Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference 2010

On Saturday November 20, 2010, Harlem Seeds, along with hundreds of other New Yorkers and people from all over the country involved with farming and urban gardening projects, participated in the first Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference in Brooklyn.

The organizers of the conference began planning this event one year ago in an effort to bring the black and African-American community to the table when it comes to food justice and security in our rural and urban communities in this country.  The conference was successful in bringing farmers, youth, urban gardeners, community organizers, educators, and some of the most influential people in the black farming movement today such as Will Allen, founder and CEO of  Growing Power, Inc. and Ralph Paige, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.  Being the first conference of this nature in NYC, the energy and enthusiasm was explosive throughout the entire day.  Workshops/lectures filled Saturday’s program ranging in topics from increasing access to affordable foods in communities of color to the importance of composting in urban areas.

During the morning session, Harlem Seeds conducted a cooking workshop for the youth attending the workshop and their families.  We had 28 participants work together to prepare two traditional and seasonal Southern dishes usually alternative methods.  Two groups worked together to prepare raw kale greens, one group prepared cooked kale with garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, and another group whipped up our raw “Yummy Yams” recipe.

Each group had a Harlem Seeds staff member/volunteer to assist with the recipes, but the participants did all of the amazing work!  Throughout the room people were sharing stories, tips, other recipes, and generally getting to know one another and discussing what brought us to the conference.  There was a wonderful buzz of energy in the room and we could see everyone working well together and  supporting one another to collectively produce a shared meal.  The children and young folks participating in the workshop took on leadership roles alongside their group members and were instrumental in accomplishing the day’s tasks.

At the close of the workshop, everyone gathered around to taste the final products and to compare/contrast the cooked vs. raw foods prepared.  Some noticed that the raw dishes took longer to prepare, but yielded more food that the cooked dish.  The consensus in the end was that the Yummy Yams were the favorite out of all three leaving no left overs in the end.

With all of the different aspects of the food movement being addressed throughout the day and talking to people about the projects and initiatives they are involved in, it really became evident that there is no one way to solve the “food issue” in this country because the issue(s) are complex and multi-layered.  These issues require a number of different solutions that target specific problems under the umbrella of the “food issue”.  This why the conference was so important.  I was inspired on Saturday because there were hundreds of people gathered who are already addressing the specific issues of connecting rural farmers to urban food deserts, Black land rights, and access to clean healthy food in urban settings.  On a multitude of scales, all of us at the conference have taken a part  in improving the food system and the health of our communities.  Together, as we take all these parts, we are all working to address these issues on a larger scale, and that gives us hope.

As Ralph Paige said his closing remarks, “if this work was easy, then someone else would have done it already.”  I think many of us would agree with his words.  While this work is not easy, it is necessary and we must do it despite the challenges because if we don’t, then who will?  We have to help people get informed so as a community we can demand better food for our children, in our schools, and in our neighborhoods.  We need to be informed so we can help influence policy and make sure we are represented at the table as being part of the solutions and not merely the subject.

At the close of the conference, Karen Washington spoke of action and pushed us all to think about what actions we are going to take as a result of attending the conference.  At Harlem Seeds, we are making a pledge to the Harlem Community to help create access to clean, safe food sources, to help the community stay informed of the food issues in our community and in other communities and to help arm people with the knowledge and understanding of where their food comes from and how they can grow their own food so they may have access to healthy and affordable fuel for their bodies.

Harlem Seeds is honored and thankful to have been part of this historic conference.  So many of us had been waiting for such a gathering of this sort and we were beaming with excitement and energy as we connected with a multitude of people doing the work that needs to be done to help create food security in our communities.  Everyone brought something to the table that day and we want to thank the core team of women who worked months and months to make all of this happen as well as the volunteers, workshop presenters, speakers, and participants who made it out the conference last week.


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