Burger Brigade Donation Recipient: The Black Farmer’s Collective

The Black Farmer’s Collective (BFC) is a group of growers, sellers, preparers, educators and eaters who own and operate a 1.5 acre urban farm in Seattle and a new 4 acre farm in Woodinville, WA. We recently sat down over Zoom to have a conversation with Hannah Wilson, Farm Manager, YES Farm – a member of BFC. The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

 Burgerville: First of all, congratulations on being awarded a Burger brigade donation! We’re really excited to support the work you do! So, can you tell us about Black Farmers Collective? What’s going on right now?  What’s exciting, what have been some challenges?

Hannah: Thank you! We’re really excited too! I am the farm manager for YES Farm, which is a project of Black Farmers Collective, a mutual aid network of folks who are growers, educators and organizers here in Seattle’s food system. Basically, our goal is to be a resource for farmers and folks of color in the food system to support each other, increase our communities’ access to fresh food, to strive for food sovereignty and achieve food justice. And in doing that, our focus lies in community building and educational programming in order to really touch on all ways that we get food on our plate.

We grow a lot of food for different mutual aid efforts around the city. A lot of that means giving away food for free to food pantries and food banks.  All of our partners are pretty much BIPOC- (Black and Indigenous People of Color) led organizations. Some of them are grassroots. Some of them really are focused on the farm stand/food access components specifically.

Burgerville: tell us about what you’re doing with kids and education

Hannah: Sure. We work different schools and universities across the city. This fall we’re teaching  K-12 students how to soil test and use soil, how they can do water collection, how they can build their own bioswale or plant food on their own and really give them that hands on experience.

Our partnerships with universities (Seattle U and University of Washington) are more centered around having a space for students to do projects at the farm. So, we have folks from Seattle U who are engineers helping us install solar panels at the farm. And there are some environmental studies and food systems majors who helped us design educational curriculum for elementary school age students. Some other students from the same program designed an irrigation and water catchment system for us. And that’s really amazing because then we don’t have to just rely on our own expertise. And we can really help students learn how to apply their knowledge.

Burgerville: A big focus of your work is on community building and community access, right? What does that look like?

Hannah: We acquired four acres out in Woodinville WA and that is going to be used to train newer BIPOC farmers or people who want to learn how to farm and give them access to land that has as few barriers as possible, like providing access to a tractor, having an irrigation system set up  and a greenhouse available for folks to use. That’s actually part of our agreement with King County and that piece of land: that we will train folks and basically bring more BIPOC farmers.

In the neighborhood YES Farm is in, there are a lot of large apartment complexes with some of them being affordable housing units. A lot of those folks who lived in those units are low income, immigrant families and BIPOC families. We have a relationship with Seattle Housing Authority who owns those apartment complexes. So, part of our outreach this fall has been really centered around trying to bring those folks who live right there down to the farm.

A lot of our work also touches on how our neighborhood and the central district is facing a lot of gentrification. We talk a lot about how the central district was a result of red lining (i.e. illegal historic discriminatory lending practices). And all the black people are being pushed out, meaning people lose access to their community. It means people lose access to homes that have yards that they can grow their own food in. it might mean that people have to move to a place that’s more of a food desert. We are trying to not just be like one urban farm. We’re really trying to teach folks how to grow food and how to create a real network or food system that people can use in a lot of ways. We’re trying to make it so that it creates job opportunities within this system.

Burgerville: What’s been the effect of COVID-19 on BFC?

Hannah: With COVID, it was definitely interesting to have to pivot and be very creative about what we do. Normally we would have students out at their farm all the time. But this spring, it actually turned into “OK, it’s just us and maybe some volunteers here.”  So, we got to develop out the farm as much as possible. And as we did that, we saw all this need for mutual aid work among different grassroots organizers in Seattle. So, it’s been a place where we’ve had to pivot a little bit.

Burgerville: There’s a lot of generational work you do, like restoring the lost knowledge of generations around farming and food access.

Hannah: Yes! This job has been really special for me because, we are literally cultivating a space that’s centered around BIPOC folks but is also welcoming to the whole community and, just being able to reconnect with that land and the soil and grow something in this time feels like a little apocalyptic. Personally, I find it really healing.

Burgerville: Healing? How so?

Hannah: I definitely grew up not growing my own food and, and just seeing farmers as these white men who are old and have hundreds of thousands of acres or whatever. And now to do this where it can be like, “Oh my gosh, I am growing so much with this one acre of land that I have in the city. And I’m feeding so many people with this land!”

The relationship that my ancestors had with the land was really painful but was also based in a lot of knowledge.  My ancestors were brought to the US because of their knowledge of how to take care of the land. It wasn’t just random. Being empowered by that means thinking about how I’m reconnecting with that history of my own and reconnecting with my community and trying to make them healthier under a system that definitely oppresses us.

Burgerville: What you were saying, the power of growing, and what can be done with one acre  –  it’s beautiful. It also makes us realize that come time for the Zombie Apocalypse, those of  you who really know how to grow your own food are going to be the survivors and the rest of us are screwed!  We’re going to need to become really good friends with you!  Thank you, Hannah!