By Aaris A. Schroeder
July 16, 2011
Arriving to the garden on 4th and 39th Ave. in Oak Park, one of ten other “Freedom Farms,” I see Program Manager Kory Grant Clift making three fresh new beds for summer time vegetables and pulling weeds from around a varietal of lettuces. Clift explains to me that there are three major influences that helped him and his partners start Freedom Farms in Sacramento, CA.
The idea of Freedom Farms began with Fannie Lou Hamer, a Civil Rights Activist in Ruleville, Mississippi. Her job was to convince young people to cast their ballots and vote. This activist who had no trouble talking to youth about the importance of voting was also a gentle soul and a singer, who recorded the now infamous song, “This Little Light of Mine.” In ’69, Hamer helped start the Freedom Farm Cooperative whose goal it was to provide food and economic independence to local people. Hamer saw the connection between education, jobs and political influence.
Another influence is the local non-profit, Freedom Bound Center whose business it is to address health advocacy, social justice and cultural activism for its community youth. Clift has worked with this organization for many years. One of the off springs of F.B.C. is Sol Collective whose motto is to provide artistic and educational programming, promote social justice and empower the youth.
The Freedom Development Group was born from F.B.C. and thus was born Freedom Farms, one of seven other community-related services that are offered to the Sacramento region and beyond.
Another influence was Mama Jaseriah Freedom School, which was taught out of the Wo’se Community church, who believes it is best to work together for community unity within the teachings of Africa extend to truth, justice and righteousness. Mama Jaseriah’s educational courses were a sort of “Saturday-School” and were taught by community members. The Wo’se has connections with The Global African Presence, African Americans for Balanced Health and The Black Panther Party.
At this point in the interview with Clift, I feel rest assured that he is a man who knows his path in life. He is here to work within his community, to educate by teaching farming. Freedom Farms helps to educating teachers, parents, community leaders to empower themselves and youth with farming and healthy eating.
A young African-American man is on the other side of the fence in the church school yard, tending to a garden. Clift stops talking to me and gets up to address the young man. He tells me to follow him so I can see his garden. I am introduced to 18-year-old Don-Jesus Clemons who founded a collective called Focus Minds Youth Council. He works with the youth but from their conversation, it seems that there is some trouble that Clemons has fallen into personally plus he doesn’t have a water outlet for his garden. He has been bucketing water from the faucet that Clift uses on the other side for his garden.
“Hard workers keep their hands dirty,” Clemons exclaims with great energy. Then he goes about his way.
Less than one percent of all farmers are African-American owned, this is a fact. It is also a fact that Freedom Farms is the only non-profit black-owned farm and local garden service in the entire Sacramento County. Clift says that there are other African Americans out there that farm, that want to create a similar program but that there is systematic racism in the system that has held his non-profit back from receiving grants and other, mainly white-owned co-operative gardens the opportunity to reap the benefits of a plentiful harvest.
“We’ve been [active] for six or seven years. Due to technology and the system of capitalism and exploitation, [African-Americans][ have turned away from working the land. Now there is a rebirth and that is important for [the] economic condition we are in,” says Clift.
At one time, Freedom Farms had 30 active gardens and then Grant went to Humboldt University and received a Masters in Social Science with a focus in New Urban Ecology. He was able to use educational facilities to test and create urban rejunification.
Clift says that he does not support the planter box mentality, rather for just $100, he and his team will come to your property and install a 10X10 garden. He also states that they work with a variety of people with different interests, ethnicities and situations. He is working state-wide and works within programs in the Bay Area and Davis, CA and the Native American College. Freedom Farms also helped support a perma-culture certification with the Regenerative Design Institute.
Freedom Farms also works with local high schools teaching cooking demonstrations and teaching agriculture. Currently, Clift has been working with Sacramento City Unified School District’s Healthy Foods Task Force, helping to improve healthy cafeterias and food consumption for children. Clift says that it has been a slow process but he now has the ears of the superintendent.
“Through Agriculture and eating healthy, we can improve test scores and overall improvement in students,” according to Clift who also says it only costs three dollars a day to feed a child at school.
Through the CA Department of Education, Health Services and Food and Agriculture there have been educational models that connect schools to farms. These are models and are supported by these state-ran entities, let us state but these departments are not purposefully starting these programs. It is taking people like Clift to get involved with Food Task Force. Fortunately, this is a tool that has been set up for people like Clift and his non-profit Freedom farms to work to implement, one school at a time.
According to Clift there are meetings that parents can attend even though they aren’t necessarily invited to. Clift calls this systematic racism since groups of parents from specific schools are discouraged from getting involved. He says that he has experienced this first-hand and has worked hard to get where he is at with his non-profit and will not stop.
In ’05, Clift received a grant from Health Education Council in which Freedom Farms created their own curriculum with community members to work with other community members and the youth to create sustainable gardens and eco-systems.
He currently teaches Agriculture 101 at American Legion High School and participates in the Farm Stand Project that works to teach youth leadership and useful job skills all while running several local urban farms and working with Healthy Foods Task Force.
“We have been growing for five years with no help from the Oak Park Neighborhood Association only help from individuals such as Community Pride,” says Clift.
There are several other programs that have been developed in conjunction with Freedom Farms and the Freedom Development Group, Inc.
Freedom Farms – Agriculture (Thesis project)
Freedom Transport – Automotive/ Transportation
Freedom Flowers – Women’s Empowerment and Young Mothers Support Network
Freedom City – C.H.E.F. Model (Clothing, Housing, Energy and Food) Venture in Sustainable Living
Freedom Life – Music, Theatre, Art, Dance
Freedom Movement – All of the FDG Network (Business partners, sponsors, supporters, contacts, relationships)
Freedom Academy – The FDG Learning Process (How we make it all happen and train and educate along the way), Saturday Scholars
For more information visit Freedom Farms