Farm and Conservation Land for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Self Determination and Sovereignty in Rural Massachusetts

Progress report for FNE22-022

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2022: $29,975.00
Projected End Date: 03/01/2024
Grant Recipient: The Farm School
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Carmen Mouzon
The Farm School
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Project Information

Project Objectives:

Objective: Over a 2 year timeframe,

(a) The Farm School, a nonprofit in central MA, NEFOC LT, Mt. Grace LT and East Quabbin LT will participate in research geared to name, define and articulate the organizational, state and federal policies and practices within their organization that have contributed to/ have maintained the current racial demographic breakdown of farmland ownership in rural MA.  A timeline will be developed in order to implement a variety of policies and practices devoted to outcomes that lead to BIPOC owned farmland/land access and land transfers. 

(b) BIPOC participants have been marginlized from grants and resources like NESARE, largely due to the fact that access to permanent and long term access to land in MA is near nonexistent. As an essential first step to attaining a greater distribution of grants and resources allocated to BIPOC recipients, this project and similar projects of research dedicated towards initiatives leading to land access and land transfers to BIPOC farmers/non-profit recipients will help activate pathways to free the space and let go of policies that block BIPOC access so that BIPOC communities can take a permeant seat shaping the sustainable agriculture, research and education indicatives of the future.

Introduction:

Issue:

(a) Nearly 97% of farmland owners/farmers identify as white.

(b) BIPOC farmland in rural MA is nearly non-existent due to the generational legacy of land displacement and systems of government sanctioned land possession in MA. Therefore the knowledge, expertise, skills, innovative approaches and cultural practices of BIPOC communities have been marginalized from enacting agricultural, sustainability, research, education, conservation and ecological projects on our land in self determined ways. 

BIPOC agricultural legacies show an extensive understanding and knowledge of cultural practices of ecological sustainability, conservation and food/crop production. The reality that nearly 97% of farm land in MA is owned by white identified landowners/farmers, is coupled with the fact that the majority of that white owned farmland in MA is also held in APR and/or held in perpetuity at majority white led and operated land trusts and conservation agencies, nonprofits and land grant universities.

  1. Acknowledging this difficult reality, requires us to fund research that can lead towards greater land access and transfers of land to BIPOC farmers/stewards as a first step towards broadening the racial demographic of farmland owned and/or held within trusts, conservations and non-profits throughout rural MA. 
  2. Greater access to BIPOC farm and conservation land would allow for the increased allocation of NESARE grant funding/resources in ways that function in tandem with the changes in policies and practices ultimately derived from NESARE’s’ DEI process.
  3. Beginning with the Farm School, a nonprofit in central MA, East Quabbin LT, NEFOC LT and Mt. Grace Land Trust. Research will be conducted into the policies and practices that have led to our current racial demographics of farmland ownership and what policies and practices uphold this current demographic within these organizations in order to define, discontinue and create measures that allow for BIPOC land ownership/ land access. 
  4. The near non-existent make up of BIPOC farmland owners means BIPOC communities have been and continue to be excluded from the ability to authentically shape and contribute to the development of agricultural sustainability and conservation practices and policies throughout rural MA. Therefore agricultural and sustainability focused orgs. must perform the necessary research to develop opportunities for BIPOC farmland ownership.  
  5. Agricultural and sustainability focused orgs. must recognize the knowledge, perspective, implementation and study of BIPOC determined land based practices are essential to broadening the scope of all agricultural research and that access to rural farm land in MA will require the support and modification of various protection mechanisms of land trusts, conservation agencies and policies in order to create a demographic reality of farmers/ farmland ownership truly dedicated to a sustainable agricultural future for MA.

Process:

  1.  I am applying for this grant because funding for research dedicated towards initiatives leading to greater land access and land transfers to BIPOC farmers/non-profits is essential first steps to 1. Leveling the playing field 2. Create a greater allocation of NESARE resources to a broader demographic of racial, ethnic and cultural recipients and 3. Move beyond such a narrow demographic pool of sustainable agriculture, research and education contributors. 
  2. This grant will run the scope of 2 years. My initial research and development phase will take place (March 2022 to March 2023) with the following organizations: Farm School, a nonprofit in central MA, NEFOC LT, Mt. Grace LT and East Quabbin LT. Each of these organizations will participate in research geared to name, define and articulate the organizational, state and federal policies and practices within their organization that have contributed to/ have maintained the current racial demographic breakdown of farmland ownership in rural MA.  At which point (March 2023 to March 2024) a timeline will be developed in order to implement a variety of policies and practices devoted to outcomes that lead to BIPOC owned farmland/land access and land transfers.
  3. Once BIPOC land connection pathways have been identified and relationships built the $30K cap of the Farmer Grant will be insufficient. It is my intention to also apply for the professional development/novel research grants of up to $150K/$200K to fund the implementation of land transfers/access agreements for up to 3 years.

Measure of Success:

  1. Success will be measured by the depth of relationship and partnerships made in this effort across organizations in rural MA.  Concrete and substantial changes to organizational policies and practices and recommend legislation.  BIPOC directed ways of being with land and timelines that manifest in greater self determination and sovereignty for our communities and the ability to contribute to a more sustainable ecology for generations to come.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Patrick Conners - Technical Advisor (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:
My timeline and approach in how I hope to engage in this work is collaborative and outside of the typical grant model. The timeline I am submitting is very open and centers moving at the speed of relationships built. I believe relationships are a key component to land work. Building relationships with and between this collective of people at Mt. Grace, East Quabbin LT, NEFOC LT, the Farm School means that we are in routine communication and will meet as schedules allow. 
In terms of the hours of commitment over the scope of a year participants can expect to contribute about 100 to 120 hours to this project in total in year 1 and the equivalent amount of time in year 2.
The time would consist of retreats, monthly gatherings and independent/working group tasks.  In early March we will have our first retreat (7 hours) and in April and May monthly meetings (3-4 hours each) some independent working group time outside of meetings (up to 3-5 hours per month), and shorter check-ins ( 1 to 1.5 hours per month) between June and September, finalized by full day retreats (between 5 and 7 hours each) in November, December and February and onsite visits taking place in March. Year 2 will follow a similar format.
 
The focus areas of the retreats are listed below:
March Retreat: Relationship building, establishing agreements, goals, building historical analysis of intersections of race, land, boost and blocks, anti bias/racist frameworks, accountability framework and historical understanding of BIPOC culturally specific ways of being with land.
November Retreat: Understanding the scope of community connections, partnerships and land held within the trust and the practices and policies tied to these lands.
December Retreat: Leveraging the power and resources existing with the trust to imagine ways various policies and practices can shift and be redirected towards BIPOC land ownership/tenure within the trust, its partnerships and networks.
February Retreat: Establishing plan to broaden LT's networks with a focus on BIPOC land ownership/tenure/conservation. Establish a timeline to implement determined policy and practice shifts and state legislative policy proposals. Establish a timeline for site visits and community building. 
March sets the start of Year 2 and moves in similar meeting timeframe but is focused on direct grassroots on the ground policy and practice implementation at which point the Professional Development /Novel Research Grant(s) would be utilized to fund BIPOC land connections/transitions.
 
The monthly meetings in April, May, June, July, August and September will be dedicated to each organization scanning and analyzing the lands their organizations hold/legislative district and take note of the policies, practices, restrictions and conditions tied to those that have produced or contributed to producing outcomes where an overwhelmingly large percentage of their lands are held by white identified farmers/owners and coming together to problem solve policies, practices and conditions that can counter this long standing outcome of near non-existent BIPOC identified farmland/conservation land/owners.  Ultimately doing the necessary groundwork as organization to take stock of it's resources, establish where blocks and barriers can be removed, boost created and formed into practices and policies built to yield the desired outcome of increased BIPOC farmers/land owners in rural MA and have the transfer of lands/access/tenure agreements/easements/conservation and restrictions be led by BIPOC farmers/land stewards (re)connecting to those lands.
 
Again this work will be done in collaboration, goals and timelines will be finalized together and in real time. There will be moments where we move forward and moments when we circle back.  Moments when we stop all together, pause and reflect before moving towards the next goal.  Moments to be in community with one another enjoying food, meeting loved ones, playing, bonding as the work.  We intend to have clear direction of the outcome of BIPOC land ownership/access/tenure, sustainability, conservation and education and will build a process together moving at the speed of trust and relationship built.  
 
Materials needed for participation:
Computer and Internet capability for zoom meetings when in person is not possible
Travel ability between organizational sites and for land and farmer visits
Signage, facilitation/workshop materials, such as makers, grounding materials, post its, butcher paper
 
Items Budgeted for
Stipends for participants time in farm/land tours,
Funds research participants in the above mentioned organizations.
Travel and lodging funds when necessary
Facilitation Materials
Outreach postings and methods related to social media
Research results and discussion:

March to April of 2022.  Timeline is moving on pace and the goals and objectives are being met as outlined.  In April of 2022, I conducted the first gathering of staff representatives from the East Quabbin Land Trust and Mt. Grace Land Trust.  A total of 5 staff attended this gathering.  During this first gathering, we focused on building relationships, naming what first brought us to commit to the goals BIPOC Farm land for Self Determination and Sovereignty in rural MA grant proposal. Farmer Grant April Gathering Agenda (1). We established and adopted the goals and community agreements and racial equity goals created by The Move To End Violence and Race Equity and Liberation pedagogy.   During this meeting we discussed the importance of land and what connects us to the land.  After agreeing to deepen our shared analysis of race, power, privilege and oppression we also took the time to look at the intersections of race and land to begin to unpack how we, in MA, arrived at a place where 97% of farmland is white owned.   After this gathering the 5 staff were tasked with sharing the goals and agreements with the rest of their co-workers and board members.  They were also charged with inviting more members and ensuring that board members attended the next gathering set for November of 2022.

May- Nov of 2022.  Timeline is moving on pace and the goals and objectives are being met as outlined. In May of 2022 began prospective land walks with East Quabbin Land Trust.  We viewed 3 prospective properties some with housing, some without, each with agricultural soils and infrastructure in various states of condition either on the land or nearby.  Meet with East Quabbin Land Trust Executive Director and staff over lunch to build relationship and discuss their polices and practices in their attempts to partner with BIPOC farmers and introduce the objectives for the grant to more staff/EQLT community members.  Began meeting with Mt. Grace and the Nipmuc Land Project at The Farm School to better understand the role of conservation, CR's and APR's in a rematriation process.  The intention is to name the polices, resources and practices Mt. Grace could activate to support greater self determination for the Nipmuc. Both EQLT and Mt. Grace staff invited additional staff and board members to the next gathering that took place in October.  During the October Gathering we had a total of 12 staff and board from Mt. Grace and EQLT in attendance.  Farmer Grant October Gathering Agenda (2)   After some introductions we dove deeply into understanding the origins of Community Land Trust and Conservation.  We dove deeply into defining our community agreements and goals towards racial equity.  We deepened our shared language, understanding the definition of race, levels of racism (micro/macro, internalized, individual, system and institutional) understanding internalized superiority and inferiority and learned to identify and name traits of white supremacy culture. We discussed the structural land and race based policies (boost and blocks*) that occurred from the 1400's to present day.  EQLT and Mt. Grace, within their own organizations, began to list every policy and practice in their operational and organizational culture they could think of in the moment. They also thought of each relationship and resource they held has an organization and wrote those down.  We ended the day reflecting on this power to set, define, enact and shift policies and practices. The power these resources bring by just having a seat at the table, being part of the work of land conservation.  As homework, they are to continue noting relationships the hold, the polices and practices within their organizations, analyzing the boost and blocks that dictate the level of access to resources, and to name how the intersections of race and... effect these practices, policies and ability to access resources.  We will begin a 6 week virtual series with staff and board following the resources provided by the *Move to End Violence and the Race Equity and Liberation framework.  The Farm School staff has participated in this virtual series several times and will help host small cohorts of Mt. Grace and EQLT staff  and board throughout the series. 

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.