By Atieno Nyar Kasagam.
If I hear yawls talking about urban farms beautifying the city, one more time, me and mines will come for yuwo edges.
Urban Farming is not about beautification, byatch.
Urban farms do not exist to blunt the gut-wrenching relics of the systematic displacement and eviction of black and brown people in Detroit. They don’t exist to distract you from beautiful, unoccupied homes that have been stripped to the bone, crashing in on hundreds of stories and memories and bleeding onto the streets.
They exist in tandem with with heaps of seared plywood, red bricks and black tires, old shoes and molding comforters thrown out of Mrs. Moore’s house during the most recent eviction.
They exist on top of and inside of Detroit’s trauma and turmoil.
They exist on top of and inside of old foundations,
on top of and inside of old experiences,
on top of and inside of old opportunities,
on top of and inside of old struggles,
on top of and inside of old dreams,
And very often, those who depoliticize, kumbayaa-ify and buoy beauty in urban farming are the same who deploy the language of blight and decadence with regard to Detroit’s aesthetic.They have no understanding, and seem to have no need for any complicated understanding about the experiences of the masses of the residents of the city of Detroit.
The landscape of Detroit is a testament to particular systematic, exploitative policies and practices by public and private players- who ought to be named and held accountable for (attempting to) enrich themselves at the expense of the lives of hundreds of thousands, predominantly African Americans and indigenous Americans.
Urban farming is the outcome of personal and collective struggles for survival within the exploitative, capitalist, xenophobic, racist, misogynistic Anglo-saxon corporate aristocracy masquerading as an American Democracy.
Urban farming, for most people of color in the city of Detroit is an act of non-violent warfare.
It is revolution.
It is not apolitical. It is not about beautification. It is not about appealing to the white gaze or for pushing back against blight in our neighborhoods. It is about pushing back against the forces and the people that created the economic and political conditions that made evictions, vandalism and blight inevitable. It is about pushing back a dominant culture and ethic that is absolutely rotten at its core. A vulturic culture that only knows how to eat from carrion: and therefore deploys all its intelligence and resources to create death and destruction.
African and Indigenous people in Detroit are pushing back against a culture fashioned from mass genocide, mass enslavement, mass racialized and gendered violence, mass war-mongering around the world, neo-colonialism and capitalism.
African and Indigenous people in Detroit are pushing back against this culture’s attempts at putting a price on life. If you put a price on water, food, land and housing you are putting a price on life. You might as well say, you are not entitled to life, if you can not produce the requisite amount of dollars to purchase the necessities of life.
As we speak, we are all, by virtue of the compulsion to pay to live, participating in a neo-slavery, where a combination of government and corporate executives own the resources that we need to live, price them, and sell them to us.
Every day, with every grocery purchase we make at Krogers or Parkways, payment of water bills at the Detroit Water and Sewarage, gas and electric bills payment at DTE, rent, morgage or property tax etc. we affirm our masters’ power over our very existence.
We affirm their moral right to hold and lord over the commons: resources that ought to be freely available to all of us, and to all other beings on this earth that need the very same resources to survive and thrive.
Every day, after long and often unfulfilling work days, sistren and bredren are dropping dollars and swiping credit cards, purchasing our ‘rights to live’.
Why are we paying to live?
What is this matrix of a world we are living in?
What absurdity is this?
Is this civilization?
I quote from the manifesto of John Doe who released the Panama Papers to the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The collective impact of these failures has been a complete erosion of ethical standards, ultimately leading to a novel system we still call Capitalism, but which is tantamount to economic slavery. In this system—our system—the slaves are unaware both of their status and of their masters, who exist in a world apart where the intangible shackles are carefully hidden amongst reams of unreachable legalese. The horrific magnitude of detriment to the world should shock us all awake. But when it takes a whistleblower to sound the alarm, it is cause for even greater concern. It signals that democracy’s checks and balances have all failed, that the breakdown is systemic, and that severe instability could be just around the corner. So now is the time for real action, and that starts with asking questions.
You know London’s burning when even the presumably privileged, white, European upperclassmen in the very institutions of power that are doing the enslaving and exploitation, call out their own, jeopardize their own careers, and even put their lives at risk, blowing a whistle that the proletariat have been blowing for generations.
We are using local, sovereign production of food as a tool to disentangle ourselves from corporate and industrialized food systems. We are conscious of the unsustainable, unethical, and toxic nature of industrial Monsanto plantations that produce the bulk of the food for the residents of the city of Detroit. We are conscious of the filthy and unconscionable hellholes that harbor the poultry and livestock that we consume in the city of Detroit. We are conscious of the ramifications of toxic chemical inputs and ammendments on our health, the health of other beings of the earth, and our water. We are opting out, and we are rejecting the hegemony that is PepsiCo, Dole, Nestle, General Mills and Kraft. We are denying them the power to determine our right to life.
Mama Charity Hicks is among many of our elders who spoke, and continue to speak and work towards universal access to water, food, housing and justice. She was a founding member of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and Detroit Food Policy Council, which not only championed for and facilitated the adoption of an urban farming ordinance in Detroit, but for a racially and environmentally just food system locally and nationally.
In the context of a perennially unjust capitalist system, a ruinous agricultural system, a food insecure, underemployed, working-poor majority in the city of Detroit, Urban Farming is NOT about beautification, byatch.
We are not breaking our backs for your gratification.
We do not have time for your tourism.
We do not have the energy for your elitism.
We do not have the patience for political affirmation.
This is a total revolution.
This is not just about food.