Caroline Roy ‘20 & Jonathan Lee ‘20

Et Cetera & News Editors

In January, a group of students coordinated by Kami Beardsley ‘22, Jennifer Thompson ‘20, and Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Dr. Takiyah Harper-Shipman formed the Farming as Resistance Reading and Service Collective, which will engage in three service trips to Huntersville, NC, Indian Trail, NC, and Sapelo Island, GA over the course of the semester. 

The collective emerged as part of an effort by students and faculty to foster a relationship with black-owned farms like the one on Sapelo Island, which members of the group contacted last semester for a talk entitled “Radical Farming and Race in the US: Rethinking the Relationship Between Farming, Race, and Resistance in the American South.” 

“This experience opened my eyes to the importance of land itself in communities, and equally as important, the cultivation of one’s connection with it,” Beardsley said.

Alongside the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society, the group wanted to extend their service work to more local farms, where they could engage with farmers and learn more about the cultural and political structures that inform small-scale farming. 

To supplement their service work, the group will read Leah Penniman’s 2018 guidebook, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, which they plan to discuss with the host farmers they meet. According to Beardsley, the book “challenges us to reshape our current understanding of our own relation to the land and explore how people have and continue to find dignity and power through food and farming.”

“[Penniman] discusses the importance of not only being connected to the land,” said Thompson, “but also the history of the land, because black farming is something that is ostracized in black communities because of slavery.” Organic farming, both Thompson and Tiffany Pauls ‘20, another member of the group, noted, is generally seen as a white activity. Pauls said, “This new wave of farming has ,in the mainstream media, been perceived as white or portrayed as white. People of color who are farming […] are doing this same work, but there’s just not as much visibility.” 

As coordinators of the collective, Beardsley and Thompson planned the details of each trip, including food, transportation, and accommodations for all participants. They are also working to create a photo and video narrative documenting their work, which they plan to share at the end of the semester, and which might encourage other interested students to get involved. 

This past weekend, the collective took its first service trip to Austin-Kidd farm in Huntersville, where Beardsley said they “weeded raised beds, helped modify a drip irrigation system, and set up tomato plant cages.”“weeded raised beds, helped modify a drip irrigation system, and set up tomato plant cages.”

“The first half of the trip is always service- based,” said Thompson. “So, how do we help? How do we provide them manpower that they may not have? In the second half, we turn to the text. What have we learned, what have we gathered, and how do we continue to advocate for ourselves and the land and educate others in the process?”

The group comes from a variety of backgrounds and interests, but Beardsley noted that her passion for food sovereignty dates back to her childhood.

“After moving to the United States, my Gitana abuela and Greek pappoús raised our family in a small tienda that served as a joint grocery store and catering business for local neighborhoods,” Beardsley said. “My family — and mother in particular—was very adamant in teaching me about not only the food on my plate, but its origins as well. Growing up in this multigenerational household for the bulk of my childhood instilled in me an appreciation for food and its availability that I don’t believe I would have adopted to the same depth otherwise.”

Thompson’s family also taught the value of food through gardening: “Everyone on my mother’s side of the family always had a garden. I’ve always grown up around the garden,” Thompson said. As she grew older, she began “cherishing what gardening can do.” She said, “[growing food] forces you to disconnect from everything else and to slow down, which is really, really nice.”

Although the group is currently funded by a JEC Mellon Grant, Beardsley said they are brainstorming other funding options that would enable them to continue their work in the coming years. 

On March 28th, the group will take its second trip to Nebedaye Farms in Indian Trail, NC, which also maintains multiple urban gardens in Charlotte.