Food, a Vehicle of Liberation

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Numerous individuals and groups of African descent have come together to form the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, a civic body in the US, comprising of black urban and rural growers, collectively working towards food sovereignty.

Among the members of the alliance is a think-tank and collective action network called Black Yield Institute (BYI). The organisation works towards asserting their collective right to culturally-appropriate, affordable and healthy food.

To achieve this vision, they are working on accumulating land and capital, bringing black people to the center of decision-making regarding food – in other words, “building black community power through food sovereignty”.

In Cherry Hill, Baltimore, BYI has been helping neighbouring communities by providing not just fresh food but also employment opportunities and educational programmes via the Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden.

Since 2010, Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden has distributed over 150,000 pounds (about 68,000 kilograms) of culturally-relevant produce to surrounding food deserts – areas where over 50% of the people live in poverty, and life expectancy is said to be roughly 20 years lesser than wealthier counterparts of Baltimore.

Among the people involved with BYI is Nicole Fabricant, activist and professor of Anthropology at Towson University, who connects with youth from the community and her own students, learning how to care for farmlands as well as attending programmes conducted by Eric Jackson, founder of Black Yield Institute. In Nicole’s words, BYI is at the forefront of a food equity drive that makes people co-owners, not only creating wealth for black communities but also making Food a “vehicle of liberation”.

When BYI started, they reclaimed an abandoned plot of land to set up the community garden and the institute. This land is officially under the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, though thanks to negotiations with the help of the Mayor of Baltimore, Black Yield continues to operate on it. During the Covid-19 outbreak, the institute and community gained a lot of attention and support while partnering with city officials and activists to distribute food and produce to those in need.

The project is seen as empowering the communities that have so far lacked opportunities to become financially stable. As described by Eric Jackson, these communities aren’t “food deserts” but a victim of food apartheid – where the lack of food is a result of decades of disinvestment. Without access to food and land resources, poor people and poor communities will remain so.

Black Yield have continued to expand their operations through the creation of the Cherry Hill Food Co-op, a membership-based cooperative grocery store owned by the community; partnering with Restoring Inner City Hope (RICH) program to hire youth to deliver produce directly to residents. They are also seeking to take ownership of a 10-acre farm in the countryside to significantly scale up food production and are seeking investment, donations and loans to raise 7.5 million dollars for the planned expansion.