The Black Urban Growers Conference is at Laney in Oakland this weekend

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

The Black Urban Growers (BUGS) Conference will take place this weekend, from Thursday, Oct. 15, to Sunday, Oct. 18, at Laney College, with activities starting between 7:30 and 8 a.m. The price of the conference ranges from $15 to attend the Saturday Mixer to $200, which includes all workshops, the Black and Brown Convening, urban and rural farm tours, the Saturday Mixer and more.

Kelly Carlisle poses amid healthy, wholesome collard greens growing on the Acta Non Verba Urban Farm at Tassaforanga Park in East Oakland. A veteran who discovered the therapeutic effect of gardening when returning from service in the U.S. Navy, she works with the Farmer Veteran Coalition to place unemployed veterans in agricultural jobs.
Kelly Carlisle poses amid healthy, wholesome collard greens growing on the Acta Non Verba Urban Farm at Tassaforanga Park in East Oakland. A veteran who discovered the therapeutic effect of gardening when returning from service in the U.S. Navy, she works with the Farmer Veteran Coalition to place unemployed veterans in agricultural jobs.

Some of the presenters will be local author and urban gardener Menhuam Ayele, local healthy food and social justice advocate Paula Beal, and organic gardener, educator, broadcaster and Hip Hop artist DJ Cavem, hailing from Colorado. I caught up with organizer Kelly Carlisle, who also runs the Oakland non-profit Acta Non Verba Urban Farm, to fill us in.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us what you do with your organization and where?

Kelly Carlisle: I’m the executive director of Acta Non Verba Urban Farm at Tassaforanga Park in East Oakland. Essentially, the work we do is geared and focused on elevating the lives of everyday people in our neighborhood by providing access to fresh, organic food.

As well, our program work is in support of youth in the community. We treat the farm as a garden-as-classroom environment where young people are allowed and encouraged to actively engage in a number of activities designed to deepen their understanding of food production and strengthen their ties to their community.

M.O.I. JR: How was the Black Urban Growers Conference conceived? When?

Kelly Carlisle: The conference evolved organically but was principally created by Karen Washington and Lorrie Clevenger, two amazing Black “Urban” Farmers out of the Bronx and Brooklyn, New York. Karen, especially, kept running into the same problem when attending farming conferences all over the country – many, many White people, very few if any Black people. And it was a significant problem.

They simply wanted to address the obvious gap of not only needing to experience other Black farmers, but creating a safe venue for Black farmers to engage, talk about their own concerns and developments, and support each other. So they forged ahead despite doubts and, ultimately, organized a series of community engagement events to initiate conversations around food-related topics and under the auspices of “What’s for Dinner?”

What the standing-room-only events revealed to both Karen and Lorrie was what hadn’t occurred before: actually listening to what everyday people shared about their experiences with a food reality they were given. Ideas about where food came from, who provided it, health and food, as well as why Black farmers were invisible at farmers’ markets were explored, among other things, which, invariably, evolved into a community forum that served to link the health of Black farmers and food to the collective health of communities of color.

These crucial engagements led to the creation of the first Black Urban Growers Conference in November 2010.

M.O.I. JR: What are the objectives?

Kelly Carlisle: The primary objective is to build networks of support to both urban and rural Black farmers and growers. The focus is definitely on education and advocacy around food and food issues, as well as building an array of Black leadership that impacts the communities where we need to grow and cultivate food for ourselves and our larger community.

M.O.I. JR: How is the conference setup? Are there any workshops?

Kelly Carlisle: The conference set-up flows from Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 15-18. We have a Black and Brown Convening and Farm Tours on Thursday, Oct, 15, that leads into the more standard conference set-up of panels, sessions and keynotes throughout the weekend. This link gives more specifics about panels, etc.: http://blackurbangrowers.org/portfolio/conference-schedule/.

M.O.I. JR: Who will be some of the headlining presenters? Where are they from? And what do they do?

Black farmers’ markets would be a boon to communities across the country.
Black farmers’ markets would be a boon to communities across the country.

Kelly Carlisle: Presenters are from all over the country and they are Black farmers and/or urban gardeners. I’m most interested in seeing the main keynote speaker, Dr. Gail Myers. She has had amazing experiences with Black farmers from all over the country.

She understands the larger and deeper impact of their contributions, has noted all of the many things they continue to do, and, herself, has created and managed farmers’ markets for Black farmers. Plus, she’s currently making a film about Black farmers.

M.O.I. JR: Why is food security an issue that Black people should be concerned with?

Kelly Carlisle: Obviously, it’s one of the most important issues we must find a way to solve. If we cannot, in the most basic and fundamental way, feed ourselves, grow and cultivate food for our health where we live, and that food be in our best holistic interest, we are probably in severe trouble as a people.

If we continue to leave this critical activity to others who are not invested in our well-being, it is difficult to see how we will move forward.

M.O.I. JR: Who are some of the Black farmers that are participating, and where are they coming from? What are they going to be talking about?

Kelly Carlisle: It’s hard to specify because there will be so many Black farmers in attendance. And I do not want to get into trouble by not mentioning someone. Click this link as a sample of who is speaking at the conference: http://blackurbangrowers.org/portfolio/conference-schedule/.

M.O.I. JR: What is the status of the lawsuit that the Black farmers nationally are engaged in against the U.S. government?

Kelly Carlisle: I’m honestly not certain where it stands. My educated guess is that Dr. Gail Myers would know this better than I.

M.O.I. JR: What are some of the struggles of Black farmers today?

Kelly Carlisle: Racism, lack of community awareness, support, getting into farmers’ markets, underreporting of our impact and issues by Black media. There’s so many issues that I can go on all day and night.

M.O.I. JR: Will there be a farmers’ market at the conference? If so, selling what?

Kelly Carlisle: Yes. There will be a farmers’ market available. Without knowing exactly what will be on hand, I know that seasonal vegetables and fruits and food people may not have seen or experienced will be present.

M.O.I. JR: How could people get more information and register for the conference?

Kelly Carlisle: If folks can access online, definitely go to blackurbangrowers.org to learn more about the schedule, speakers, attendees, child care, how to get to Laney College, etc. People can reach us by phone as well, at 510-972-3276

M.O.I. JR: How could people stay in touch with you?

Kelly Carlisle: I’d suggest reaching me through the same contact information. As well, folks can visit the Acta Non Verba site, if they’d like to learn more about the work we do in East Oakland: Acta Non Verba, anvfarm.org.

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.