Get your hands dirty! Visit us on the farm, say conference presentersBy Starla Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Nov 4, 2013 - 8:51:57 AM
Mr. Nuri, CEO of Truly Living Well, travelled with a contingent of urban farmers from Atlanta, Ga. to take part in The Future of Farming and Food In America Black Farmers Conference, Oct. 19 at Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee, Ala.
The conference attracted urban and rural farmers, gardeners and agriculture enthusiasts and was part of a full weekend of events at the Holy Day of Atonement and commemoration of the 18th anniversary of the Million Man March. Information on land cultivation, marketing, distribution, transportation, manufacturing and other components of farming and food production was presented.
While most view farming as a massive, large-scale endeavor relegated to sprawling countrysides on the outskirts of town, Mr. Nuri pointed out the need and potential for growing more food in cities. Urban agriculture is important, he said.
“Eighty-one percent of Americans live in urban areas today. Most of the conversation we’ve had in here this morning is about farming, large scale agriculture. But the people live in the cities and what are we going to do? We can’t starve, we have to eat. We can’t continue to be dependent upon commercial agricultural industry that is broken,” said Mr. Nuri.
People in cities still struggle for access to quality food and go hungry, he continued. “The worst thing is that we’ve become so disconnected from the soil, from the earth.”
Mr. Nuri challenged conference attendees to turn what they learned during various presentations into action. Truly Living Well is doing its part in Atlanta by teaching and training people how to grow food.
“We have five farm sites where we grow food. We grow quality food. I know it’s quality food because people tell us. I don’t have to brag on that one. Our customers tell us. I have no problems selling food. We teach people how to grow food. Our principle product is education. The food becomes the platform for teaching other people how to grow,” said Mr. Nuri.
Truly Living Well has two large sites in downtown Atlanta where classes and courses are offered. This work transforms people and places, he explained.
“We engage in community building, community development, economic development and job creation. When we’re running at our height, we’ve got 35 people working, taking money and making a living wage. Now everybody would like to make more, get more, but we may support that many people after time,” said Mr. Nuri, who credited the Honorable Elijah Muhammad with instilling in him, desire to want to “Do for Self.”
Under Mr. Muhammad’s guidance, the Nation of Islam acquired tens of thousands of acres of farmland throughout the South in the 1960s and 70s, providing jobs, stocking Nation grocery stores and providing food for Black communities nationwide.
Mr. Nuri’s group has trained over 200 people in urban agriculture over the past two years and Truly Living Well uses no chemicals or pesticides, only compost, he added.
At the request of Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad, manager of Muhammad Farms and national student minister of agriculture for the Nation of Islam, Mr. Nuri put together a two-week intensive urban agriculture training program aimed at youth.
Dr. Ridgely Muhammad, his wife Ann and others organized the farm conference as a way for participants to thoroughly understand why there is a critical need for Blacks to begin growing their own food for economic and health benefits. The conference also introduced people and groups working to educate communities about agriculture and shared how attendees could support and participate in these programs.
“Sign up to help Brother Rashid to develop this program and make it happen. It’s not just something we talk about, we smile about, (and) we laugh about. Get on it. Work with him and make this thing happen,” said Dr. Ridgely Muhammad.
Omari Muhammad, an apprentice at Pure Milk Farms, located a short distance from Houston, Texas said five students have gained valuable experience learning at the 50-acre farm. He has gained valuable experience by getting exposure to dairy farming.
“Our biggest goal is we’re trying to get more cattle onto the land so we can produce more milk to feed not just Texas but actually ship the milk to other states as well,” said Omari Muhammad. Pure Milk Farms has opportunities for valuable hands-on experience in agriculture and Omari Muhammad encouraged audience members to visit and learn more.
Dr. Ridgely Muhammad said Muhammad Farms, situated in the southwest part of Georgia also has opportunities to gain farming experience. However, like the other programs, funding is needed to expand and provide more opportunities for training and production.
Future endeavors for Muhammad Farms include building two cabins to house agricultural trainees and the development of a Kitchen Science Training Program spearheaded by Ann Muhammad.
“Participants will learn how to equip and arrange (their) kitchen for ease of productivity, the basics of stocking your pantry and your freezer,” explained Dr. Ridgely Muhammad.
“I know you look at going back into the kitchen is going back to being a slave but it’s not that. You’re getting ready to save the people, save your family, you’re going to save the farm!” he said.
Charles Greenlea of Atlanta came to the conference after seeing information about it on Facebook. Mr. Greenlea, who works with The Urban Food Abundance Movement and Metro Atlanta Urban Farms, said the call to action to organize and make communities food secure is needed. He travelled with 20 friends and colleagues to the conference.
He agreed lack of resources is a challenge for many groups.
“To boost our production, financial investment and also land access, we need more land. Most of us that do this work in Atlanta, most of us work inside the community so we don’t own a lot of that land so we’re working under ‘sharecropping’ models where somebody else’s organization owns it,” said Mr. Greenlea. It is going to take unity and cooperation among those that grow food to supply the needs of the people, he added.
The 28-year-old said knowledge is the key to inspiring young people to want to study and learn about agriculture.
“Providing them with that knowledge and then from there showing them how it’s not that hard to start your own little garden or to participate or visit the farmers market or to learn how to cook certain things.”
Mr. Nuri wants to see every vacant lot in Atlanta filled with food and geographically it is possible, but the people must be trained to learn how to do it. Equating farming and gardening with slavery is “stupid,” he argued.
“All health, all wealth comes from the earth and if we step back from that and refuse to engage in this process then we’ve become stupid and they’ve got us again,” said Mr. Nuri. “You can make a decent living growing food in the city, you can make a decent living growing food in the country, but you’ve got to be willing to do the work.”