2 Black farmers promote resilience for food, land and people
Ashanti Williams and Arian Rivera are farmers with the Black Yard Farm Collective work to educate communities of color on sustainable agricultural practices and land ownership.
Black farmers put on makeup about 1% of all farmers in the United States For Williams and Rivera, encouraging black people and people of color to get involved in farming was inspired by their own journeys to start the business. Their goal is to reclaim the legacy of black farmers of building self-sufficient communities by producing food.
“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Williams and Rivera about culture shock, the rigors of tilling the land and reimagining what farming can look like. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: Ashanti, describe to me the farmland you work.
Ashanti Williams: The farmland I’m working on now is, I guess, a mountainous area. We are about three hours from [New York City]. It is a fairly heavy clay soil, and it is a fairly rich pasture.
Ryssdal: And Arian, when I say ‘work the land’, I don’t know if I’m using the same definition that you, who actually work the land, would use. So what does it mean to you when you work on a farm?
Ariane Rivera: I believe that in the end, we are the stewards of this very productive and abundant Earth. The seeds sprout when you put them in the ground. But much of what we do tries to use sustainable and regenerative practices to create more resilient ecosystems: good soil, clean water, clean air, and healthy food.
Ryssdal: Something like 1% of all farmers in America, Ashanti, are black. And I’m wondering how that affects what you’re trying to do with Black Yard Farm Collective.
Williams: Well, that was an important part of my journey, making the transition to rural farming. Most of the spaces I cultivated in were predominantly white, so it was culture shock. And it was really difficult for me personally to try to learn agriculture on this scale and these spaces. So part of the work we’re trying to do here is to create these rural – but inclusive – spaces of that very tiny 1% and beyond of blacks and people of color trying to get into farming. .
Ryssdal: Tell me about the interest of people of color in farming, Ashanti, because, you know, you are very few. And I guess people look at you and say, “This is too hard for me”?
Williams: I think it’s actually the opposite. Like, a lot of people in the community where I’m from, when they see what I’m doing, they’re like, “Oh, well, if you do, I can do it too. And I feel like it’s more of an inspiring thing.
Ryssdal: That’s great. Ariane, who are your clients?
Rivera: At the moment it is still in development, but we are working with a few restaurants in town. We have contacts in Harlem and the Bronx, people from the communities where we come from who want to buy our animals and our vegetables. And then we start to make inroads here in the capital region. So we are looking to do markets in Albany and Schenectady in 2022.
Ryssdal: How lucky are you? And we should say, by the way, you’re near Albany, just a little bit upstate. But what kind of luck do you have and, you know, in business development, I guess, that’s what it’s called?
Rivera: We’re doing pretty well. I mean, there’s a ton of interest in what we’re doing. And everything that we have cultivated and raised, we have been able to sell until now. So I think our biggest limitation is that it’s just the two of us and this is our first year here on the pitch, but people have been really receptive to what we’re doing.
Ryssdal: I imagine the first year is going to be the hardest year. I don’t know what you’re going to do in five years, but I’m sure you’re going to look back and say this year has been tough, hasn’t it, Ashanti?
Williams: I think so. But I think it’s worth it. I think it helps build resilience. And we’re very interested in being resilient, therefore.
Ryssdal: Yeah, well, listen, let’s talk about five years from now. Law? And Arian, what do you want this collective to be? What do you want it to represent?
Rivera: I love that we are growing up and having welcomed additional members into our group. I think I want this to represent visibility for black people who grow food for their communities. Black farmers existed in this country before this country was a country. And so we’re trying to reclaim that legacy and just provide a visible model for other people who are interested who are potentially looking to do something like what we’re doing or just find out how they can grow their food as well and be a part of it. the food system.
Ryssdal: Are you both really living on earth? Do you live on the farm?
Williams: We do, yeah.
Rivera: We do.
Ryssdal: Do you ever want to get away from it for a little while? I imagine it’s all consuming.
Rivera: Absoutely. Because we have animals, it becomes a full time job all year round without a break. But we were lucky. We have been able to have a farm keeper, and we are looking to find other people who can look after things if we go away for a weekend.
Williams: And I think that’s, like, the overall long term plan. Like, that would be ideal to have more people and to be able to have a community doing the same job and being able to compromise.
Ryssdal: Alright Alright. Because it’s hard. It must be, it must, it’s all the time, I mean, farming is difficult at first. And when you start, it must be brutal.
Williams: Yes, it’s pretty brutal.
Rivera: It’s very difficult. I do think, however, that something, Kai, is re-imagining what farming can look like. It doesn’t have to be one person’s or one nuclear family’s farming in isolation and in the face of all these struggles. Like, farming has always been a community enterprise. And so being able to surround yourself with other people makes a food system more resilient, farmers more resilient. So as we see the jobs landscape change, hopefully more people end up hanging out on and around farms.