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Grow Your Own The Importance of Urban Agriculture

We've seen corporate America reap the benefits of its own disgrace with our tax dollars and, therefore, at the expense of all of us. Corporate America along with government support just keeps hitting us over the head. It's too much! One sector that's not been the focus of attention lately is corporate agribusiness that should be intensely scrutinized. But we're beginning to see some changes locally that are encouraging. The interest in urban agriculture, in fact, and more attention to food issues in America is a case in point and a counterpoint to corporate agribusiness.

Understanding the history of agriculture in America and the advent of industrialized corporate agribusiness is important to help all of us understand where we are now and what needs to be done. We will touch upon it here, but only briefly. Nevertheless, how corporate agribusiness weaves into our lives at virtually all levels has been insidious. It's time to turn this around.

The United States is an urban country. Recent demographics reveal that 81% of the U.S. population lives in cities or suburbs of cities. One of the realities of this, however, is that many of the folks living in urban areas are former farmers or families of farmers who have been forced off the land in the 20th century - particularly since post-Second World War. This has been the result of an industrialized and increasingly globalized agriculture in America.

Corporate involvement in agriculture has also largely been intensified since post-Second World War. Some refer to it inappropriately as the "green revolution" - it should instead be called the "corporate chemical revolution". It has led to the industrialization even of the basics of the food system and that being seeds. Whoever controls the seeds controls agriculture and farmers have historically been the caretakers of this most important and invaluable resource. Corporate America, the likes of Monsanto and others, have patented and genetically modified many of these precious seeds and by doing so have taken farmers, as much as possible, out of competition and away from being the caretakers of our food system.

When making the above statement about seeds, however, it's important to mention also that many farmers and community groups throughout the world have taken action to counter this trend by saving seeds and therefore protecting our heritage seeds as much as possible. Organic farmers will access this important resource or save the seeds themselves for the next year's crop as farmers have always done historically and that corporate agribusiness has been trying to prevent.

Sadly, the American public has not been vigilant in protecting itself or others throughout the world from corporate agribusiness much less from corporate supported genetically modified seeds. This has been coupled with an increased reliance on chemicals in our food system - even in some of the seeds themselves. Europe, for example, is wisely banning GMO seeds and has for some time. European researchers are now indicating that kidney and liver problems can result from GMO corn from seeds produced by the Monsanto. This will be debated for some time as Monsanto will do whatever it wants to do in twisting the facts to benefit itself - the company has generally had the free ride in America.

The point is, however, the Europeans use the "precautionary" principle for their population. They don't let products possibly considered unsafe into the food system - they will take the necessary precautionary steps before allowing potentially unsafe foods into their countries. Why don't we in America apply the same principle? Why should we let Monsanto experiment on us and others throughout the world?

Americans have essentially handed over their food and well being to corporate agribusiness. We're all vulnerable because of that. We've seen our communities become more obese, with more high blood pressure, cancers and a whole host of problems we are now trying to contend with. "Food Rules" writer Michael Pollan wisely makes the point that when going to the grocery stores people should only buy what's on the periphery of the store because that's were all the fresh and healthy foods are generally located. That's what we need to eat, he says, and not all the junk food from corporate America that have all kinds of additives and sodium and chemicals that have been partly responsible for destroying our health. How can we change this?

The hopeful sign in America is that in the last agriculture census in 2007 we have seen an increase in the number of small farmers in America and an increase in women farmers. We are also seeing an increase in farmers markets and direct marketing (farmer-to-consumer) generally across the country. These are positive signs. This is somewhat countered by the loss of middle range farmers and more consolidation of huge corporate farms as indicated in the 2007 census. Nevertheless, we are witnessing some positive changes in the agriculture landscape in America.

We are also seeing an increase in urban agriculture in America. With it jobs are being created along with healthy, fresh affordable produce all of which are now beginning to become available in communities throughout the country. Even Tom Vilsack, Obama's Secretary of Agriculture, has created an urban garden right on the property of the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington DC. The First Lady Michelle Obama has also initiated a garden on the White House grounds. The trend is a positive one.

Why urban agriculture? Because, we as Americans need to re-claim our food sovereignty. It's as simple as that and as profound as that. Plus, most of us are now living in cities. If that's where we are, we need to be growing our own food and feeding our own families and communities. Existing farmers in rural areas should be doing the same. Most are generally growing for corporate America with their major commodity production such as corn, soy, cotton or cattle. Some are engaged in diverse and healthy vegetable production but we need more of them. Rural farmers too need to be growing food for their families and communities as most have generally done historically. So farmers, whether in rural or in urban America, can be growing organic and healthy foods and all of us can be part of that solution by supporting them and encouraging this and/or in growing produce ourselves.

In addition to the above, and to summarize, urban agriculture can play a critical role in reversing many of the negative aspects of industrial agriculture. Urban farming enhances the health of metropolitan residents, creates "green" jobs, produces affordable locally grown organic fruits and vegetables; teaches people to grow their own foods; re-connects people to their food and the land; and strengthens the environment through reduced fossil fuel dependence.

It seems that turning away from relying on corporate America to generate wealth and well-being is perhaps one of the most valid positions we can take right now. We can do this by strengthening our locally owned and controlled economies, keeping wealth in our own communities and even and especially by growing our own food.

____

Heather Gray is the producer of "Just Peace" on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news as well as having worked in agriculture in Southeast United States for more than 20 years. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

K. Rashid Nuri is an organic urban farmer and agricultural educator in Atlanta, Georgia and is founder of the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, Georgia. He brings forty years of experience to this work. Rashid has lived and worked in over 30 countries around the world. He has managed public, private and community-based food and agriculture businesses. Rashid served four years as a Senior USDA Executive in the Clinton administration. He is a graduate of Harvard College, where he studied Political Science, and has a M.S. in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Massachusetts. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

This now edited article first appeared on Counterpunch.

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Black America’s dreams of homeownership still deferred

The late Langston Hughes created a masterful body of poetry in the 20th Century that spoke about and to Black America’s unique experiences. Also an author and playwright, his words in all media pricked our consciousness to wonder and ponder how we somehow remained so different from others after living more than 200 years in this land.

One of my favorite Hughes poems asks the question, “What happens to a dream deferred?” Today, that one question is as timeless as it is timely.

Why is it that in 2017 Black homeownership is still deferred for so many?

Every year, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) report provides an update on mortgage lending over the past year. It is the only national report that examines lending by race and incomes. In 2016, an analysis of mortgage lending by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) underscores how once again dreams of homeownership are still being deferred nationwide:

 

§ Blacks had the highest denial rate in mortgage applications of any ethnic group, and was double the denial rate experienced by Whites;

 

§ Black consumers received just 3.1 percent or 65,451 of the 2,123,000 conventional mortgage purchase loans made in 2016;

 

§ When Black and Latino conventional mortgage purchase loans were combined, the percentage increased to only 9 percent for the year; and

 

§ FHA purchase mortgages performed a bit better for Black consumers at 10.6 percent -- 142,329 out of 866,000.

“It is troubling to see the continued trend of mortgage lenders abdicating their responsibility to serve the full universe of credit-worthy borrowers,” said Nikitra Bailey, a CRL Executive Vice President.

“During the financial crisis, taxpayers of all colors together paid for the bailout of banks,” continued Bailey. “Now and years later to see that African-Americans and Latinos remain overly dependent upon FHA to access mortgages is a sign of unfair treatment,” continued Bailey. “Whites continue to unfairly receive more favorable access to affordable loans, despite our nation’s fair lending laws.”

For decades, Black consumers were given a litany of excuses as to why they did not qualify for the most affordable mortgages: not enough income, not enough of an employment record, too many bills, and more.

But it was just last year that Nielsen released a report that found “a decade of economic and educational prosperity” from 2004 to 2014. During these years, Nielsen found that Blacks had a collective $162 billion in buying power. By 2020, that purchasing power was projected to rise to $1.4 trillion, thanks in part, to the number of Blacks earning $100,000 or more. Over the decade reviewed, Black earnings in this income range grew 95 percent, compared to the rest of the nation. Even solid middle class incomes of $50,000 to $75,000 grew at a rate of 18 percent.

So if Black America is better educated and earnings are growing – what is the problem with gaining access to mortgage loans? And if America is a land of laws, why is financial justice so elusive for Black America?

“As we move beyond the sub-prime crisis, we continue to see the housing and credit market systematically either deny or send less attractive products to the Black and Latino community,” noted john. a. powell, an internationally acclaimed Professor of Law and Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

“This problem which is both historical, structural and interpersonal will not be addressed unless we face and make affirmative interventions,” continued powell. “As useful as the data is, it is not enough. The nature of structures is to reproduce the current condition. We can and most do better than that.”

“The fact that borrowers of color face higher interest rates and are less likely to be granted conventional loans is directly responsible for the wealth gap that continues to plague our nation, as well as the wide gap between the percentage of African Americans who own their homes (42 percent) and the percentage of whites who do (73 percent),” said Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a noted economist, author and President Emerita of Bennett College for Women. “It is imperative that bankers cease these unfair and discriminatory lending practices, and that activists target this lending discrimination.”

For Lisa Rice, Executive Vice President of the National Fair Housing Alliance, the 2016 data do not reflect a changing America.

“These stark racial and ethnic divisions in mortgage lending, said Rice, “come at a time when our nation’s demographics are in transformation. By 2025 will be even more diverse with households of color representing nearly half of all first-time homebuyers.”

“The private market has a duty to serve everyone fairly,” she continued. “The average family deserves the opportunity to pursue their own American Dream.”

But as Hughes eloquently wrote so many years ago in another poem entitled, “I, Too, Sing America:

“I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I'll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody'll dare

Say to me,

‘Eat in the kitchen,’

Then.”

In 2017, is it ‘then’ yet for Black America?

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President Barack Obama, Rep. Maxine Waters, Dr. Christine King Farris and Ambassador Andrew Young Acknowledge Dr. Joseph E. Lowery's 96th Birthday

www.loweryinstitute.org

Atlanta, GA - While President Barack Obama and Congresswoman Maxine Waters sent birthday greetings, Ambassador Andrew Young, Martin Luther King III and Dr. Martin L. King Jr's sister, Dr. Christine King Farris were among celebrities and dignitaries on hand in Atlanta to acknowledge the 96th birthday of civil rights leader and former King confidant, Dr. Joseph E. Lowery.

The historical evening was made most memorable when OWN's "Greenleaf" star and singer Keith David; Tyler Perry's "House of Payne" star and vocalist, Cassandra "Cassi" Davis; and gospel superstar, Yolanda Adams, mesmerized the audience with a stellar musical tribute that encapsulated the life of the well-loved nonagenarian. The Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute (Lowery Institute) hosted the gala which also featured Lowery Institute Change Agents packing the stage to honor the Dr. Lowery with raised fists and taking a knee.

Themed "Grounded in History: Soaring Towards The Future," the Lowery Institute also awarded movie producer, Will Packer, attorney Angela Rye, and activist Rev. William Barber, for continuing the national dialogue in support of justice and human rights, and keeping the Lowery's legacies alive as agents of change in their respective fields.

"The evening truly epitomized my dad's life," said Dr. Lowery's daughter and president of the Lowery Institute, Cheryl Lowery. "People from all walks of life made it out to celebrate and producer, Kenneth Green, created an engaging musical experience, masterfully weaving elements of my mother and father's work as agents of change juxtaposed with the Lowery Institute Change Agents who will continue to keep their legacy alive. He was able to tell their stories using all types of music from hip hop to the Morehouse College Glee Club."

Chronicling Dr. Lowery and his late wife, Dr. Evelyn Gibson's contributions to the Civil Rights Movement as well as the initiatives utilized by the Lowery Institute's Change Agents to carry on the legacy, the tribute featured a medley of musical "moments" spread throughout the night that included topics like "Building A Legacy", "Amazing Grace," "A Change is Gonna Come," "Make Them Hear You," and "Am I Wrong."

The opening "moment" of the homage, "They Will Remember You," showcased a hip hop song of the same name detailing Rev. Lowery's work to address racism, violence and injustice performed by Salim Bakari, Michael Nero and Sara Davenport. The song's lyrics and music were composed by Jevares Myric and Ronve O'Daniel.

During Dr. Lowery's standing-room-only after party, he commented on the current condition of black America telling Roland Martin, host of TV One's NewsOne Now, "There's never been a time when we should be more united. Never been a time when we should be more together. I appreciate the fact that so many Black folks are coming together expressing in their own way their determination to move forward."

Presented by Delta Air Lines and The Coca-Cola Company, the bi-annual birthday celebration raises funds to support the work of the Lowery Institute, a non-profit organization established to ensure the continuity of Dr. Lowery and his late wife, Dr. Evelyn Gibson's lifelong commitment to non-violent advocacy.

Known as the "Dean" of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Lowery assumed and executed a diverse series of roles over the span of his seven decades: leader, pastor/preacher, servant, father, husband, freedom fighter and advocate. Two major milestones during his journey came in 2009 when he delivered the benediction during President Obama's Inauguration and later that year when President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the nonviolent struggle for justice, human rights, economic equality, voting rights, peace and human dignity.

For more information on the Lowery Institute visit www.loweryinstitute.org.

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