Authors: Edward Hill, Black Food Sovereignty Coalition, and Lauren Gwin, OSU Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems

Publish Date: Summer 2020

“COVID-19 punched a hole in the food industrial complex barriers to BIPOC food innovation. That hole, that gap, gave us time to breathe, which let us catch our wind.” -- Edward Hill, Director, Black Food Sovereignty Coalition

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a terrible toll on Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color locally, nationally, and internationally; higher rates of infection, lower rates of treatment, higher death rates, heavier job loss impacts, and an often greater risk of workplace exposure to the virus for those still working.

However, while not exactly a silver lining to a bad situation, COVID-19 has also created economic opportunity for some BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) farmers in Oregon and the call to grow more food, deliver more food, and address food insecurity is offering economic investments and game-changing donations.

In February, just before Oregon shut down due to the novel coronavirus, the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition and partners hosted the second annual Back to the Root gathering, in Portland. The two-day event, with a variety of workshops and field trips, drew more than 135 people from Oregon, California, and Washington.

At the same time, BFSC Directors and voting members were already getting farms up and running at two Portland sites: Howell Territorial Park on Sauvie Island, and Black Futures Farm at the Learning Garden Lab in Southeast Portland.

Howell Territorial Park

More than a dozen farm businesses, nonprofit community organizations, a restaurant, and variety trial research projects are now sharing two acres of farmland at the Park, with coordination and support from Black Food Sovereignty Coalition. The 120 acre park, owned by Metro, the regional government for the Portland Metropolitan area, has 20 acres in cultivation, most of which is leased by Sauvie Island Growers.

This spring, BFSC took over a lease for 3.2 acres held for the past 15 years by Janus Youth Programs. The property also includes a barn, hoop houses for season extension and winter cropping. BFSC is receiving technical assistance from Matthew Edwards at the regional Natural Resource Conservation Service office to put EQIP contracts in place for conservation practices. The farmland is certified organic, and Brian Wood at Sauvie Island Growers is providing a lot of guidance on organic production practices and techniques for scaling up production.

BFSC and partners, including Eca-Etabo Wasongolo of Village Gardens, have recruited and welcomed a multi-racial, multi-ethnic group of farmers to farm and steward the land together. These include immigrant farmers from Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Kenya, and the Central African Republic. Indigenous farmers are also on the land: NAYA, the Native American Youth and Family Center, has started a First Foods project, and Tribal Canoe Journeys is growing food for this year’s journey. The African Family Holistic Health Organization is planning a vegetable garden, and Po’Shines Café De La Soul, Portland’s soul food restaurant, is growing vegetables for their menu.

The farm is also hosting two research teams doing variety trials: an OSU squash trial, and a hemp seed project led by CHEM, a new, BIPOC-led hemp genetics company.

BFSC is adding more production and marketing infrastructure and systems to support the farm businesses and projects, based on their individual and collective needs and goals. This includes cold storage, distribution, and an online marketing platform for BIPOC farmers who want to use it. As more buyers want to support BIPOC farmers, BFSC wants to make those market connections easier.

BFSC is also working with farmers to make sure everyone has COVID-19 safety procedures in place and enough personal protective equipment to protect them, their families, and their customers.

Funding to invest in these farms and crucial systems is now coming from philanthropic and public sources that, pre-COVID, did not fully understand their importance. Food system disruptions and COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on BIPOC communities have, together, shone a spotlight on the leadership and skills of BIPOC farmers and organizations.

Other BIPOC farmers who are members of BFSC have also started farming on Sauvie Island this season, leasing land, hosted by landowners who want to support BIPOC growers now and in the future. These include Yasuke Commons and the Raceme Farm Collective, a group of Black and Brown farmers from Chalchi Farm, Flying Dogheart Farm, and Scrapberry Farm. Many of these farmers are graduates of Mudbone Grown’s Pathways to a Farming training program for farmers of color.

Black Futures Farm

In Southeast Portland, BFSC leaders Malcolm Hoover and Mirabai Collins, with community volunteers, created Black Futures Farm as a place of connection and healing for Black people to grow food and community together. The farm, located at the city of Portland’s Learning Gardens Lab, has 1.5 acres under cultivation with 17 different fruit trees, vegetables, flowers, and medicinal and cooking herbs.

In this first year, they are selling their produce through a 35-family CSA, serving families in SE and Far-East Multnomah County. In mid-June, they launched a test-run CSA with their first harvest and distribution with the support of OFMA.

On BFSC’s website, Black Futures Farm describes itself as “building a more resilient, thriving, and entrepreneurial food and maker community in which equitable food-oriented development where cooperation and shared economy are standard.

“BFF is in the business of growing food, growing community health, growing business, and growing community culture around the delivery of the quadruple bottom line to historically absent or barriered communities. BFF practices and teaches what it promotes, and as part of a motivated and dedicated collaborative, we are working to establish a more just and equitable sustainable food system in the Portland Metro area.”

The Black Food Sovereignty Coalition (BFSC) serves as a collaboration hub for Black and Brown communities to confront the systemic barriers that make food, place and economic opportunities inaccessible to us. BFSC is focused on meeting these barriers with creative, innovative, and sustainable solutions. Built on a decade of work of founding members of the Black Food Sovereignty Council and other Black-identified leaders and stakeholders in the Pacific Northwest, the BFSC mission is to ignite Black and brown communities to participate as owners and movement leaders within food systems, placemaking, and economic development.

Learn more and donate to BFSC at: https://blackfoodnw.org/