Recovering Black land for food and climate justice

HEAL Platform For Real Food Toolkit Series – Member Dispatch: National Black Food Justice Alliance

Plank 9 – Promote Sustainable Farming, Fishing and Ranching

We spoke with Kenya Crumel, Black Land and Power Director at National Black Food and Justice Alliance (NBFJA), a member-based organization fighting for Black food sovereignty, self-determining food economies, and land. NBFJA is also one of the founding members of HEAL Food Alliance!

Kenya spoke to us about how she finds inspiration in the work that NBFJA members are doing to advance and grow Black food sovereignty in their communities.

Watch a clip of our interview with Kenya 

Kenya: On a day-to-day basis, our members inspire me with the work that they’re doing together. I was just at the BUGS Conference, and the folks in Detroit, for example, are just so incredibly organized, purchasing a farm from the Municipal Land Bank and raising funds so that folks who are currently leasing land are able to own their land and don’t constantly have to worry about being literally uprooted.

And at Sankofa Community Orchard down in Richmond, Virginia, Happily Natural Day stewards five acres where aspiring farmers can learn from other more experienced farmers, apply to be a part of the Central VA Agrarian Commons incubator program, and then move on after a few years to have their own land to implement the practices that they learned.

What led to the creation of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance?

Kenya: Dara Cooper, Beatriz Beckford, and Baba Malik Yakini came together and recognized the extractive, exploitative, deeply anti-Black food system that we all live in that values profit over human life and that has disappeared Black foodways. Black people lack access to and control over production, distribution, and consumption of foods that are healthy and grown in ecological, sustainable ways. The National Black Food and Justice Alliance is working to build collective power by reframing narratives and identifying opportunities for coordinated action and collaboration and cooperation. 

We have about 60 member organizations. Our members are farmers and leaders of food co-ops – those are the two big categories. We have a couple of family-based farms that have had land for a hundred years or more, but primarily we’re working with collectives. And we have some individuals who are academics or attorneys and want to provide some knowledge, wisdom, and resources to our work.

Over the course of the 20th century, the number of Black farmers decreased by 98 percent between 1920 and 1997. Through massive land theft, white farmers and developers usurped at least $326 billion worth of land and assets from Black farmers. In this context, can you tell us more about the land justice work that you’re doing?

Kenya: We’re working toward purchasing land (or accepting donated land!) that can be removed from the speculative market. Ideally we’ll transfer the title to a community land trust, whether we have to develop one or if there’s an existing land trust that we partner with. Black-led community land trusts or other groups of folks can work together to steward the land, share the work, share the profit, and decide how the land will be best utilized to support Black food systems and eradicate food apartheid.

And the land will not be for sale after we gain title to it. Nobody could come in and purchase it. It’s not about individuals owning the land, but it’s about land that’ll be in trust so that it will remain in Black hands. 

Hear from Kenya, Dara Cooper, and Mama Savi Horne on the history of Black land loss in NBFJA’s Practical Guide to Black Food Movement Terms…

The Resource Commons is another way NBFJA has been working to secure land for Black farmers and keep existing Black farmers on their land. Could you tell us about how the Resource Commons came about and some of the successes that it’s had?

Kenya: The Resource Commons is an initiative born after years of conversations with our members, which I have helped shift from ideation into implementation. Recognizing the trauma that traditional banking and the USDA have caused and continue to cause amongst Black farmers, NBFJA members decided to create a non-extractive loan fund with a simplified application process. We’re able to do this because these are not transactions. This is not a transactional relationship. These are relationships with people that we know. 

After doing a good deal of research, we focus on funding for land purchase (whether it’s urban or rural), investments in farm equipment, and investments in infrastructure and building out regional food systems. These are all things that our members stated that they needed. 

We just piloted the first round of funding earlier in 2023 and are really happy that we could provide a little over $400,000 in this pilot round. We’re looking to increase that year over year. Right now it is exclusively for our members, but it will ultimately open up across the country for other Black farmers. 

We talked about the Resource Commons being non-extractive. Our relationship with the land also needs to be non-extractive. So we encourage and support members of the alliance engaging in practices that do no harm to the earth, like no tilling or capturing carbon. But in addition to that, there’s a lot of healing just amongst our people. There’s working well with the land, but we also have to work well with each other. We have a lot of examples of beautiful relationships. We’re really focused on holistic well-being at all aspects – financially, our practices with the land, and then the practices with one another.

You’ve previously mentioned that NBFJA aims to ultimately recover up to 15 million acres of land for Black farmers. Could you tell us about the impact that that would have in terms of creating thriving and resilient Black farming communities?

Kenya: Our vision is that by acquiring the land, training farmers and providing them the resources to steward that land – and also defending land – we can create our own food systems. That’s the larger goal. 

My colleague Dr. Jasmine Jackson works on the self-determined food economy side, our food co-ops and such. I’m on the other end of that spectrum with the land, building the ramp to get to the foodways and the cooperatives. We want to be able to grow the food – and even before that, secure seeds and lands to grow the food – so that we can package it, distribute it, put it into retail markets so that it’s affordable for Black people all over the country, and do it in a way that is hopefully regionally based so that we don’t need to fly food all over the country or the world and aren’t contributing to those issues from a climate justice perspective. 

We’re also developing a program right now to battle land loss due to heirs’ property – and other folks are doing this too, like the Federation for Southern Cooperatives and Land Loss Prevention Project. It’s still a rampant issue, so we just want to lend our support as best as we can. It doesn’t make sense for us to go out and purchase land or accept land donations and put that in a trust while folks are struggling to keep land that they’ve had in their families or in their organizations for some time. And we know there’s a variety of reasons that land comes under threat, including heirs’ property and back taxes, things that could be easily resolved but folks just don’t have the resources.

Ultimately, we want to ensure that food apartheid is eradicated and that folks are less dependent on larger corporate systems and can sustain their farming operations.

How does restoring and preserving Black-owned land advance climate justice goals?

Kenya: If we are less reliant (or not reliant at all) on large corporations in our food systems, if we’re able to protect our land from GMO seeds, and if we’re working collectively to steward land and distribute food regionally, then we can lessen the impact of some major causes that are exacerbating climate change. We don’t need planes flying our food across the country if we are working locally and supporting one another. If we’re working collectively and stewarding the land and bartering and exchanging, we have what we need. So we don’t need to call on corporate America to get food where we need it, to educate us, to get us the supplies, if we can just organize regionally to supply the food, supply our farmers with what they need, and then create that food chain. 

And there’s a lot of education that has to happen. A lot of people just have never seen broccoli growing out of the ground. They don’t know that they can grow their own string beans or peppers. You just need a pot. You don’t have to have a yard. You could do this on your windowsill with the soil and just save your seeds from the pepper that you just cut up and cooked. A lot of people just think, “Oh, I can’t do that.” But you can. We all can. 

Are there particular policies that you are working for at the moment? 

Kenya: We are working on the Farm Bill, to ensure that it’s easier for Black farmers to access funds. A lot of folks are so frustrated with the USDA that they don’t want to have anything to do with it. But we need to simplify grant applications and funding processes. And loan forgiveness has been talked about but not enacted, and non-Black folks are fighting back against it. That’s such a huge obstacle, just getting past the debt. If debt forgiveness could be accomplished, I think that would be really significant for our folks who would no longer have to worry about that burden hanging over their heads.

How can people support your work or take collective action? 

Kenya: If folks know people who have land that’s just sitting idle or are interested in providing zero interest capital for the Resource Commons fund – or even flat out donations – that would be wonderful. There’s a donate button on our website at And if you want to have a conversation about land donation, reach out to me directly at kenya [at] blackfoodjustice [dot] org.