Food Tank

Four Advocates for Minority Farming Resilience

“Rooted and Rising: Black Southern Land Legacies of Resistance & Resilience,” a conference by the Black Urban Growers, will explore the history of and solutions from Black agriculture and how it influences today’s food movements.

The 7th Annual Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference, hosted by Black Urban Growers (BUGs), will be held from November 10 to 12, 2017, at Georgia State University. The theme is “Rooted and Rising: Black Southern Land Legacies of Resistance & Resilience.” This national conference brings together Black farmers, food justice advocates, educators, chefs, and community members to share best practices and build a stronger network in the movement for food justice and food sovereignty. The goals of the conference are to explore the history of and solutions from Black agriculture and how it influences today’s food movements.

“As Black folks separated by geography, there is deep gratitude for the space that the BUGs Conference offers us to hold together for folks who believe growing food and land stewardship are the way towards liberation,” Alsie Parks, member of the conference host committee, says in a press release. “There are lessons and tools for us to gather up to guide our movement work in this spiritual and political moment and how we activate the agrarian wisdom of our ancestors.”

The mission of BUGs is to engage people of African descent in critical food and farm-related issues that directly impact health, communities, and economic security. BUGs uses education and advocacy to support urban and rural growers and nurture Black leadership. The conference series is meant to start conversations around food, including where it comes from, who provides it, and what the relationship is between individual health and community health.

The conference will include urban farm tours, participatory workshops, panel discussions, a market, and networking events. Several workshops will focus on sustainable agriculture education, including soil health, hydroponics, and hoop tunnels. The sub-themes for the conference are Rooted (history and traditions), Rising (trans local connections), Reimagine (Afro-futurism in food), Relationships (nurturing bonds), and Resilience (sustainable strategies).

Below is more information about the conference keynote speakers, who include farmers, chefs, historians, and activists.

Rukia Lumumba from Cooperation Jackson

Rukia Lumumba was born to an activist family. Her father, Chokwe, was a civil rights-oriented lawyer, activist, and former mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Growing up, Lumumba once hid in the closet with her brother for an afternoon, holding a knife between them for protection, after receiving a death threat over the phone while their parents were out. She earned a Bachelor’s in Political Science with an emphasis on international relations in 2001, a Juris Doctorate in Constitutional Law in 2005, and a second Juris Doctorate in Juvenile Justice in 2006.

Lumumba has devoted her career to addressing mass incarceration, racial injustice, gender equality, and community resource development. As an undergraduate, she founded the Community Aid & Youth Development Program to educate children. During her law studies, she co-founded Katrina on the Ground, a student initiative to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. After graduating, Lumumba joined Parent Watch, Inc as a Program Director, focusing on racial disparities within the criminal system. This was followed by work at the Center for Community Alternatives, which promotes reintegrative justice and reduced reliance on incarceration, as the Director of Youth Advocacy Services. Next, she was the Director of the Youth Programs at the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services, where she oversaw initiatives into early intervention, alternatives to incarceration, and youth reentry programs. Most recently, Lumumba co-directed her brother’s successful mayoral campaign in Jackson, Mississippi.

Matthew Raiford, Executive Chef of Little St. Simons Island and sixth-generation farmer at Gilliard Farms

Matthew Raiford grow up on a farm, owned by his family since 1874, in Brunswick, Georgia. He earned a Bachelor’s of Professional Studies degree in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the University of California Santa Cruz and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Raiford’s cooking is in the classic French style with an affinity for Mediterranean flavors.

Raiford has taught culinary arts at community and technical colleges in Georgia, Maryland, and Texas. He is a Chef Rotisseur of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs USA and a member of the Food and Wine Society. Prior to returning to Georgia, he was the Executive Chef of Haute Catering in Washington, D.C., at the House of Representatives. In that position, he was responsible for food at the National Defense University, National Archives, Pentagon Conference Center and Library, and the Canadian Embassy. Raiford currently works at the ecotourist resort Little St. Simons Island and helps run the certified organic family farm.

Shirley Sherrod, co-founder of New Communities, co-founder and Executive Director of Southwest Georgia Project

At the age of 17, Shirley Sherrod’s father was killed in a purported livestock dispute and the shooter was acquitted by an all-White jury. This experience convinced her to work for change in the south. She worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while earning a Bachelor’s in Sociology and a Master’s in Community Development.

In 1969, Sherrod helped form New Communities, Inc., a farming collective empowering African American families and advocating for social justice, which served as a laboratory and model for the development of Community Land Trusts. In 1971, she helped found the Southwest Georgia Project, an educational and activist group seeking to combat social inequities, persistent poverty rates, high unemployment rates, and historically negative agriculture-related experiences for minorities. In 2009, Obama appointed her as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Georgia State Director for Rural Development, the first Black person to hold the position. Sherrod currently serves on the boards of the Rural Advancement Foundation International, Rural Development Leadership Network, and Albany Chamber of Commerce, as well as serving as the Executive Director of Southwest Georgia Project.

Dr. Leni Sorensen, Former African-American and Culinary Historian at Monticello and Organizing Member of the Virginia Food Heritage Project

Dr. Sorensen began her career as a folksinger in the 1950s and 1960s. She then taught cookery before picking up farming. After moving to Virginia, she began to work at a historic house museum where she applied her farming skills to the interpretation of African American life during slavery. Dr. Sorensen decided to go back to school, earning a Bachelor’s in History in 1992, followed by a Master’s and ultimately a PhD in American Studies in 2005.

Dr. Sorenson conducted research on slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s house, Monticello, narrowing in on the Jefferson kitchen and the cooks who created Jefferson’s reputation as a man of fine dining. She developed a deep interest in food production, gardens, farming, food justice, cooking, and rural life skills. Dr. Sorenson retired in 2012 but continues to consult and present public history at museums, universities, and events. Her personal philosophy is to pass on the stuff she knows, following the dictum, “each one teach one.”

Food Tank is a sponsor of the 7th Annual Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference. To learn more and/or purchase tickets, please click here.


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