© 2021 Maine Public
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Climate One

Tuesday, November 24 at 2:00 pm

Cropped Out: Land, Race And Climate

African-American farmers have been no strangers to land dispossession in the face of capitalism, based on extracting minerals and other resources out of the ground, and labor out of people.

“At the same time that developers are working to steal black folks land, they are both contributing to racial inequality and contributing to environmental instability,” notes Andrew Kahrl, author of This Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South.

Kahrl teaches history and African-American Studies at the University of Virginia, where he studies how Black landowners have lost approximately 11 million acres of land to fraud, deceit, and outright theft. Ironically, many of those properties are now threatened by sea-level rise and coastal erosion.

“By looking at coastlines,” he says, “you really begin to see how the struggle for racial justice and for environmental sustainability are fundamentally linked.”

Black farmers work at the intersection of these challenges, as structural racism in the food system makes it increasingly difficult for non-white farmers to own and profit from land.

“The food system is not based on feeding each other,” says Chris Newman, co-founder of Sylvanaqua Farms in Virginia, “it is based on producing a product that transports well, that doesn't spoil, that can be turned into things other than food.”

The son of a Black mother and Native American father, Newman is on a mission to bring indigenous knowledge -- and people of color -- back to the practice of growing food.

“All of our foodways are based on occupying land and taking,” he says, “we don't have an indigenous mindset of relating to the natural world as family, of relating to one another as family.”

Farmer and horticulturist Amber Tamm shares a similar vision. As a Black New Yorker descended of Cherokee slaves, Tamm’s project to renew Seneca Village in Central Park connects personal trauma and climate grief with her agricultural work.

“Everything that's going on pertaining to food and soil I feel it in my own body into my own experiences,” she says, “because what is done to the earth has been done to me.”

Andrew Kahrl
Associate Professor of History and African American Studies, University of Virginia

Chris Newman
Farmer & Co-Founder, Sylvanaqua Farms

Amber Tamm
Farmer & Horticulturist

To listen to the audio of “Cropped Out: Land, Race And Climate” on Climate One online, please click HERE.