The successful Black Urban Growers conference

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by The People’s Minister of Information JR

One of the most important conferences hosted in Oakland over this past year for the Black community has been the Black Urban Growers Conference. With several hundred people attending, there seems to be a lot of interest surrounding one of the most fundamental things that human beings do: grow food to eat.

Black farmers proudly display their produce and show how to make a feast of it. – Photo: Fatima Nasiyr
Black farmers proudly display their produce and show how to make a feast of it. – Photo: Fatima Nasiyr

Food security has been high on our list as a community at least for a decade since we saw live and in color what happened to the Black survivors of Hurricane Katrina aka Hurricane Amerikkka, when they went foraging for food without a plan in place. People killed them for “looting” in water up to their necks.

What happened in New Orleans and down the Gulf Coast could very easily happen right here on the West Coast if the “Big Earthquake” ever hits, or if the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster continues to kill everything in the Pacific Ocean basin.

I talked with Kevin Cartwright, who worked with the organizing committee to make this conference happen about his thoughts on the gathering.

M.O.I. JR: Can you talk about how the recent Black Urban Growers Conference went at Laney?

Kevin Cartwright: The Black Urban Growers Conference was successful in terms of the fact that it even existed. Conferences are very difficult to organize and make seamless, so the Oakland host committee should be given a lot of credit for ensuring people had a meaningful conference to attend.

Overall, I believe the conference had 350 to 400 attendees from all over the Bay Area and multiple states, 29 different panels and sessions, three powerful keynote speeches and an assortment of art presentations and music performances. Also, I think the kinds of connections that were made allowed for more constructive fertilization of ideas and how Black farmers need to work together now and in the future.

M.O.I. JR: Who were some of the most informative speakers?

A few of the participants in the Black Urban Growers (BUGS) conference at Laney College in Oakland gather for a photo. – Photo: Fatima Nasiyr
A few of the participants in the Black Urban Growers (BUGS) conference at Laney College in Oakland gather for a photo. – Photo: Fatima Nasiyr

Kevin Cartwright: Dr. Gail Myers, as usual, is one of the best arbiters of the Black farmer experience. She’s deeply involved in their lives, their work, their aspirations and struggles. Plus, she tells great stories that sound and feel familiar.

I’d say Kelly Carlisle’s keynote was also impactful, especially for local growers and their need to begin to see this moment as an opportunity to work more effectively to solve the problem of food development in Black neighborhoods.

Also, I’d say the comments by Menhuam Ayele during the “Urban Farming for Cultural Intervention and Future Survival” panel were amazingly spot on. He clearly understands the need for Black people to build, sustain and expand for self in ways that mirror my own beliefs about what is happening with us worldwide. He was probably, for me, the most interesting speaker.

M.O.I. JR: What do you hope that people got out of it?

Kevin Cartwright: Information. Inspiration and motivation. Black-centered confidence. Problem-solving skills. Deep connections. Humility. The ability to use time effectively.

M.O.I. JR: Can you talk about some of the tours the conference took?

Kevin Cartwright: The tours were meant to illustrate the development of small farms in both “urban” and “rural” settings. I can’t say for sure what people gained from the farm visits, per se.

I would hope that the farmers find creative ways to work together, improve their overall communications to nonwhite populations about what they are doing, and develop business models that benefit them and the communities they serve, no exceptions.

Friendships were forged and deepened among Black farmers at the conference. – Photo: Fatima Nasiyr
Friendships were forged and deepened among Black farmers at the conference. – Photo: Fatima Nasiyr

M.O.I. JR: Will there be one next year? And will it be in Oakland?

Kevin Cartwright: The conference will be down South somewhere next year. It has not been determined where exactly the conference will be because there is a host proposal process underway. Actually, I wish that had been decided already. All kinds of amazing momentum could have been leveraged by knowing exactly where the next conference would be held. There’s something about momentum and focus that catalyzes a movement forward, which, I think, conference folks miss when talking about next steps etc.

M.O.I. JR: What is it that you do for the conference and as a grower?

Kevin Cartwright: I worked on communications strategy and implementation throughout the conference process. I’m not a grower at all, just a supporter of Black farmers and Black people.

M.O.I. JR: Why was the conference important overall?

Kevin Cartwright: To me, it was important for Black farmers and urban gardeners to connect, share information, catalyze and concretize their growing movement. It was important for everyday Black people to see and meet Black farmers, to be inspired to want to grow food where they live and to understand the urgency of our situation.

If we do not embrace the meaning of growing our own food, ensuring it gets to Black people, controlling how it’s distributed and creating the channels by which they expand distribution, then we’re in deep and profound trouble.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’“ and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2“ and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe“ and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

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