“Black and Brown folks have been farming in Philadelphia for generations,” says Kirtrina Baxter, a community organizer with Soil Generation. The farmers transformed abandoned lots into community gardens and gathering spaces. Now, developers are buying the land out from under farmers to build condominiums, threatening food sources in neighborhoods that already lack grocery stores. People should be able to keep this land as a service to the community,” Baxter says. “Neighborhood farms and community gardens are so important, especially during COVID when people need healthy food in their community.”
Soil Generation, a coalition of Black and Brown farmers and advocates, is leading the fight to ensure that people of color regain community control of land for growing food. The coalition, an Equitable Public Space Fund grantee, formed in 2013 to advocate for urban growers in Philadelphia’s rapidly gentrifying environment.
In 2018, Soil Generation launched the Threatened Gardens Campaign, its most ambitious to date. The campaign kicked off with a protest at City Hall with hundreds of farmers and advocates. This show of community support led to Soil Generation winning the contract to write Philadelphia’s first-ever Urban Agriculture Strategic Plan with the planning firm Interface Studios. The plan will establish goals for how the city can support urban agriculture, including cutting through bureaucratic obstacles that impede Black and Brown farmers from purchasing land. “Over the next five years, we look forward to having more opportunities for collective ownership, which leads to community control of land,” Baxter says.
Soil Generation’s work is rooted in agroecology, a community-led process that values ancestral growing practices and aligns agricultural production with community organizing for land rights and food sovereignty. They are producing an agroecology manual, which will be available digitally in December 2020 and in print in spring 2021. Baxter hopes it can be used as an organizing tool for people working to reclaim land and as a guide for people starting community gardens.
For Soil Generation, there is power in gardening. Baxter emphasizes: “Gardening is a radical act of resistance. By growing food, you are taking control of your own community.”