Nyema Clark, founder and director of Nurturing Roots Farm, holding a white chicken while a youth pets the chicken's feet.

Town Hall Seattle, Black Farmers Collective Host Panel Dedicated to Black Liberation

by Chamidae Ford

In honor of Earth Day, Town Hall Seattle and the Black Farmers Collective (BFC) hosted a virtual panel dedicated to Black liberation. 

The Black Farmers Collective is made up of three Black farms: YES Farms, Brown Egg Garden, and Small Axe Farm. 

“Our vision for the organization is envisioning a future of Black liberation through food sovereignty,” Cameron Steinbeck, the BFC board secretary said, “in spaces built on cooperation and connectedness with the environment and community, where our knowledge and creativity are boundless. Our mission is to build a Black-led food system by developing a cooperative network of food system actors, acquiring and stewarding land, facilitating food system education, and creating a space for Black liberation in healing and joy.” 

Multiple guest speakers spoke about how they found solace and joy in farming.

Hannah Wilson, the farm manager at YES Farm, expressed how her own experiences have led her to the Black Farmers Collective.

“The way I walk the world as a queer, deaf, mixed race, Black person has really given me so many tools for dreaming and building towards Black liberation and food sovereignty,” Wilson said.

Wilson explained how for a long time the environmental field felt like a space solely for white, able-bodied men. 

“While growing up, I hadn’t seen celebrated role models for Black leaders in environmental work or out enjoying spaces while hiking or camping,” Wilson said. “I didn’t see queer or disabled leaders in these spaces either. Because of that I never really saw myself going into the environmental field or farming.” 

Through the years, Wilson has learned about the ways systematic racism has played a role in the environment and food systems, inspiring her to dedicate her life’s work to environmental issues BIPOC communities are facing. 

“I began to see how the complicated intersections of my own identity were reflected in the ways that environmental justice leaders talked about the compounding factors that lead to huge inequities and environmental health in this country, with race being the number one factor determining these things,” Wilson said.

Devon Williams, a farm specialist at YES Farms, was also inspired to join the BFC from lived experience. Growing up in a food desert alerted him to the lack of fresh healthy foods many BIPOC people face.

“Working with the Black Farmers Collective we strive to teach our people the benefits of healthy eating so this way they can farm and grow crops themselves,” Williams said. “Over 70% of diseases are diet-related, and since there are no grocery stores in my community, that’s a pandemic to me, and I have seen it first hand how people can be affected by that.” 

Through teaching community members not only the importance of diet and consuming healthy foods but how to grow their own, Williams hopes the collective will provide community members with more agency. 

Nahr, the farm manager for Brown Egg Garden, talked about the discrimination and erasure they have faced when trying to work in a field dominated by white males. 

“Being trans and wanting to work in an environmental field is difficult,” Nahr said. “Being trans and wanting to exist in any environment is rough; I still face that same erasure from others and myself and don’t even know I am doing it half the time. And similarly being Black and working in the environmental field is difficult — being Black and being Brown and existing is rough.”

Nahr shared how working at BFC has allowed them to see a space they can comfortably exist in. 

“Finding the Black Farmers Collective has been a treasure to me. It has allowed me to envision what creating my own space to grow can look like,” Nahr said. “How important it is to feel safety in those spaces. How important it is to be vulnerable with people who have similar experiences to me. How important it is to let that guard down, and I am still working on that, but letting your guard down so you can fill your own cup. How important community is within our work. Sharing knowledge and sharing food, and abundance, and joy, very simple things that seemed inaccessible to me, because I am trans, because I am Brown, because I am neurodivergent, because I am someone with PTSD.”

For Nahr, this work has become a source of comfort.

“What I found in my journey is food will always be there to hold us,” Nahr said. 

The final panelist of the night was Dr. Lisa Price, a naturopathic physician. She compared the goals of the Black Farmers Collective to building a Black mycelium, a term she learned from Dean Jackson, a Black farmer and activist. Inspired by the underground body of a mushroom, it represents a vast, expansive, nutritious requirement for fruitful fungi growth. 

“Forming a Black mycelium — forming an interconnected network through individuals who have the liberty to seek agency and joy — necessitates living in an environment where we have access to nutrients that optimally support us,” Dr. Price said.

The success of the Black mycelium is rooted in personal and community growth.

“Finding agency; strengthening the individual without losing the whole. The point is actually self-actualization. Understanding how you fit on an individual basis,” Dr. Price said.

The mycelium represents a future the Black community can model itself after. 

“We seek Black joy and agency,” Dr. Price said. “Fungi can be a model for how to strengthen ourselves with the goal of joy and agency. We are interconnected and absorb beneficial nutrients which allow growth and expansion and beneficial evolution. Our growth and expansion are dependent on our individual ecosystem and the physical health of our community.”

You can watch the event on the Town Hall Seattle YouTube channel.

Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

📸 Featured Image: Seattle native Nyema Clark, founder and director of Nurturing Roots Farm located on Beacon Hill. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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