We were inspired to start organizing by the farmer-chapter model created by the National Young Farmers Coalition, a policy-advocacy organization that supports the gathering and advocacy work of 51 localized farmer-chapters across the country. We came to this work hoping to create systemic change in West Michigan, and as we saw the values of land skyrocketing in Grand Rapids, we decided to focus on land access. Inspired by the foundational work of the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund and Washtenaw County Black Farmer Fund, we knew something like this could happen in West Michigan too. So we began hosting informal listening and visioning sessions with current and aspiring farmers of color in the Grand Rapids area. These conversations collectively visioned our current effort, the West MI Farmers of Color Land Fund.
We want to bring farmers, farmhands, and aspiring farmers into an organizing effort that uplifts farmers of color, therefore empowering the whole farming community. Our work aims to support Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color (BIPOC) in reclaiming agricultural practices, which can rebuild a connection to land, community, and healthy foods. We know that having access to land empowers communities to be self-sufficient, food secure and resilient in the face of climate chaos and unstable global food systems. Our goal is to address past generational injustices and create pockets of BIPOC-owned green growing space in urban settings of West Michigan to increase food security and community resiliency. While 40% of farmland in the country is leased, we know this leads to unsustainable operations, lacking the ability to securly invest in your farm. Land ownership is the only pathway towards a just, equitable and sustainable future for farmers.
Michigan Food and Farming Systems and The National Young Farmers Coalition have been supportive as our fiscal sponsors for the GoFundMe, making all donations tax deductible.
People of color are drastically underrepresented in farming nationally, especially Black farmers, who make up less than 2% of farmers in the US, and only 0.4% in Michigan. In West MI, there are only about 10 farmers of color that we know of and many more aspiring growers and farmworkers. However, there are limited safe and appropriate opportunities for BIPOC aspiring farmers to thrive. Most rural land is in isolating environments and too far from the communities that many of these folks live in and want to serve. Options for urban farming are limited too; there are only 60 vacant lots in the city of Grand Rapids, the largest city in West Michigan. Most of these lots are too small for an operation to be able to scale, while most other green space is owned by collaborative churches or developers. We investigated all the vacant lots of Grand Rapids and have identified a few that could be viable for urban agriculture. We are drafting a proposal for the planning committee of Grand Rapids with the hopes that they will give land to farmers of color before it is taken by gentrifying developers like companies owned by the DeVos family.
We fully support efforts that focus on Black farmers, like the Detroit and Washtenaw Black Farmer Land Funds. We decided to open our movement up to all farmers of color, because of the population dynamics and demographics in our region. While supporting as many farmers of color as possible, we still aim to center Black aspiring farmers in this work. You can read more about the history of Black farmers in the United State and disenfranchisement in this article from The Atlantic.