The Real Organic Project was created to build community around the core beliefs of organic farming. These beliefs are based on a biologically diverse soil ecosystem. This kind of farming has profound impacts on our health and on our climate. If we change our farming systems, we change our world.
Real Organic Project has been created to make change. We seek individual actions to change institutional failures.
If there is one belief that is central to organic, it is that everything is connected. Every action has a profound impact on the system, although we are often unaware of that impact. When we reduce the diversity of a soil community, we make it more brittle, more fragile, more vulnerable, more dysfunctional. Diversity brings health.
Our movement for greater diversity in the soil community is often lacking racial diversity in the farming community. We certainly have people of color in the Real Organic Project among our farmers and on our boards. We feed people of all colors. But we are a predominantly white movement.
The authentic organic movement has always been a part of the Blessed Unrest described by Paul Hawken. A complex ecosystem of diverse social movements struggling towards a common harmony. The organic movement was always part of a larger cultural movement intended to reimagine our role on the planet. It intended us to live lives based less on greed and more on kindness and generosity.
The murder last week of George Floyd, yet another black man killed by yet another white policeman, has plunged the country into pain, into anger, into rage, into grief, and hopefully, into action. There are spontaneous demonstrations everywhere. The rest of the world is responding as well. 10,000 people march through the streets of Copenhagen in solidarity. 10,000 people march in Australia.
The problem isn't just that some dangerous racists have badges and guns. The bigger problem is that there is a bitter history of those dangerous racists then being protected by police departments and courts.
I am also hit by all this personally as the scared white father of a black man. I am afraid for my son. At least with COVID he can choose to stay away from others to protect himself. But as a person of color, where is he supposed to stay? He lives in New York City, but even in Vermont, black men have been assaulted by police while sitting in their own homes. There is literally no safe place. My son was pulled over by police 12 times in the first year he had his license, never getting a single ticket. Just checking…. Every black person in America is faced with real danger from some of the very people they pay to protect them.
I don’t know how to deal with this. I share my confusion. Somehow, we must do much better.
None of us can do it alone. We can’t do it alone.
We all have little corners of the social universe that we inhabit. these corners are our responsibility. Real Organic Project is a group of farmers and eaters who know a little bit about biology, ecology, and growing food. But the world of growing food is sculpted by American racism as well. We are the inheritors of a system of land ownership that began by excluding people of color to the benefit of white people. That deep pattern is continued by the decisions of our banks and Federal lending programs. America actually has a lower percentage of black landowning farmers today (a little over 1%) than we had 50 years ago. AS a white person my privilege is real, but invisible to me. That is the nature of privilege. As Malcolm Gladwell has said, it isn't wrong that I am given such support from the system. It is wrong that such support isn't extended to EVERYBODY.
Black farmers have been pushed off the land. It is easier to rob a person with a fountain pen than with a gun. Although the gun is used as well.
So I am offering links to a few talks that have been important to me. These people have taught me. Even in our busy world, it isn't hard to become better informed. Learning is always the first step. It can't be the last step.
First is a talk by Onika Abraham at the first Real Organic Symposium at Dartmouth in 2019. It is a powerful talk that I really appreciated. Onika is Director of Farm School NYC, an adult training program for city dwellers interested in growing food. Onika also spoke at the NYC rally to protect organic in 2017.
Next is a talk by Leah Penniman called “Farming While Black” given at the EcoFarm conference in 2020. Leah is a farmer activist who wrote the classic book Farming While Black. She has given keynotes at many conferences since the publication of her book.
Next a talk by Malik Yakini, a highly respected pioneer in urban organic farming. He is the co-founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Malik's work is focused on building food sovereignty for black people. I chose this talk given at Dartmouth College in 2017. It shows his generosity of spirit.
Finally, the New York Times put out a powerful series directed by Nikole Hannah-Jones called “1619”, marking the 400th anniversary of slavery in America. There were 246 years of slavery in America – 10 generations. Now, it is 150 years after abolition, and there is still so far to go. How can we still have so far to go? They describe how the wealth of America was built on slavery. Slavery was the economic engine that created America. And it also created our American version of capitalism. It goes on to show how black Americans continue to be driven out of farm ownership. The podcasts include two episodes on land ownership for Black farmers called “Land Of Our Fathers.”