Volume 10, Number 1 March 4, 2007
"Conquer It, Steal It or Plant a Seed"
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad
A Black owned conference center called "Franklinton Center at Bricks" in Whitakers, NC was the scene of the 9th Annual Black Land Loss Summit held February 16th -18th. The theme of this yearís conference was "Returning Black Farmers to the Land: A Gathering of Minds to Develop a New Strategy". The emphasis was on implementation of solutions and not just describing the problem.
Mike Callicrate, founder and owner of Ranch Foods Direct Market, stated that "Food is the creation of wealth. Wealth is created on the land." According to Mr. Callicrate, Benjamin Franklin gave three ways by which wealth is built: 1. conquer it, 2. steal it and 3. plant a seed.
Archie Hart gave us a view into the problems of program delivery to Black farmers by pointing out the discrepancies between funding to the Black Land Grant Colleges and Universities in comparison to the white ones. Mr. Hart rhetorically asked the question of why canít the administrators at the 1890s admit that they are under funded. He later explained that the Black Land Grants were financed exclusively by the USDA and therefore those administrators know that if they complain too much, they will be terminated.
Dorothy Barker, Director of Operation Spring Plant, gave us a blow by blow account of the many barriers that prevent Black farmers from entering the fresh produce market and capture long term contracts with the food and hospitality industry. Operation Spring Plant just completed a three year pilot project with the Marriott Hotel chain, but had to overcome a number of barriers that all Black farmers experience including a $5 million liability insurance policy, threats from the mafia if they brought fresh produce into the inner city, requirements on the size of truck and demand that the truck be less than 7 years old, increased inspections on produce when using Black truckers instead of white truckers, increased security requirements from Homeland Security and buyers playing games with price quotations, i.e. bait and switch.
Lloyd Wright, a former head of the Civil Rights at the USDA, presented the group with the basic structure of a bill to influence the contents of the proposed 2007 Farm Bill. The bill that he proposed called the "Endangered Black Farmer Act of 2007" was developed by a consortium of Black Agricultural leaders and groups over the last year to stem the tide of Black land loss and get knew Black farmers onto the land. The purpose of this Act is to provide the services and assistance needed by Black Farmers to ensure that Black Farmers who want to farm can stay in farming. The assistance is in the form of policy changes, available direct credit, and access to farmland, technical assistance and information to overcome the problems created as a result of lack of services in the past due to discrimination.
Mr. Wright, who is also the 2007 recipient of the "A Man Called Mathew Award", gave a historical perspective on how land was acquired by Blacks after slavery but was taken from Black farmers over time through acts of terrorism. With the combined resources of a few black ministers, entrepreneurs, and educators, more than 50 black-owned lending institutions were established by 1911, with annual transactions worth more than $20 million. By 1910, about 16.5 percent of land in the south was black owned. But, by 1928, most whites would not sell land to blacks.
There was a 30 year period of lynching where Black land owners, farmers and community organizers were targeted. Of the 551 cotton growing counties in the US, 345 (62.6%) had at least one lynching between 1900 and 1931. One hundred and seventy of these counties (30.9%) had 10 or more lynching between 1900 and 1931.
The Black Land Loss Summit provided a perfect segue into the Agricultural Workshops held at the Nation of Islamís 2007 Savioursí Day Celebration held in Detroit, MI on Friday and Saturday, February 23rd and 24th. In line with the Savioursí Day theme of "One Nation Under God" the theme of the Ministry of Agriculture was "Why we must grow our own food". Our strategy session on Friday brought together community leaders such as Reverend James Bevels who has moved to Alabama to work closely with Bishop Luke Edwards, who over the last 40 years has put together a thriving agricultural based community based on the Economic Blueprint of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
Gary Grant, President of BFAA, and Attorney Rose Sanders gave the history of the Pigford v Glickman Consent Decree and presented the "Endangered Black Farmer Act" which was revised the previous week at the Black Land Loss Summit. Oscar Smith, owner of a trucking firm that operates 10 refrigerated tractor trailers, described what Black farmers and Black consumers in the cities need to have in place for Black truckers to make that vital transportation connection.
Emil Muhammad, an agricultural student at Florida A&M University described how he made his career choice. He decided that if he wanted to be "free, strong and healthy, you canít be free, strong or healthy eating otherís food."
In agreement with Bro. Emil the group of 33 organizers decided that Black people must establish an independent and safe food production, processing and marketing system where we control our food from the "land to the man". The Ministry of Agriculture of the Nation of Islam must therefore be expanded and become the Agricultural Ministry of the Millions More Movement.
The strategies to be further developed after Savioursí Day will be designed to: 1. Keep Black farm land within the Black community, 2. Develop promotional campaigns and training programs for Black youth to enter Agricultural careers, 3. Develop Urban Gardens, 4. Set up distribution systems for products from Black farmers, 5. Develop Black owned supermarkets in the cities, 6. Develop our own food processing plants, 7. Mobilize the people to grow their own food to protect their health, and 8. Develop proper rules of governance among ourselves.
The group was divided into committees which determined what was to be presented to the larger body on Saturday. Presenters emphasized to the 200 workshop participants how the projects and programs that they were already working on could be expanded and coordinated to fit the long run goals of the Ministry of Agriculture. Efrion Smith, of the Michigan based collective buying system called Consumers Unlimited, LLC, pointed out the value of food buying clubs in providing an outlet for Black farmers and urban gardeners.
Sister Jean Muhammad, Director of the Three Year Economic Savings Program, gave the history of this economic development program, its track record and why it should be the center pin for pooling our resources and financing our Agricultural movement, while I presented last yearís fiscal report of the Three Year to the participants and asked for their continued support.
This Millions More Movement Agricultural Ministry had its first conference call on Thursday, March 1st and will be the backbone and "seed" for a new economic paradigm under the banner of "Do For Self or Die A Slave". I will be going across the country delivering produce and chanting "Do For Self or Die A Slave".