The Black Land Use and Food Supply Summer is an immersive one week living and learning project organized by the New Jersey based Grassroots Community Foundation in collaboration with the AJC Center.
( Courtesy of Melissa Harris-Perry
Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. You're listening to the words that resounded through my North Carolina home at the start of each morning last week.
Speaker 1: Truth, order, balance, and reciprocity, like the sankofa bird, we look to our past, so that we can be our best, today and every day. Ashay.
Melissa Harris-Perry: These are the girls and women of the Black Land use and Food Supply Summer Program. It's an immersive one week living and learning project organized by the New Jersey based Grassroots Community Foundation in collaboration with my own academic program, the Anna Julia Cooper Center. last week, a dozen Black girls and women ranging an age from 11 to 50 piled into a van and drove to North Carolina. They arranged their air mattresses in my living room and spent the week learning about how blackness shapes land ownership, food production, and food access in this country.
We designed the curriculum to give the participants a chance to really think about the complicated relationship of black Americans to land and how it's used. We spent some time exploring who makes decisions about land and what difference those decisions make.
Anna Julia Cooper: We went from being on the land to running the land. We use the land for entrepreneurship. We use it for our remedies.
Leaned: 14 year old Leaned is from Philadelphia, a big city girl excited to travel South and to meet Clarinda Stanley, better known as Farmer Cee.
Farmer Cee: You can come in if you want. [laughs] You won't fall through the ground.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Farmer Cee owns and operates just over 14 acres in Liberty, North Carolina and calls it Green Heffa Farms. She is a rarity. Nationwide, Black women make up less than 1% of farm owner operators. Athough she grew up in rural Alabama, Cee isn't formally trained in agriculture. When she first acquired Green Heffa Farms, Cee was married and planning to manage only the marketing and branding end of the business. After a divorce, she left her lucrative day job and committed full time to farming.
Speaker 2: Did anybody tell you, you were just put-- [crosstalk]
Farmer Cee: I'm sure some folks probably said it but I keep to myself so I don't really be hearing what folks be saying. [laughs]
Speaker 2: As you should.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Last year, a 12 minute documentary about Farmer Cee was selected as the best short film in the 2021 Raleigh Film and Art Festival.
Farmer Cee: For me, farming is not just an act, it's a way of being. You're a farmer in spirit. I believe you're always at the mercy of a higher power, a higher energy, whether you call it nature, spirit, God.
Melissa Harris-Perry: At the mercy of a higher power indeed. When the students arrived at Green Heffa Farms last week, they found themselves at the mercy of a blazing North Carolina sun, stifling humidity and unabated mosquitoes. Despite their boundless enthusiasm, these urban dwellers from Jersey and Philly weren't quite ready for the harsh reality of a North Carolina farm in July and Farmer Cee clocked it the moment we stepped out of the van.
Farmer Cee: You all out here with these cute little coordinated tennis shoes on.
Melissa Harris-Perry: She might have been shaking her head about folks who visited a farm hatless and wearing tennis shoes and shorts, but Farmer Cee opened her arms and her spirit talking with us about regenerative farming methods.
Farmer Cee: When you're tilling, you're cutting deep into the soil to turn it over, to make all the good soil under come to the top. To get rid of the harder soil, softens it up. The problem is you're disturbing all of the biodiversity. You're disturbing your microbia, you're disturbing your mitochondria. You're disturbing your earth worms, et cetera, and you are releasing carbon into the air. When you release carbon into the air, the problem is that it's affecting our temperature globally.
Melissa Harris-Perry: She's gently corrected us when we misidentified her beloved plants.
Farmer Cee: Grab this and smell it.
Speaker 3: Is it mint?
Farmer C: This is actually Holy Basil, which is a beautiful adaptogen.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Green Heffa Farms does not overflow with tomatoes, squash, or soybeans. It's a medicinal plant farm and Farmer Cee crafts original teas from the harvest. A talented marketer with a master's degree in business, Farmer Cee offers wonderfully named products like sanitea, fix it tea and our favoutite, favorite rich auntea.
Farmer Cee: This is clitoria ternatea, butterfly pea flower. It is a plant that is a wonderful plant for girls and women, helps with a variety of things that we deal with. It is in my rich auntea, this makes a brilliant blue tea mixed with the red of the hibiscus. That's why the tea is purple. Then it has the lemon grass.
Speaker 3: She grows on a pole?
Farmer C: Yes, she does.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The medicinal purposes of her farming are signaled by her name.
Speaker 4: Did you all get that her name Farmer Cee is a play on pharmacy?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Here again as 14 year old Leaned.
Leaned: Farmer Cee uses hers as, well, pharmacy. She uses it as remedy. That's why Black Land Matters. It's so much you can do with it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Black Land Matters. This is perhaps the most important takeaway from the week the girls spent living, learning and farming in North Carolina. As Farmer Cee reminds us, there's always something to learn when farming.
Farmer Cee: Every day, I'm out here, I'm learning. This isa big classroom.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's take a quick break. The Takeaway returns in just a moment. You're back with The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry and we're still at the Black land and food justice camp. I hosted in my home this summer. Eight girls, one bathroom met many rounds of rock paper scissors to decide who showers first. There was plenty of laughter and learning as this group of New Jersey and Philadelphia based women and girls spent a week down South.
Diya Dantzler: Hi, my name is Diya and I'm I'm 20 years old. I'm from Philly. Growing up, living in this city, I've become so used to seeing land occupied in such different ways. There are trains here, corner stores, row houses, and coming to the South and actually seeing real acreage and how we can create spaces for ourselves, it was just really cool.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We took a lot of different approaches to thinking about Black land. Not only did we spend time with Farmer Cee on her 14 acre medicinal plant farm, but we also learned about how redlining, residential segregation, inheritance and property taxes all affect how and where Black people can own and use land. In her nightly camp reflection journal, mom and teacher Sonia Ferguson wrote about the connections between Black land loss and the racial wealth gap.
Sonia Ferguson: In addition to the decline of stability and security produced by the loss of land ownership, the Black community has lost the opportunity to own an asset with a proven track record of wealth creations.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, we also had a chance to see how Black women are using very small plots of land to build wealth through business. Camille Lancaster is a small business owner in Winston-Salem who farms in a narrow urban container garden behind her store called the Greenhouse. Now the greenhouse is just a little shop where Miss. Camille creates and sells natural plant-based products made from her own homegrown herbs.
Camille Lancaster: That's what we do. We take herbs and roots and all those good things, and we mix 'them all together. Then we give them the people and help them understand that there is some alternative, and it's not an alternative medicine--
Melissa Harris-Perry: This many different ways of thinking about land use prompted our youngest participant 11 year old and Enyasa to reflect.
Enyasa: Land is like Swiss army knife. They're both versatile. They can both be used for many different things.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Not only did we delve into contemporary issues, we also explored complicated histories of race and place and found that both the young girls and the adult women became contemplative about land in ways they've never previously imagined.
Farida Odumosu: Hi, my name is Farida Odumosu and I'm 17 years old and I'm a member of the Black Land and Food Supply Project. After studying Black land use in North Carolina for a week, I've realized that we all utilize land across this nation in various ways. Rarely do we acknowledge how this land, this very land that we live on, was and still is built off of the backs of our Black ancestors. We eat as a result of our Black land. We live on our black land and must appreciate our Black land because it is the foundation of who we are.
Shariel Raymond: My name is Shariel Raymond and I am 48 years old. Black land is that tangible assertion of our own power. When the rest of the world confounds us, we look to a home. Our bodies return to the earth. Why shouldn't that be our piece of the earth?
Melissa Harris-Perry: While the curriculum of assigned readings and relevant experiential learning were foundational, I think all of us found that the most lasting lessons were learned by how we created spaces ofBlack land simply by being together. I mean, when 15 boisterous, beautiful Black girls and women show up for lunch at a small restaurant, well, we created Black land and we learned a lot from how others responded to our occupation of this public space. When we spread yoga mats in the front yard and practice together at sundown, we forge personal and collective attachment to the earth that we'd spent the day studying and farming.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The girls sang and danced in the living room, chased chickens in the yard, or sat by the pond to watch goldfish, they laid claim. They made this land their own.
Speaker 5: What a shame it would be if we too weren't given an opportunity to put that knowledge into the soil, the soil that connects us all, and it feeds us all. Yes, for all of us to thrive collectively, Black land matters.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.