PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A nonprofit aimed at serving Black Portlanders is hoping to restore that community’s control of their own food supply.
The mission of Black Futures Farm (BFF) is to repair the relationship between Black people and the land as part of what’s called the Black food sovereignty movement. BFF is a program of a nonprofit called the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition and fiscally sponsored by another nonprofit, called Know Agenda Foundation.
BFF is located on the grounds of the Learning Gardens Lab at SE Duke and 60th in the Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood. The 1.15 acres is home to 17 fruit trees, along with vegetables, flowers, and medicinal and cooking herbs.
The farm is tended to by mostly the co-founders and co-directors, Malcolm Hoover and Mirabai Collins, who were married last year on the site. Other Black identified/Diasporic and Continental African people have worked on the farm in the past, Hoover said. But the coronavirus pandemic caused the organization to have to downsize its staff, so it is currently about 80% run by Hoover and Collins, he said.
They officially broke ground on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2020, but had secured the lease from Portland Parks and Recreation in October 2019.
In addition, they hold events called Black Sundays, just for Black community members, where people come and hang out at the farm, play music, build community and learn about planting, growing and harvesting food.
“It’s educational, it’s a spiritual thing, it’s really important for us just to have a better relationship with our food. That’s decolonized. Food that’s like cowpeas or black-eyed peas, right, food that is relevant to us that we brought here from Africa and that it’s nutritious to us culturally and nutritionally,” Hoover said.
Hoover said the program is trying to help reverse Black peoples’ fraught relationship with food and the land.
“Black people were first brought to the United States to farm and to work land. You know, for many of us, farming is intimately attached to slavery and there’s all this pain in it.”
Black Farmers in the U.S. were once much more prevalent than they are today, with about one million being recorded by 1920, according to the 1930 Census of Agriculture–that’s about 14% of all farmers in the country at the time.
The most recent agricultural census, from 2017, indicates there are less than 50,000 Black farmers today, or roughly 1.4% of the 3.4 million farmers in the nation.
Along with the decline in Black farmers came a decline in Black-owned farmland, with a report from the Atlantic indicating 98% of Black agricultural landowners were dispossessed of their land–whether from economic forces or, particularly in the American South, through acts of violence and intimidation–over the past century. That totals about a 12 million acreage loss of Black-owned farmland in the U.S., the article said.
Research from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics indicates that people of color and underserved communities have a number of diet-related chronic diseases at disproportionately high rates and that one factor that may contribute to this is lack of access to fresh, healthy foods.
“The food that you get from us still has all of its vitality. It’s still crisp…has all the beautiful textures and tastes,” Hoover said. “I’ve had people come out here and taste like lettuce and told us that they didn’t have any idea that this is what real lettuce actually tastes like,” rather than just being a vessel to hold salad dressing.
Some of the produce grown at the farm includes corn, squash, three different types of lettuces, collard greens, mustard greens, microgreens, three different types of kale, two different types of onions, garlic, five varieties of potatoes, blueberry bushes, cherries, figs, plums, apples, pears and persimmons.
In addition, the farm participates in a Community Supported Agriculture model, in which shareholders can make one or a few large payments to have biweekly boxes of produce picked up throughout the season or delivered for a nominal fee (the CSA is currently full).
On top of that, Hoover said they also give a lot of food away, during Black Sundays or elsewhere. For instance, a contract with another nonprofit, Equitable Giving Circle, paid BFF for 10 extra CSA shares.
“So I was able to just take that food and say hey, here have this, to just strangers, people who aren’t our customers. They’re not people I’d never see again.”
Hoover said it’s a beautiful thing to be able to take a bag of produce valued between $65-$85 and just hand it to a person, asking if they would accept it.
“And they’re looking at you like, well what’s your angle? I don’t have an angle bro, I’m Black, you’re Black, I just want you to have this. I grew this food myself. Like this is not something I went and picked up from a pantry, I grew this food, I picked it this morning, I cleaned it, and now I’m giving it to you.”