Family Farm Defenders (Kansas Chapter)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Black Urban Land Loss, Urban Farms, Gentrification; Apartheid Cities of the American Future?

Draft for discussion.

Urban Black Land Loss,  Gentrification, Urban Agriculture: Apartheid Cities of the Future?

We all know there has been huge land loss in cities across the country.  Much if not most of this has been Black land loss, due to Banks targeting poor and Black communities with sub prime mortgage lending which then people were not able to pay resulting in the biggest land grab since the Europeans conquered North America says Peter Hoffman, a neighborhood attorney with KCMO Legal Aid. This is also documented in A Dream Foreclosed, a documentation of the home mortgage foreclosure crises which calls our housing policies "racist." THe U government removed over 1 million people from thier homes in 201 it reports, or 3000 a week. They were disproportionately Black says the author.

.Now land banks and city councils across the country are supposed to be redistributing that land or the famed "vacant urban lots" which once disproportionately belonged to poor Black families.
Urban farm organizations are calling out to use this land, saying it will create healthy
"local food," livelihoods for small and family farmers and jobs.

Sadly our local food and urban agriculture movements in the Us have over promised and under delivered. Urban "farmers" and gardeners  have not been able  to make livelihoods although they have been able to make a "second living: as my good colleague Stu Schaeffer at the Kansas located Jonson Country Community College has said.

"Jobs" in urban agriculture have largely been minimum wage paying, part-time, and temporary unless they were the fairly few jobs with nonprofits promoting urban agriculture.

I have yet to see studies of the impact of gardening on health, but my experience is that the people who most need healthier food, poor folks, who are mostly disabled, the elderly and children, who rely on food stamps which are insufficient,are largely unable to garden as well.
However, the biggest flaw in this plan of urban agriculture in the US  is that instead of going to family and small farmers this land is going  to  Big Corporate, industrialized farmers, continuing the trend of land transfer to big corporate farms all in the name of “urban farming”. See Detroit Hantz farm deal. (2012) 

Farm and rural land prices have increased so greatly that urban land is much much cheaper now—thus we speculate this is fueling the move to displace poor urban residents, disproportionately Black (and possibly other groups.)
This is what happened in Detroit as many of us know.  Detroit’s urban farming community had been looking to buy abandoned lots for some time but the city had refused them.

In any case we know as well, that under the power of eminent domain, the city can retake even privately owned land for “public purposes” and there are some very sad examples of that, not only locally, but around the world.  (One of the saddest examples being in Bolivia recently where a highway is being planned through the Amazon.)

In Detroit, in the name of Urban Farming, the city council sold cheap, millions of acres of land to Hantz Tree Farms for much cheaper than the urban farming community had offered. Now, according to Charity Hicks, EAT4Health Food Fellow from Detroit’s Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council,  Hantz, a million dollar business, is going around buying up more lots from people still living in them also for cheap.
Detroiters think in the end, Hantz will never tree farm the area, but will simply “flip” the land, selling it at a much higher price to developers, gentrifying Detroit.  What will and has happened to the people who use to live in homes on those lots and in Detroit?
At the same time, public housing where poor people can live is being dismantled.  HUD has closed many family developments around the country recently.  They admit that they do not know where thousands of people went who once lived in subsidized housing. Public housing in KCMO is planned to close in 2015.

The roles of the hungry, jobless and underemployed are swelling and higher than ever before in US history;  inequity too is high and it is the plan for the future, without intervention.
Even if Hantz or others do not flip lands and actually “farm” on this land, the big corporate industrialized farming they are planning will create few if any jobs, all low paid at best and predicted environmental disaster with planes flying over for pesticides and herbicides; tree farms devastate water tables and more human and environmental degradation.   
Furthermore, small organic farming remains challenging economically. We have lost many small and family farmers in the 20th century, disproportionately female, Native, Black and Latino. Urban farming and local food remains largely a good second income for most rather than a true livelihood unless subsidized substantially by charity.
I don’t know if any of these urban growing activities could exist with a middle class lifestyle providing health benefits for farmers without charitable support. 
This is an indictment of our Big corporate, industrialized Food, Farm and socioeconomic policies, practices and systems and our government and other institutions (namely much of the nonprofit world like the Gates Foundation for example) which subsidize big corporate food and ag and everything else, not family and small farmers or the urban ag and local food movement, except that the local food and urban ag movement have largely done little to try and impact our big corporate food, ag and socioeconomic policies--albeit a difficult task.

And while the funding community funds gardening, where is other work to tackle policies and systems that support the ever growing big corporate food and ag systems, policies and procedures.

Gardens alone are not enough and at worst can prevent other work which might more directly attack our global, big corporate food and agriculture systems. 

At worst, we also see the movements as (unwittingly) part of the oligarchy that governs this county’s  neoliberal plan to shift healthy food production to a boutique charity versus true healthy, equitable,  reform of food, agriculture  and socioeconomic policies so that they serve all Americans, from consumers, to farm and food workers to family and small farmers. Where is the work needed to change the systems which create hunger and poverty, have destroyed family and small farmer livelihoods in addition to the charity, and are destroying the environment on which we depend to live? who funds that?

So at best, if small and family farmers do get a chance to grow in cities, their livelihoods are questionable without charitable support; however they might provide a second in
come to those who already have good or other jobs or are independently wealthy.
As well, urban farms promise jobs; however if you look at farmworker (and food worker) jobs in particular, these jobs are some of the lowest paid and experience the worst working conditions in the US.  They are not livelihoods, offer no health insurance and were declared modern-day slavery by a Federal Court in Florida recently. Cite.
The farmworkers urban agriculture employ however,  work long hours with low pay, are laid off at a whim and are seasonal.  The reality is because of our big corporate food and ag systems policies and practices, this is nigh impossible and very difficult for farmers to survive; but a wonderful hobby, a possible second income, and great experience.

As my good colleague Stu Schaefer, Sociologist and Professor at KC’s Johnson Country Community College said, “urban farming is a great second living.” The most honest and reasoned thing I have ever heard said about urban and any other type of farming today, because of big food and ag and our government support of them.  Small and family farmers cannot and have not been able to compete.
Finally, I am unclear about the role of the nonprofit sector in all of this but it appears that the corporate funded nonprofit sector, instead of supporting work to change and dismantle our big corporate food and ag systems, supports work that allows in essence for “boutique” local food which, without truly reforming our food, ag and socioeconomic policies, actually creates food apartheid or “better food for some,” while the vast majority eat the unhealthy, processed, unjust, unfair and unsustainable food products produced by big food and big ag, which is all they can afford. 

This has given rise to the Food Justice movement.
And of course more and more of us cannot afford to eat at all; hunger is on the rise in the US.

The USDA says about .456% of all Americans eat local food; I am fortunate to be able to afford to be one of them-- for now.

I do not want to live in a city, country or world which is essentially an apartheid system with food as a source of oppression in addition to  racial and class segregation, violence, lack of community safety, dismantling of public education, transportation, housing, health, etc, mass incarceration and criminalization, employment discrimination and all other forms of oppression.

But here I am living in it anyway.


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