SUSU COMMUNITY Farm Continues the Creative Legacy of Black Ancestors | Local News


Editor’s Note: The second of two articles on food and agriculture in Vermont.

BENNINGTON – Drawing on centuries of dark wisdom and hard-earned experience, two executives from SUSU COMMUNITY Farm recently presented an online conference on “Creative Strategies for Liberalizing Food in Vermont”.

“We draw on and learn from the wisdom of our ancestors while planting seeds for future generations,” said Amber Arnold, co-steward and co-executive director. “This is the work we focus on as we move forward on this journey to liberate food and liberate land in Vermont.”

The Bennington Local Food Summit was a one-day video conference held on May 15, as part of the Mellon Foundation’s Bennington College three-year grant to tackle food insecurity in Bennington County.

Arnold and Jabari Saeed Jones, farm manager and community food / land justice advocate, gave an informative almost 1.5-hour presentation. SUSU COMMUNITY Farm describes itself as an “Afro-Native run farm and land-based healing center in southern Vermont that elevates the land and food routes of Vermont.”

The speakers took a critical approach to capitalism. “First, let’s talk a bit about community wealth building,” said Arnold. “We really can’t talk about liberation or food security without talking about capitalism and being anti-capitalist.”

Capitalism creates a wedge between the production of food and those who need it.

“Basically this gap is capitalism, this gap is white supremacy and these systems of hierarchy and power are the gap, they shape this gap,” Jones said. “They determine who grows the food, who owns the land, and who will have the opportunity and access to eat that food and who will not.”

Jones added, “Global racial capitalism is at the root of the accumulation of wealth, starvation, poverty, violence and genocide.”

For example, before the British colonized India, the people were ruled by the regimes of the Maharaja and suffered a famine every 100 years.

“And then the British came and once the British colonized India there was a famine every four years. And the difference is: white supremacy and capitalism is what has changed, ”Jones said. “The food the Indians grew was not for their own subsistence but was intended for export to other markets, and that is why they faced famine in large numbers every four years.

“So when we look at food insecurity, we don’t mean some like natural force, like there isn’t enough food for everyone. There is enough food for everyone, ”Jones said. “We are talking about how the systems we live in, as capitalism, structure and determine who is well fed and who dies of hunger.”

So, “we want to focus on solutions outside of this system, because hoping that this system fixes these problems is like wanting your refrigerator to bake your cake.” It’s just not how it’s built. So we need a new system. “

Arnold noticed that in Brattleboro, during the pandemic, many programs sprang up, such as free meals for children throughout the summer. “But these programs were sourcing food from large agricultural companies outside of Vermont,” she said. “Meanwhile, we have so many farmers in Vermont struggling to sell their food, they’re dumping milk, they’re really struggling to survive.”

It didn’t make sense to her. “Why are all of these kids in the community getting free Hood Milk, Corn Dogs and French Toast Sticks and loving all these food items that aren’t even real food when we have access to so many? local farmers?

So we have to think outside of capitalism to recreate and reinvent these systems and structures to care for and feed people instead of accumulating wealth, Arnold said.

Black Survival Programs

“We have so much wisdom from the people who came before us and, in particular, part of the work we focus on is on the Black Survival Tactics programs who have been successful in healing and caring for their communities when the government exiled them or deemed them disposable. for hundreds of years, ”said Arnold.

• For example, the Black Panther Party had a free breakfast program, a free grocery program, liberated schools, a drug rehab center, a dress program, and a political education. Jones cited a Vox article in 2016 saying that this work ultimately inspired changes to the Infant Nutrition Act of 1966 and served as a model for the creation of the Federal School Breakfast Program in 1975.

• Horticulturist Booker T. Whatley introduced the idea of ​​community-supported agriculture in the 1960s as a way to support black farmers.

• Stranded by capitalism with the flight elsewhere of the auto industry and the resulting economic and social decadence, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network investigated the political and economic structures that kept black people away from food. healthy. The network “uses action through conversation with the community, political education, converting vacant lots into community gardens that serve as intergenerational community gathering spaces where people learn to heal themselves by eating, how to grow food. and receive health services, ”according to a slide in the presentation.

• The Freedom Farm cooperative, founded by activist Fanny Lou Hamer, used pooled resources to help the community become self-sufficient; provided affordable, clean and safe housing; provided an incubator for small entrepreneurial businesses and an agricultural cooperative to meet the food needs of the population. He was “able to resist the deprivation of the right to vote politically, socially and economically and to resist the pressure to move north.”

“One of the ways we are building on this legacy is by offering programs for the people of Vermont to thrive,” said Arnold.

Resilience box

Founded in early 2020 as the SUSU Healing Collective LLC, the SUSU Community Farm Pilot Program was located at the Retirement Farm in Brattleboro and is in the process of acquiring its own farm.

In its first year, the organization purchased CSA shares from farms in the area for its Box of Resilience program and distributed them to BIPOC families in Windam County – “to get into this loophole where the government and the capitalist system fail, ”Jones said. .

“This year we are continuing this program, but we are trying to harvest our own food, put in these boxes and supplement that with donations or purchases from other farms, so we support the movement and the local food system. at the table, but also creating our own collective effort to grow these foods that are culturally relevant – so we don’t grow Twinkies, ”Jones said. “We’re going cabbage, we’re going kale. We go to the onions. We grow okra. And those foods that are culturally important because food reminds you of where you came from. “

The Box of Resilience program is “based on the premise that we believe that food is a birthright, not a commodity, and that you shouldn’t have to work and work for something you need to survive, whatever. something the earth provides us in abundance. and that the government and these other structures have kind of accumulated and taken and done something that you have to give them your job and trade for those resources, ”Arnold said.

A new program that will begin “once we’re on earth, and we’re currently raising money to buy a farm, is called Storyteller Gardens, and they’re cultural heritage gardens that are all cultivated along lineages and traditions. ancestral traditions based on the people who are part of our CSA program, ”said Arnold,“ so that they can reconnect with their ancestral growth lines, political education histories and legacies, then these foods will be placed in these boxes so that the boxes really reflect the people who are a part of that program.

Vision for Vermont

The organization’s vision for agriculture in Vermont is for much more community involvement in agriculture in common spaces – localized spaces for food and food culture. Only two of the suggestions are community recreational hoops, where everyone in the community can grow food and relax in chairs and hammocks; and the use of empty buildings for city kitchens, city food processing centers and cafeterias.

“What we’re doing and promoting is very popular and it’s about creating the kind of systems that we really need because those systems don’t exist,” Jones said.

Arnold spoke of a three-part process essentially representing a new form of community decision-making. The first is the practice of common sense: “It is an organizational strategy that centers the well-being and well-being of the community for the benefit of all instead of capitalism and the accumulation of money. riches for a few. ” Second, the “prefigurative policy”. “It is about building alternative political systems based on the awareness that the oppressed have been excluded from the political process, developing free spaces to engage without fear of repression to share ideas, grievances, move towards freedom. and liberation. “

Third, economic autonomy, which “creates alternative systems of resource exchange within the community that benefits all members in response to the status quo of economic participation,” she said.

All of this is easier said than done. “Living in Brattleboro, dealing with select boards in this state which is so white,” said Arnold, “I’ve seen these people often with a limited scope of understanding of community liberation and liberty and all of them. these things. They are therefore very ill-equipped to really be the leaders in creating this change. “

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