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Urban farmers often hold high-minded ideals about food justice and access; they’re also often unwitting vehicles for driving out communities of color.
By Brian Massey
Feb 27, 2017
“Everybody—wherever you go, no matter the educational background—sees what’s going on,” Xavier Brown told me. Brown is the founder of Soilful City, an urban agriculture organization in D.C. with the justice-centered mission of healing “the sacred relationship between communities of African descent and Mother Earth.”
Last year, I managed an eight-year-old urban farm in the neighborhood of LeDroit Park. LeDroit is just down the hill from Howard University and next to the super-hip neighborhoods of Shaw and Bloomingdale. The farm itself is surrounded by public housing, Howard dorms, and renovated row houses selling for over $800,000.
Farming in the middle of all that created a sort of socio-economic whiplash. On good days, it felt like the best that a city can be, a glorious melting pot, with the farm as a gathering place for folks to celebrate commonality. But on bad days, when I had to clean up vandalism, or when I couldn’t for the life of me get my neighbors of color to visit the farm, it felt like an exclusive resource designed to make newcomers feel comfortable and long-term residents feel alienated. It felt like I, a bearded white dude, was actively contributing to an injustice. Or, just as bad, like I was pretending to be neutral, while standing by and watching it happen.
In my experience, most urban farmers are justice-minded folks who enter this profession with high-minded ideals. But in D.C. we are increasingly finding that our work is being associated with, and even coopted by, the forces that are driving extreme gentrification and displacement, forces viewed negatively by many working class communities of color.