In early 2019, California Farm and Garden was thrilled with the opportunity to send our resident farm technician and all around urban farming guru, Ariana Neves, to the BIPOC (Black-Indigenous-People-of-Color Farming in Relationship with Earth) Farmer’s Immersion event in upstate New York. This program, dedicated to fostering community and actionable skill in the area of regenerative farming, welcomes attendees of varying farming experience level for nearly a week of education.
With a few months of reflection behind her, we caught up with Ariana to learn more about her time attending this influential event:
Ariana, thanks so much for chatting with us! Could you start by telling us a little about your role with California Farm and Garden, and how you first became interested in urban farming?
I am a farm technician at California Farm and Garden taking care of two small scale urban farms here in San Diego.
I first became interested in urban farming, or I would say farming in general, when I was very young. My early childhood years were spent at my family’s ranches in a rural town of Ensenada, Mexico called San Antonio de las Minas. When I moved to a more urban neighborhood in San Diego and experienced first-hand things like food insecurity, urban food deserts, and other socio-economic barriers preventing people accessing fresh, nutrient dense produce, this childhood experience evolved into a focus on urban farming. I saw the effects of these issues in my family and community, leading to chronic illnesses and diseases, which could then become hereditary and affect many generations after. When your entire community is suffering at high rates of physical illness as well as mental/emotional ailments, not to mention the many other problems that emerge as a ripple effect from not having access to the basic human right to clean, healthy, food that is affordable, you start to wonder: how does one help such a massive dysfunction in society? One garden at a time.
I believe the more urban gardens that are built in people’s backyards, community plots, and wherever possible, the more empowered people will be to feed themselves and their families healthy food. Food is medicine. Food sovereignty is a foundational necessity for communities to thrive and live in wellness and abundance instead of scarcity and disease.
It makes perfect sense, then, that this passion of yours, and the trajectory of your career in urban agriculture, recently led you to participating in the BIPOC Farmer’s Immersion event. Can you give us a few details on the goals of the event, and your personal experience as an attendee?
In their own words, the “BIPOC-FIRE is designed for novice and intermediate growers of color to gain basic skills in regenerative farming and whole foods preparation in a culturally relevant, supportive, and joyful environment. By the end of the program you will have the knowledge to grow and prepare your own food and the tools to begin a comprehensive commercial farm training if you choose that path. It is our hope that you will also deepen your connection to land, heal from inherited trauma rooted in oppression on land, and take steps toward your personal food sovereignty.” – SoulFireFarm.org
As far as my personal experience, it was better than anything I could have imagined. I feel like it was an incubator for dreams. It allowed me the time and space to pause and reflect from my daily life, and to dream about what can sometimes feel like impossible, but necessary, changes. I felt a huge shift in my perspective from feeling overwhelmed at times with an individualistic mentality, to realizing it’s an effort made by many many people, of all backgrounds, from all places. It allowed me to gain focus and clarity in the work I am doing, and to be more patient with myself in attaining certain goals. To enjoy every part of the process.
That’s such a great shift in focus. So it sounds like the event really centers around the goal of fostering and celebrating community. What was it like to connect with other farmers from different parts of the country?
It was beautiful. When you connect farmers representing different communities, you create a spider web of one giant community. Farming is not easy. Especially when you view it through the lens of food justice, and the many other complexities of farming that go beyond just growing food. It’s easy for people in this field of work to get burnt out. In many cases, farmers are barely paid a living wage compared to other job sects in society, even though without agriculture, there is no other job force, there are no people to be a part of any workforce. It’s also physically demanding, and definitely has its wear and tear on the body, along with many other reasons that will leave someone running on fumes by the end of a growing season. So when farmers gather from all over the country, we lift each other up again. Inspire one another with our projects back home. We remember why we’re in agriculture. This event basically allowed us to create a support system of like minded people.
That seems like such a rewarding benefit of the event–meeting and learning from farmers with varying backgrounds and specialties, but ultimately enjoying the unity of the community.
Your expertise also qualified you for a special “Train the Trainer” program within the overall event. Can you tell us more about this?
Under the Train the Trainer program, I was included in the facilitator team while also having the opportunity to attend some of the workshops as a student. I taught several classes, as well as sharing knowledge outside of the class setting.
Ironically, this was one aspect of the program that highlighted the program as a non-hierarchical learning space. With everyone being open-minded enough to learn from each other, and allow space for teaching from non-facilitators, there is an opportunity for everyone to learn and grow beyond expectations.
With the event behind you, and having had some time to reflect, what would you say are the major takeaways you brought home with you?
I understand my value and the value of my work at a much deeper level than I ever have before. There truly is no price for this type of self-empowerment.
That’s so important, and so deserved!
Have your experiences and lessons at the event changed or informed the way you approach your work with California Farm and Garden upon returning home?
Yes! Seeing the efforts being made in agriculture on a more national scale, especially when it comes to making healthy food more accessible to those affected by economic inequalities and systemic racism, made me even more acutely aware of the issue of food waste. I’d like to take this large-scale frustration and use it to better serve our clients through education, and on a more personal level. Our edible landscapes provide such a great amount of healthy food, and it’s important to see these harvests valued and used appropriately.
I also approach our farms as mini ecosystems that I’m able to help thrive. It’s a great opportunity to bring a piece of urban land into harmony with the surrounding biodiversity.
Any advice for other Black-Indigenous-People of Color who are interested in the event, farming, or learning more about sustainable agriculture in general?
Tending to the wild is an ancient practice. Find out where your roots are from. Look back to the traditions of your ancestors, and how they tended to nature and all its cycles, patterns and seasons. You will have a deeper appreciation for their resiliency and your own. Don’t stop learning, practicing, remembering your connection to nature, because you are nature.
Our thanks to Ariana for her dedication, both as a valued member of the team here at California Farm and Garden and an influential member of the global community of farming, and for chatting with us about her experiences with the BIPOC FIRE program.
To learn more about the BIPOC Farmer’s Immersion, please click here to visit their website.