Anthony Noble: Connecting Justice, Food and Land
(one small college farm at a time)
–Dorothy Weiss, 2/01/2021, Princeton, NJ
“Once in southwest Michigan I saw a Black man on a tractor and thought, ‘Wow! I think I might want to move here.’”
Throughout the United States, there are numerous colleges with farms, where students can participate in learning how to grow their own food. I am a student at Earlham College, located in Richmond, Indiana. Earlham’s college farm, Miller Farm, is small, but robust, with areas dedicated to permaculture, fields of sunflowers, basil, and tomatoes, ginnehens, bees, an outdoor kitchen, and more. With the farm just a minute away from my dorm, I often meander its greens to enjoy the instant peace it gives me. But Miller Farm was not always as lush. My first year at Earlham, the farm was set to get rejuvenated by a new faculty member, Anthony Noble. In just three and a half years, the farm was teeming with life. I spoke to Noble outside of our Environmental Sustainability building on an unusually warm autumn day, with leaf blowers raging in the background.
Anthony Noble grew up on a family farm located in New Castle, Indiana. When he was in the fifth grade, his father sold the farm due to a lack of interest from his children to continue on the path as farmers. However, Noble understood later on that in fact he did want to pursue farming, and reminisces how a slight gap in generational farmers can disrupt the entire lineage. After studying engineering, urban planning, and permaculture, Noble realized that farming coincided with many of his skills and sought work that felt honest, rewarding, and meaningful. Noble senses the danger to society that, in not knowing where our food comes from or how to grow it, we will lose valuable skills in how to grow food. Noble comments, “farming used to be a lot more collective and the only way we can rediscover that is to practice it and practice collaborative farming and making that purely ritual and figure out how to keep passing that knowledge.”
Now, Noble passes his knowledge of farming at Miller Farm, a student run farm at Earlham College. He has worked there for three and a half years, expanding the farm in terms of growth capacity, infrastructure, and student involvement. Noble has high hopes for Miller Farm that one day it will be able to generate a sufficient income to further expand the farm and its capabilities. Noble hopes that Earlham College itself will integrate with Miller Farm so that every student interacts with it, whether it be through growing and eating the food to creating experiments about the farm. Noble emphasizes the need to re-create a culture of caring and self-sufficiency.
I spoke to Noble to know more about his experience as a farmer of color, along with his hopes for the future of farming in the United States.
“It’s one of those things that you either want to farm or you don’t. But I really want to open it up and make it welcoming for all types of people”
DW: Do you want to speak to the lack of people of color involved in farming?
AN: Yeah, it was harder for me to get into farming being that people of color are not always welcomed in rural areas, feeling like I always had to be on my guard. That’s been one big thing and not seeing other people of color farming. I remember a couple times in my life seeing black farmers. Once in southwest Michigan I saw a black man on a tractor and thought “wow! I think I might want to move here. How is this happening?” I grew up in Indiana and I’m not afraid to go around rural parts but I don’t see many black people in rural Indiana, much less on a tractor or gardening. The second time was driving through Mississippi, and going through areas that are predominately African American and seeing lots of people farming so that was another wow moment for me.
DW: What about your time living in Oregon, did you encounter mostly white farmers?
AN: Mostly. There were Mexican farm workers that I didn’t see a lot of. I think a lot of the black farmers were few and far between. In rural areas there were more people doing community gardens. I managed a farmers market in an African American part of town so I got to see a lot of people starting to bring things to farmers markets.
DW: What’s your hope for farming in the future for the U.S.?
AN: I would like to see a lot more small farms and developing more tools and techniques that people could use especially for collaborative farming. Figuring out how to heal the land that’s been misused, how to get the resources, putting good land to use and rehabilitating land that has lost its organic matter, its microbial life, nitrogen, and the things that reach towards what this fertile land used to be like. In Indiana we have so much farmland that has been farmed for so long. Early on land was given to people for homesteads where the land was used for one crop and when that crop finally failed they picked up and they moved farther, at least that’s what I’ve read for grain crops. I think we need to figure out how to reverse that and think about a regenerative farming culture where we take land and we make it better than it was before.
DW: What do you think is the biggest obstacle in Indiana for achieving that goal?
AN: I think there is a lot of status quo and we need people who are visionaries who can really figure out how to engage communities and create new culture, and salvage old culture, of farming.
I asked Noble about his plans to further expand Miller farm and bring a greater diversity from the student body. For Noble he says, “I don’t want to push people too hard to become a part of it. It’s one of those things that you either want to farm or you don’t. But I really want to open it up and make it welcoming for all types of people” One way in which Noble plans to do so is by giving more talks on campus to spread awareness of the farm and to grow produce from around the world so international students can have a piece of home at school. For me, Miller Farm has been a way to get my hands dirty with my classmates to reconnect with the land and find a sense of purpose outside of the academic world.
“I think we need to figure out how to . . . think about a regenerative farming culture, where we take land and make it better than it was before.”