in our mind. This whole weekend it was crazy hot with temperatures braking into the 100s and so everyone was over heated but when we did our meditation we all felt cooler after.
The next session Randy went to do some stuff with the adults so Angela and I had the kids and we took a walk with them up the road and then played a few games with them. We played games with a ball and did some racing. Then we all had some snacks and then lunch. In the afternoon we had Gerald come help us and he read us a story about the bands in New Orleans and then had the kids draw or write what they do on Sunday’s. Next Brotha Eric came to hang with us and he like Randy was awesome. He got us drawing and writing poems about our experience at the encounter. These kids are so cute and so smart it was really amazing to see.
During the Wild Seeds time the adults were doing some work on Pop Ed. Popular education is an educational approach that collectively and critically examines everyday experiences and raises consciousness for organizing and movement building, acting on injustices with a political vision in the interests of the most marginalized. ~ Paulo Freire. Some of the Pop Ed topics that were discussed where on white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, colonialism, racism, & industrial agriculture. The Hype teens did these really cool skits and poems & where giving us life. It was amazing! The first one was on police brutality, the second was on cultural appropriation and then some poems on general white supremacy.
Once the Pop Ed conversation was done we had some bomb mac & cheese, fried fish and greens. While we ate we also worked on the declaration of our agroecology ecounter. After dinner and a nice shower we chilled under the tent and listened to music and then it started poring rain.
Sunday was the last day of the encounter and that day I was with the kids again. We started off with our Mistica which started off with some stretches. During my time with the kids Darnella Burkett Winston, Maya Crook and Joe Barnes from the Mississippi Association of Co-Ops gave a talk on how cooperatives work, how to get lones and how they benefit the farmers. Also the farmworker women did a panel and talked about the struggles of what they call the “new slaves”. While the adults where learning about farmworkers so where the Wild Seeds as two former farmworker women told us their stories of how they came to this country and worked in factories and picked fruit with pestasdes in them. Then the kids and I just played some games and ran around until I took a little brake. After some lunch I hung out with the kids a little more and then it was closing time. We all got back under the tent and did some evaluations and thank yous to the logistical team and then handed out certificates.
Once the whole encounter was finished the logistical team and folks that stayed behind helped clean up the campsite and moved everything to the church we stayed at that night. After a long three days we all showered, ate and then the logistical team had a little last minute meeting. Then we all pretty much chilled and rested for night. The next day our group left to go back to DC.
I had an amazing time camping on the farm and sure I am a little bit up from the mosquitoes but I am rejuvenated and blessed that I got to experience such a beautiful event.
For more pictures and info visit my facebook page as well as Black Dirt Farms
Here is some more info on Agroecology and Food Sovereignty from my brotha Blain Snipstal of Black Dirt Farm and what that means for our people also some more info on the different orgs present at the encounter.
Listen to Ecohermanas and the encounter talked about on Taking Action: http://wpfwfm.org/radio/programming/archived-shows
Till Next Time…Got Dirt?