Food, Justice and Race • Urban Tilth

Food, Justice and Race • Urban Tilth

In the Mindful Living Cohort here at Mangalam, we have the ability to explore Collective Liberation through the lens of Tibetan Buddhism. Many of us are passionate about food, food justice, conservation and liberation. We know that climate change is a social justice issue. We know that food deserts are a social justice issue. We know that there is more to look at, in the realm of food, than just whether or not it is good for the Earth. To that end we have decided to source our produce from Urban Tilth, in Richmond. Founded in 2005 by Doria Robinson, Urban Tilth began as an urban agriculture organization but has since become so much more. Urban Tilth now has four farms, scholastic programs, apprenticeships, a CSA, and multiple partnerships with other liberative organizations in and around Richmond. 

Doria is a woman, and Black and a farmer. She is in the minority of the minorty in agriculture, and she is thriving. Along with Urban Tilth, she is also the founder of Cooperation Richmond, a worker-owned community, and she’s on the steering committee of Our Power Richmond. Her aim with the CSA is forging relationships with local farmers, creating a local farmer cooperative that can supply local grocery stores and corner markets with fresh produce. This shortens supply chains and creates relationships between urban centers that need food, and the semi-rural farmers who are growing food but are locked out of larger markets. You can learn more about this, and Doria’s efforts in this article from Resilience

To broaden why this matters, in short summary: In 1920, there were about 1,000,000 Black farmers in the United States. In 2019, there are about 45,500 – or 1.3%. In present day America, Black farmers make less than $40,000 annually, compared with over $190,000 by white farmers, and their acreage on average measures one quarter the size. This is likely in part because Black farmers often lack/ed access to legal resources, which resulted in passing along their property without a will or clear title. No legal deed means no farm serial number from the USDA, meaning no access to federal loans or assistance from the government. According to the Census Bureau, 80% of land owned by black people has been lost since 1910 due to this issue.

Land loss is but one issue among many for Black farmers. It can be challenging to separate one issue from another as many of them exist at intersections of color, class, education, ability, etc. They also exist across many levels – interpersonal, systemic and institutional. This makes them not only hard to talk about, but often also hard to understand by folks who haven’t experienced them firsthand. This is why we attempt to actively seek out voices of color, voices of disabled people, trans people, queer people, women, and folks of all ages. To channel the great boddhisatva Avalokiteśvara, how can we cultivate compassion (metta) if we are not really listening?     


One of the ways we have chosen to honor these commitments, here, is to support the labor, work and imagination of farmers of color in our neighborhood. We support them with words, like in this blog post, we will support them with people-power at their farm build out, but just as importantly, we support them with our money, as wealth redistribution is also part of collective liberation. This is how we feed one another, both literally and figuratively.

We are thrilled to support the work of Doria Robinson, and we’re looking forward to smiling faces and full bellies around the table, thanks to the imagination and hard work of the Urban Tilth team.  

Resources and Further Reading: 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/29/why-have-americas-black-farmers-disappeared

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