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Case study: Decolonial farming in New York

The world is facing a global food crisis. More than 1 billion people suffer from hunger and two billion from malnutrition – globally.
Covered permaculture growing
© University of Glasgow

The world is facing a global food crisis. More than 1 billion people suffer from hunger and two billion from malnutrition – globally. This crisis overlaps with a convergence of planetary crises, including food, water, biodiversity, climate, financial instability and energy insecurity. The food system crisis is a result of a globalised, modern-industrial agricultural system. 

This existing food system, a product of the Green Revolution, is characterised by concentrated land ownership, over-production, mono-crops and resource intensive, ecologically damaging methods. Since the shift to an industrial society, over five centuries ago, sustainable small-scale farms have been displaced. 

In response to these issues, and to growing food inaccessibility, small collectives of farms are springing up around the world. These collectives (see resource list at the end for further examples) use equitable models of indigenous, small-holder, subsistence, agroforestry principles and methods.

Soul Fire, a decolonial farming project, is tackling the food crisis through a natural building, environmental justice, health-based and spiritual activism approach. Soul Fire is an Afro-indigenous centred community farm which grows and distributes food as a way of tackling food injustice in the United States. Their food sovereignty programme has so far engaged over 160,000 people through farmer training for black and brown growers, reparations and land return initiatives as well as food justice workshops for urban youth. Soul Fire also conduct policy education for public decision makers.

Small-scale farming initiatives, like Soul Fire, utilise a range of organic, nature-friendly and low-impact methods to simultaneously improve biodiversity and grow quality produce. Often these farms utilise traditional or indigenous ways of growing food and raising livestock. Some of these methods are explained below. They are used by Soul Fire and have helped create an equitable farming community.

Agroforestry is the growth of both trees and agricultural / horticultural crops on the same piece of land. The land provides tree and other crop products whilst protecting, conserving and sustaining important human, animal and economic resources. Agroforestry differs from traditional forestry through focusing on the relationship (ecosystem approach) amongst the constituent parts of the land – this is a systems based approach to farming.

Silvopasture integrates trees and grazing livestock on the same land. Trees are deliberately introduced to a pasture / grazing land and can be fruit trees, nut crops and native. Trees provide shade and wind protection (reducing heat stress and wind-chill to livstock) and generate economic returns whilst sustaining an ecologically diverse piece of land – Silva is forest in Latin.

Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting medicinal and nutritional plants from their natural environment.

Polyculture involves growing multiple crop species in the same space, at the same time. Also known as intercropping, polyculture uses traditional knowledge that carefully mixes crops and produces higher overall yields which occur because of lower fertiliser need, increased pest resistance and better soil stability.

By using agroforestry, silvopasture, wildcrafting and polyculture techniques, Soul Fire have regenerated 80 acres of mountainside land, producing fruits, medicine, livestock, honey, mushrooms, vegetables and preserves for community members.

Soul Fire brings together diverse communities to help black and brown people heal their relationship with the land – overcoming the historical trauma caused by enslavement and colonialism. By building community, sharing skills and learning about traditional farming techniques, Soul Fire helps communities reclaim their collective right to work with the land and have agency in the food system.

References: 

© University of Glasgow
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