One little hole in the ground. A tiny fissure in the earth.
That’s what you need to grow dinner; flowers for your table; sustenance for your animals; or, as in the new book, “We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy” by Natalie Baszile (Amistad, April 6, 2021), a tie to your past.
Years ago, while taking weekly provisions to an elderly relative, Baszile learned that the presence of food in a neighborhood (or its lack) could be a racial issue. Shortly afterward, the acclaimed author of “Queen Sugar” discovered that her ancestors had been involved in farming, long before she was born.
That’s not unusual. As we learn in the introduction here, nearly all African-Americans today can claim that farming is in their genes.
But farming has never been smooth living for Blacks in America.
Over and over in previous decades, Black farmers paid faithfully each month to buy farms from white landowners, only to ultimately, cruelly be denied ownership. Others persevered, and then lost their land through lack of financial literacy, or problems with banks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Farm Service Administration (FSA). The FSA, suggested one farmer, seemed to have been created to make problems.
Yet, there were bright spots.
Like folks a century ago, Black farmers know that sticking together is best for all. They’re speaking up and persevering in planting and paperwork. Black farmers have learned to think around bigger issues by forming Black-owned co-ops, teaching new farmers, making sure the next generation wants ownership of the business, and ignoring old myths that say women don’t farm.
Black farmers are mentoring. They’re redefining the word “farm.” They’re doing what it takes to keep possession of their land because for them, there just isn’t any better way to live.
So you know where your food comes from. Bonus points if you grew it yourself or, even better, when you read “We Are Each Other’s Harvest” after you’ve finished weeding.
Using a little of this (fiction, poetry, and quotations), along with a little of that (essays, interviews, first-person tales, and history), Baszile gives praise to Black farmers and ranchers, showing that what may seem like a newly discovered connectedness to the land goes way back.
It is, in fact, a slice of the past that’s rich as a fertile field, but also loaded with rocks that crushed many dreams.
And yet, while the stories Baszile lets loose need a wider audience today – they can’t be silent anymore – anger at the past isn’t the reason for this book. No, this is much more of a prayer for the Black stewards of the land, and for those who have listened to their hearts and stood, one hand filled with dirt and the other with seeds.
Whether you are a farmer, know one, or consume the fruits of a farmer’s labor, this book is the perfect meditation. Lush as a spring morning but sharp as barbed wire, “We Are Each Other’s Harvest” will leave you well grounded.