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Black Farmers Collective

The Black Farmers Collective  is a group of Black led food system activists  creating opportunities to improve the health of  communities through all aspects of food. The group is committed to teaching about food sovereignty for the Black Indigenous and People of Color communities, through growing, cooking and managing land and food distribution within the community in sustainable ways.  KBCS’s Kevin Henry interviewed Black Farmers Collective Initiave, Yes Farm Manager, Hannah Wilson  about Yes Farm and the Black Farmers Collective.
Producers: Kevin Henry and Yuko Kodama
Photo: Courtesy of Black Farmers Collective
Special thanks to Leija Farr

Yuko Kodama 0:00
Up next KBCS reporter Kevin Henry speaks with Hannah Wilson, the farm manager at Yes Farm, an urban farm initiative of the Black Farmers collective. Wilson creates community building events in educational activities. And she also grows food to provide Seattle communities of color with access to fresh produce.

Kevin Henry 0:22
Tell us about some of the activities and programs.

Hannah Wilson 0:24
Some of the programming that we do include working with other gardens across the city, to help them with, you know, setting up a garden, talking through what programming might look like for them. And intentionally making sure that those gardens are Black led or led by folks of color. At the farm, I’ll invite school groups, organizers, educators, and want to get youth and families involved in this work so that they can carry on this knowledge to their families and also build that relationship with the land that maybe has been broken from living in the city, or especially for Black folks, just thinking about the trauma that Black folks have speaking to the history of slavery, and just exploitation of Black people and the land. So how can we rebuild that connection to the land that is healing and fulfilling, and empowering, and sort of like with this lens of like self determination and food sovereignty? Educational programming is centered around the seasonal work that we’re doing. So for example, this month, and next month, and maybe a little bit into June, we will be doing sort of like planting and how do you choose your crops? And what crops like grow well together? And how can we grow food that’s ecologically sound and, and thoughtful of like, the ways that indigenous folks have been stewarding this land since time immemorial. And also pays homage to all the cultural backgrounds that we have at the farm. So whether that’s Black folks, African immigrants, folks of color, who come to the US and maybe have lost that connection to the cultural foods. And then this summer, I’m really hoping to create spaces where we’re cooking food, where we’re bringing in folks who practice wellness. So that could be having a Black yoga teacher on site. Having herbalists and folks who have practice in herbal medicine and traditional medicine, teach folks how to make their own medicine. Thinking about like meditation circles and, and how health is all of these things. It’s food, it’s getting outside and being active. It’s putting the right things in your body all around and doing more preventative health measures, which is not how our healthcare works these days.

Kevin Henry 2:59
Food is like this catalyst for bringing people together for a positive reason. I would think that there’s a lot of diverse volunteers that you have and community members, I mean, you can be a child or you could be a senior citizen and still be involved in what you’re doing.

Hannah Wilson 3:16
Absolutely. I think that’s part of why I love this work is the world we live in this society that we live in is pretty unsafe for a lot of marginalized folks. And so how can we create a space that not just accepts or like welcomes these folks but invites them down and like cherishes their presence on this farm, the way that they should be in every space that they walk through. And I’m speaking as a mixed race, Black person who identifies as queer and disabled and just thinking about the spaces I grew up in, like White suburbia, and how unwelcomed I felt and like how unsafe I felt in those spaces. And so how can I carry that experience going forward, to make sure that folks see themselves in a space. And I think that’s part of what’s really special about The Black Farmers Collective is that we are hiring young Black folks to take leadership and like really take responsibility for all these garden spaces that we’re in. And then when we work with youth and families, we’re like, hey, look, it’s you know, it’s a young Black person holding probably multiple identities at once, who’s doing this environmental work, who’s doing agriculture work. That also is like fun and like culturally relevant and brings in community and all different types of knowledge. But it’s not just about farming. It’s also about the environment and like, how can we create hyper local food systems that can be resilient in the face of climate change, and honor all different ways of stewarding the land?

Kevin Henry 5:00
You said you felt unsafe. Could you go in a little more detail about what was making you feel unsafe in those environments.

Hannah Wilson 5:07
I think growing up, I just didn’t see myself in any of the leaders that were in my communities. So I didn’t have, you know, teachers of color, encouraging me to be proud of my identity. I didn’t see folks with disabilities, walking through the world and being cherished and everything that they are. And I didn’t see a ton of queer folks that look like me. Growing up in California, I did see queer folks, but I didn’t necessarily see queer folks of color, you know, with families or, or just doing their thing. So I think I just felt unsafe, because I didn’t see where I belonged. And, and people were, you know, it reflected in the ways that like, my social life, you know, played out and, and also in the ways that like, I made decisions about like my future, like, I just didn’t know where I would fit in, because I just didn’t see leaders who looked like me in these environmental spaces, or in these like organizing and community building spaces, in that White suburban town that I grew up in. So I didn’t feel empowered to take leadership as a kid.

Kevin Henry 6:22
You know, there’s people that might hear this interview, and they say, “Well, I just go to the grocery store and get my groceries”. And it just seems like, oh, you know, I want to go, I gotta go to a farm and go through all this. How would you, I guess, encourage them or sell them on the idea of changing their diet and changing their lifestyle when it comes to nutrition.

Hannah Wilson 6:42
When I talk about food sovereignty, and how important it is to connect with land and food, it goes back to the idea that industrial agriculture is really exploitative of the land. And as a result, we don’t get produce that is as good for us and like as nutritious and and like flavorful as we could get if we like grew our own food in our backyard, or in an urban farm, or just from like a local small farm. And when we have that disconnect with food, it’s like, we’re not able to be a part of this food systems conversation, talking about what we want from our food, and how important it is to us. And I think that like when we are more connected to the food system, we see all the ways that society intersects at food, because everyone needs food. You know, if you don’t have food, that means maybe you can’t show up fully at school or work, or in your life, especially if you’re a person of color, who comes from a certain background. If your food is not something that is culturally relevant, then you may not be able to like celebrate your own culture and like celebrate your identity, and how can you feel good in yourself if you’re not eating food that makes you feel good. And also, it gives you a certain amount of control, just thinking about the history of displacement, and exploitation of Black folks and Indigenous folks in this country, a lot of us were tied to the land. And that’s like, where our culture and community and all of those things collided. And that meant that we had self determination, we had sovereignty. And then like, as the years have gone on, we see, like slavery, and then migration, and redlining and gentrification. Racism in our healthcare system, racism in our education system. There’s all these places where we’re not being taken care of very well. And if we are able to learn from the land and be connected to the land, it’s really good for the mind, body, and spirit. And a lot of our old traditions with Black folks like dating back to Africa, are connected to nature and like our relationship with it, and like how we take care of it. If you’re able to grow your own food, you don’t have to pay for food, you can create, like economic development out of growing food. You know, there’s so many ways that it empowers. I have to mention food access, and like food insecurity. And the ways that our lack of access to produce in communities of color is often intentional by our systems of oppression that are present in this country. And so we see a lot of what we call now ‘food swamps’ where it’s not necessarily that there’s no food around, but there’s a lot of unhealthy food around, that leads to all these health issues. You know, high blood pressure, diabetes, all these things that cause intergenerational trauma in families because they’re not healthy and they they have limitations and all this stuff gets passed on. And so if we’re able to grow own food and just like the system, we can take charge of our health and stop that idea that we just can’t eat healthy, because that’s just not what we have access to.

Kevin Henry 10:12
Well, I’m glad you mentioned the part about the intergenerational thing that happens with, you know, with parents, they’ve assumed a certain lifestyle, in terms of food, and they’re not familiar with programs such as what you’re talking about. If they don’t know about it, then they’re not going to be a part of it. And so then their children might ask, “Hey, what are my options?” They just say,” Well, it’s just this one option, let’s go to McDonald’s or something”.

Hannah Wilson 10:38

Kevin Henry 10:39
This kind of perpetuates the cycle over and over again. And you’re right about the the increased rates of cancer and things like that in people of color. Anything you’d like to add along with, if you wouldn’t mind giving out your website. So people, if they want to volunteer to participate in the programs, they know how to get in touch with you.

Hannah Wilson 10:59
Yeah, I think, you know, one last thing I want to mention is, one of the big things that The Black Farmers Collective is wanting to do is think about the bigger picture of why there’s so few black farmers and like why we’ve lost all this land over 100 years now. And our efforts as an organization are centered around not just that sort of urban farming, education and community building aspect. But also, how can we get more land and train new Black farmers or just farmers of color, so that they can acquire land and achieve that sort of like economic development that creates more success in our communities essentially. So I do want to mention the fact that we have a new four acre farm in Woodinville, and we’re doing our first year, this year where we have 40 families who are going to be fed through our CSA boxes. And we just hired a new farm manager who’s a young Black man. So this is his first farm, and so there’s just so many layers to this. And then going forward, we’re also going to just be creating the school system where we connect with other rural Black farmers in Washington and in the surrounding areas, who might need assistance in making sure that they don’t continue to lose their land and that they have support, like financial support, admin support. And also just like making sure that we can uplift their work so that they can find that connection to folks who want to buy their food, or if they are wanting to be in the Black community, like how can we make sure that food goes to the Black community. That farm is also an effort to bring in more farmers of color and train them and give them the resources they need to become a farmer, because one of the biggest barriers is that it takes so much money to start a farm, you know, you have to buy the land, you have to build all the infrastructure. And then you have to jump through all the hoops, the bureaucracy of getting all the paperwork in and getting grant funding. And that’s a lot for a Black farmer or a farmer of color, who hasn’t inherited land or hasn’t inherited, you know, money to get the education that is required to do all of those things at once. And so our hope is to like, bring that all into one place, in a place like very accessible and supportive, where they can find community with other Black farmers and farmers of color, who are also going through the same process.

Hannah Wilson 13:41
You can find us at, or follow us on social media @blackfarmerscollective. And then you can come and volunteer at Yes Farm and hopefully soon at Small X?, which is the four acre farm, to get involved. And then also folks who are educators, organizers, leaders in our community can reach out and see what creative ways we can collaborate and bring more folks into this work.

Kevin Henry 14:09
Thank you very much.

Hannah Wilson 14:10
Yes, thank you for having me.

Yuko Kodama 14:13
That was Yes Farm farm manager, Hannah Wilson. Speaking with KBCS’ Kevin Henry. Yes Farm is an urban farm initiative of the Black Farmers collective. For more local stories you can visit or subscribe to our podcast anywhere you pick them up.

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