Noble Labor

Anthony Noble: Connecting Justice, Food and Land 

(one small college farm at a time)

–Dorothy Weiss, 2/01/2021, Princeton, NJ

Anthony Noble rescued Miller Farm on the campus of Earlham College farm  in Richmond, Virginia from abandoned weeds to a place that grows both food and new ideas about people, food, racial justice and the future of our relationship to land. (Photo from @_millerfarm_)

“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.”

Photo from @_millerfarm_

https://millerfarmers.wixsite.com/millerfarm

Black Farmers

For those of us who may not be that familiar with the continuous challenges faced by Black farmers, I thought I’d start off the first day of Black History Month 2021, by reposting an article that appeared yesterday in the New York Times.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/31/climate/black-farmers-discrimination-agriculture.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

Below, I have listed a few organizations that provide assistance to Black farmers who live in the South:

Federation of Southern Cooperatives: Provides assistance to farmers living in states located in the Deep South (www.federation.coop).

Land Loss Prevention Project: Provides assistance to farmers living in North Carolina (www.landloss.org).

New Communities Land Trust : Provides assistance to farmers living in Southwest, Georgia (www.newcommunitiesinc.com).

Growing Appalachia: From the Ground Up

By Dorothy Weiss, Berea, Ky, 1/26/2021

Mark Walden on building stronger communities

Mark Walden
Mark Walden is a program manager for Grow Appalachia. Photo courtesy of Grow Appalachia.

“Food connects people and provides equity in communities and opens the doors for conversations.”

Grow Appalachia is an organization that focuses on cultivating a vibrant local food system in central Appalachia. Grow Appalachia partners with local organizations in communities to provide education to beginner farmers, help families start their own gardens, provide technical assistance for farming, and feed local communities through community kitchens and the Berea Kids Eat program. I spoke to Mark Walden who manages two programs for Grow Appalachia, educating beginner farmers, and high tunnel construction. In Covid fashion we spoke via zoom, while both situated in the town of Berea, Kentucky where the program is headquartered through Berea College. 

The children shown above are participating in a Kids Eat program activity that was held at the Boys and Girls Club of Bristol, Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Grow Appalachia.

“women are leading the charge in agriculture in our region and conferences”

Mark began his work with Grow Appalachia in 2012, after attempting to start a family farm with his wife. After the loss of his brother to cancer, Mark and his wife were seeking a life with access to healthy, chemical free foods, and minimal stress. However, farming turned out to be very demanding, with the multiple roles one must fill to create a successful business off of the land. So, while maintaining a garden to sustain their family, Mark started working for Grow Appalachia, to help foster healthy communities throughout the Appalachian region. He educates new farmers, especially on how to grow organic food. Grow Appalachia only supports organic products, so those who seek their help have to learn organic farming practices. This is intentional in not just creating fresh vegetables, but for having chemical free produce, where cancer is rampant. Mark comments how most people going through the farmer education program are from ages thirty to fifty, and mostly female saying, “women are leading the charge in agriculture in our region and conferences”. Mark also works with the Natural Resource Conservation Service through the USDA to provide high tunnels to farmers. He said that the application process was complicated and through the assistance of Berea College, Grow Appalachia was able to secure sufficient funding, demonstrating how seeking federal funding for farmers can be quite difficult. For the future of Grow Appalachia, Mark hopes to see more outreach to communities of color, seeing that the program predominantly addresses white folk. And as for the future of food systems in America, Mark hopes for, “vibrant local and regional food systems where healthy food is accessible to all. Food connects people and provides equity in communities and opens the doors for conversations.”

Grow Appalachia is one of the many programs seeking to address food insecurity and health issues in the Appalachia area. Through its work communities learn to see the power in their own self reliance. 

Above a Grow Appalachia program participant installs plastic on a hoop house. Photo courtesy of Grow Appalachia.

Land Ownership vs. Urban Agriculture

Back to the Land,’ Really?

How does urban farming compare to rural farming in terms of land ownership, food justice, and community?

The food justice movement is an important example of how communities of color are reclaiming collective power in a society that is systematically set up to hinder their wellbeing and success. Access to nutritious food is one of the most foundational aspect to health and wellness. Through nourishing communities of color and setting up food systems that work on the borders of our capitalist society, the food justice movement is reimagining what a more sustainable economy and society could look like. However, there appears to be an urban-rural divide in strategies, both tied to food production and land access but at different scales and with different implications about points of investment. Are there opportunities to connect the two and bridge rural and urban activism around farming, food, and community? 

To address food access in urban communities, many activists have turned to urban agriculture as a means to grow food and build networks.  For over 100 years, we have seen examples of urban agriculture projects – from community gardens to urban farms –   taking underutilized, debilitated land and transforming it into thriving urban gardens. These efforts – from Philadelphia to Chicago and San Francisco to New Orleans – have been effective means to make fresh vegetables accessible and affordable to communities of color that lack access to healthy, culturally appropriate, affordable fresh food. But what urban community gardens and farms often lack is space and secure land tenure. As blog contributor Laura Lawson’s research has found, most urban community garden programs have been opportunistic, relying on borrowed land and short-term leases, and only recently have mechanisms such as urban land trusts come into play to address long-term land security.  Another challenge these urban gardens face is scale – urban lots of ⅛ to ¼ acre can be productive but are a far cry from the acreage needed to address the needed food production. Access to larger parcels is complicated by urban real estate pressures and urban planning presumptions of “higher and better use” that tend to downgrade the economic and social benefits of urban farms and gardens. Thus, while urban gardens and farms are often powerfully networked into local activism and carry a heavy weight of intended benefits, how much they can really achieve in improving quality of life remains unclear. 

Another option is to go to where the land is – rural communities in need of new energy and able to contribute much more in the way of agriculture as livelihood and food production. The Great Migration shifted many families from rural communities to urban ones, and now the tide had turned to “back to the land.” Such is the case described in a recent article, “Fighting Food Apartheid and Finding Freedom on a Virginia Farm,” in Ecofarm Daily.   Author Leigh Glenn interviews Renard Turner, a black homesteader in Virginia and food sovereignty advocate, who describes  long-term issue of urban farming in that they “don’t equate to food sovereignty and do little toward decreasing the numbers of food scarcity in inner cities.” In order to create long-term change, Turner asserts that people of color need to own land and control their own economy of food from growing to distribution. For Renard Turner, that is the path towards true food sovereignty. 

Since its inception, the Cultivating Justice blog has sought to share stories of both urban and rural farmers in order to highlight the passions propelling their efforts and the challenges they face. We have heard from both rural and urban growers that cultural connection and seeking healthier lives are important factors driving their work. For both urban and rural growers, getting access to quality land can be a tricky business. Land ownership has often come up, whether it is urban farmers wanting to scale up production but not finding adequate land or rural growers concerned about the next generation picking up farming and caring for rural communities. And the need for education and training is often raised as both a rural and urban concern. People are no longer raised gardening and growing food, so the prospect of scaling up production often requires access to advanced agricultural education. 

How might food sovereignty reframe the urban-rural divide into a shared concern? When it comes to food justice, how can we support connections between urban and rural food production and access? What kinds of programs might be needed to enable ambitious urban gardeners to apprentice with experienced rural farmers? What supports might they need to buy land and farm on a larger scale in the country? And how can this come back to the city to satisfy local food needs while also building power within the community? 

These are questions we pose and hope to hear back from our readers, many of whom have unique perspectives to share.

Fighting Food Apartheid and Finding Freedom on a Virginia Farm

-Dorothy Weiss, Princeton, NJ

– Laura Lawson, Highland Park, NJ 

01/21/2021

A Bright Light

Ms. Estes and I are organizing produce prior to the mid-week farmers market that was held at the garden. Photo courtesy of Anne Clay Kenan. Circa 1997.

If memory serves me correctly, it was late summer 1999 when Ms. Lillie Mae Estes agreed to “demonstrate” how she tended her community garden plot. At the time, I was the site’s director and eager to document the gradual transformation of the vacant lot located in Northeast Central Durham, North Carolina into the community green space. It would eventually become a space which included both a mural and garden plots where local residents could grow organic vegetables. On this day, I had invited cinematographer Roger Beebe to come to the garden to capture Ms. Estes’ actions with his 16mm camera. My goal was to produce a feature-length film about the garden and the neighborhood using Roger’s footage and the Super 8 film I had captured over the course of several months. Ultimately, what I produced was an audio soundscape that meshed interview soundbites with the sounds of garden and neighborhood activities. While the finished product differed from what I originally intended to produce, this period marked the moment when I realized my passions for urban agriculture, green spaces, and doing documentary work.

Now more than 20 years later, I am so thankful to have this footage of Ms. Estes. One of my favorite images is a freeze frame of her gardening that I used as cover art for the cultivating justice blog. Another is the image at the top of the blog that shows Ms.Estes and I preparing to sell leafy greens at the mid-week market that was held on site. At the time, she was one of my North stars—no matter what, during the growing season, you could always count on her presence at the garden. Most days, barring bad weather or a previously scheduled trip to the grocery store or another errand, she would arrive early usually wearing a baseball cap or wide-brimmed hat with a hoe in hand and a teasing look of disappointment if I arrived after her. Born in 1919, Ms. Estes was “raised on a farm in the country,” where she acquired her knowledge of all things gardening before later moving to Durham in the ’70s. In mid-August of 1994, our paths crossed when I was hired to assist with the transformation of the vacant lot, and my life was forever changed. Ms. Estes is no longer with us and I am decades removed from my time at that garden, but every time I visit the blog and see her image, I am transported back to that time.

Ms. Estes demonstrates how she tends her garden. Filmed by Roger Beebe circa 1999.

Why Are Women Spearheading the Food Justice Movement?

I have only just begun delving into the world of the food justice movement. For a couple weeks now I have been sorting through articles and video clips documenting the initiatives made by numerous people of color to get better access to land and quality food. The food justice movement addresses how past injustices, from enslavement to sharecropping, have shaped communities of color today, and advocates for power and equality. Already I have noticed a pattern. From names, such as Karen Washington, Leah Penniman, Dara Cooper, and many more, the food justice movement is largely led by women of color. I have been asking myself, as a white college student studying how gender is shaped by society, why that is, and what I can learn through exploring the deep roots of injustice in the US, challenged by years of activism, so that I can better appreciate why women of color have taken the reins on this issue and blazed forward. 

I have been thinking back to moments in history where women of color have organized around food insecurity. In the late 60s and 70s, black women in the Black Panther Party emphasized the need to provide black folk with services for their daily oppressions. This concept was coined “survival pending revolution” (Dr. Farmer, 2019). Black women saw the need to address the short term effects of systematic racism that inhibited black folk from progressing, and that included food. The Free Breakfast Program provided food to children who were starving or lacking enough nutrients to succeed in school. Black women were at the forefront advocating for their communities, and addressing basic needs that were not being met for people of color.

So here we are now, 2020, and the same battle continues.  And at the root of the fight around food security is the lack of the most basic need for food in communities of color and the activism needed to gain control and power in an unjust system. I hope to apply what I’ve studied in college to better understand the food justice movement and the role that gender plays in local activism. 

-Dorothy Weiss, 12/18/2020

Dr. Farmer, Ashley. The Black Women Intellectuals and Activists Who Revolutionized

Black Power . YouTube , Texas Lutheran University, 9 May 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJunYdEZABY.

Community-Controlled Spaces

The following article underscores the need for long-term land security in order for urban farms and art spaces to serve their communities.

BROKE IN PHILLY

An urban farm feeding the poorest part of Philly fights to stay alive and growing

by Alfred Lubrano, Posted: November 24, 2020 

An urban farm feeding the poorest part of Philly fights to stay alive and growing
JESSICA GRIFFIN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

https://www.inquirer.com/news/urban-farm-north-philadelphia-food-insecurity-supermarket-desert-20201124.html?__vfz=medium%3Dsharebar

Welcoming Our First Intern

Hello Cultivating Justice community. My name is Dorothy and I’m joining Cultivating Justice to contribute to the conversation around food injustice and discuss one of the many ways in which racist policies create barriers for people of color in obtaining land rights and ownership. I am a student at Earlham College studying Women, Gender, and Sexualities Studies. I have spent my time unpacking the ways in which society marginalizes communities whether by class, race, or gender, and I am excited to enrich what I’ve learned through my work with Cultivating Justice. I also hope to connect to  younger generations who have turned to farming as a way of seeking hope and stability in a fracturing world. Let’s create a conversation so that we can all work towards a more sustainable future.

Farmer Profile: Alyssa and Allen Ward

Thanks to Alyssa and Allen for sharing their farm story with us! The Ward’s have a 12-acre cut-flower farm in Salem, New Jersey. For more information, please visit: wardsfarmnj.com.

Alyssa and Allen Ward pose with Junior at Ward’s Farm located in Salem, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Allen Ward.

My husband, Allen grew up spending the summers on his grandparents 200+ acre horse farm in Minnesota. That is where he learned how to farm. As an adult, he has always grown vegetables. In 2012, he started to take backyard growing and turn it into farming. I on the other hand grew up in the Poconos in a very woodsy area but never farmed. I was introduced to farming when I met Allen in 2013. I learned how great farming could be when I had my first fresh from the farm asparagus for dinner and I was hooked into farming!

During the week in season, Allen wakes up at sunrise to tend to the farm. That could include weeding, picking flowers for our roadside stand, florist or other stands, making flower arrangements or other various farm tasks. Allen works a full time 9-5 job in banking where he spends the bulk of the day. When he comes home, he spends more time on the farm, whether it’s mowing, tilling, planting, cutting more flowers and hosting our ‘Pick Your Own’ evening events. Oh, and taking pictures for our social media. Weekends in the early spring are spent on the farm all day tilling the fields to be planted and planting the fields. As the season progresses, the weekends are spent tending to the blooming fields and finishing the weekday tasks that couldn’t be completed. This includes cutting flowers, tilling the weeds between the rows and hosting day time ‘Pick Your Own’ events. All year round, he suits up in the bee keeper suit to take care of our 4 honey bee hives. This can include checking for mites/beetles and making sure the overall health of the hives are good. In the winter, Allen spends time cleaning and beautifying the farm to ensure it looks in tip top shape for the warmer months.

Photo courtesy of Allen Ward.
Photo courtesy of Allen Ward.

I too work a full time 9-5 job in pharmaceuticals. I am the voice of the farm’s social media, posting the pictures and responding to customer questions, requests and scheduling events & farm visits. On the weekends and weekday evenings in the warm months, I tend our herb raised beds where we grow over 18 mint varieties to sell our Ward’s Farm all natural sun teas. During the busy season, I work our evening weekday and weekend day ‘Pick Your Own’ events. All year round, I work on our indoor succulents where I am constantly propagating so we can eventually sell those in the winter months when we don’t have our pretty summer blooms.

We both are so appreciative of our parents who know how busy farm work can get. They spend hours helping us whether it’s bringing food for dinner, spending time with the animals, helping with ‘Pick Your Own’ events or helping cut flowers to make arrangements for the stand.

We both love seeing the things we plant grow and flourish. It’s a great feeling to see something you hand planted thrive, grow and share it with others. It has become a passion and we are both blessed that we have the opportunity to do something we enjoy so much.

We have learned that it is important to go with the flow. We started out as an organic vegetables farm but converted to cut flowers after seeing there were an abundance of vegetable farms but not nearly as many flower farms. As Covid-19 has impacted everyone in the world, it has also changed our business a bit. Due to the cancellation of many events like weddings and parties, florists weren’t in need of flowers from the farm. In turn, we have had to shift our plans to now open our cut flower fields to the public rather than supply to florist. We have taken an obstacle and turned it into an opportunity.

As for the sunflowers fields, we have done ‘Pick Your Own’ events in the past but have seen an increase of visitors. We believe this is due to the fact that everyone has been in quarantine and just wants to get outside! We are so happy that we can bring joy in this tough time. We are blessed to have plenty of acreage so we are able to follow social distancing guidelines all while sharing the fields with others.

Working full time jobs, we have both learned to balance work, life, and farming. It can definitely get overwhelming at times, but as we get older, we see the importance of finding time for things that make you happy and that is farming to us.

In addition to our love for flowers, we have a love for honey bees that help pollinate the world. Not only do they help us create our own breeds of sunflowers, they also pollinate our other flowers (and veggies). Because bees will travel to get pollen, they help to pollinate the surrounding farms too.

It also doesn’t hurt that these wonderful pollinators produce something we both love and enjoy- honey! Between the two of us, we can go through a 5lb jar of honey in a couple months and we are very thankful that in time, our little hard working bees will produce that for us.

Our passion for bees comes from the fact that we wouldn’t have these beautiful flowers or tasty vegetables without the bees pollinating. We got our bees so we can help sustain the bee population. Our plan is to add more hives each year.

Our goal for the future is to continue to share our farm and flowers with our community for years to come.